Sustainable Development Goals: African needs

As we head to the United Nations in September 2015, we accept the reality that many governments have not succeeded to achieve the aspirations of their people as enshrined under the Millennium Development Goals. So here comes the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to the rescue.  Diplomats from 193 countries reached a consensus on the proposed Sustainable Development Agenda to be adopted by world leaders at the United Nations this 25-27 September 2015.

UNGA Source: Al Jazeera

The ambitious new agenda (comprising 17 goals) is expected to end poverty by 2030 and universally promote shared economic prosperity, social development and environmental protection. Well, that is assuming the poor can afford the luxury of time to wait till then. I hope they can. This is with specific reference to Sub-Saharan Africa; a region that has undoubtedly seen tremendous macro-economic growth within the past decade but where a consequent reduction in inequality and poverty reduction still remains doubtful. I believe this is so because we have overly relied on a “north-feed-south” approach to the achievement of MDG 8 (Global Partnership for Development) which keeps African countries economically dependent on the West.  So we head into the next development agenda on the back of the MDGs regional report of 2015 that, whilst there was significant improvement in primary education and women’s participation in politics, the problem of poverty, inequality and conflicts are still threats to human security in the region. Well, enough of the past. “What the pests have devoured, we let go; it is what is left that we protect”; a Ghanaian proverbial version of the English idiom; “It’s no use crying over spilled milk”.

Hence, African leaders must contribute to setting the rules differently this time; avoiding the temptation of letting the “North” set the modus operandi for pursuing the global sustainability agenda.  It is my opinion that some of the SDGs (SD Goals 1-7 & 17) are a re-hush of the MDGs (but this time with conclusiveness). However, the other relatively new additions (SD Goals 8-15) provide an expansive look at the (soon to be erstwhile) MDG 7 which focusses on environmental sustainability. This is where I think our leaders in Africa must pay critical attention to. Pardon me if I leave the SD Goal 16 “orphaned”, by making no reference to it.  As far as I am concerned, that goal to promote just, peaceful and inclusive societies needn’t be codified because it is the end-result of the achievement of the other 16 SDGs. So if I am lucky to meet Mr. Ban Ki-Moon in the hallway of the UN Plaza (as I did in Geneva in August 2009), I will recommend they leave the redundant SDG 16 out during the summit.

It is critical to note that the SDGs raise to prominence the call for climate change mitigation and environmental sustainability despite the growing skepticism. Understandably so, after all, these developments are supposed to be “sustainable”. But, can sub-Saharan Africa afford the type of sustainability that have so far been prescribed? For example, the achievement of SDGs 12 & 15 (limiting resource consumption and forest management)  could mean that sub-Saharan African countries would have to apply breaks to expansive physical infrastructural development; the same type of breaks the USA and China (and other economic powers) were / are unwilling to apply under the Kyoto Protocol. In September 2015, the world will be asking sub-Saharan Africa among the others to be careful how they consume/exploit natural resources and use eco-friendly energy for the sake of the environment. Thereby depriving them of the same means of development that was available to their industrially advanced counterparts in the West and in many parts of Asia (in the recent past).

If developing countries complained that the “green agenda” did not go far enough and failed to provide promised funding for them to cut emissions, are our leaders going into this “sustainable development agenda” debate thinking that funding for expensive pro-green activities would be readily available in the years ahead? I doubt it will.

From the African perspective (and maybe from that of the larger developing world) I see the possibility of injustice awaiting our quest for development. The pursuit of a sustainable development agenda is laudable (after all we are in the same ecological boat), but saving this boat must be a win-win-win. I challenge African leaders to “wake” and go into this summit with alternative means of achieving sustainability the African way (or at the worst, strike deals for greater compensations) that are friendly to our take – off economies. They need to enter the renovated GA hall with a renovated approach that protects the African interest. They should be mindful that the sustainable development approach as it is touted now, could risk destroying the traditional African economy and create further inequality that may result in social unrests and conflict; two problems that Africa genuinely needs to tackle in order to achieve sustainable development.

Otherwise this would look like a scenario where the bigger puppy climbs a wooden ladder to get to the bones on top of the fridge, gets there and now advices the younger puppy to use a rope because producing a wooden ladder causes more harm to the forest. That will be unfair to the younger chap who would have weaker muscles to pull-up on a rope anyway. Hence, the next time you see President Robert Mugabe (The AU Chair), tell him I know he gets bored- to-sleep just like his “western friends” by all the rhetoric at some of these summits. But this time, I recommend he stays awake to make sure Africa does not return from the Sustainable Development Summit as the losers.

Dennis Penu

Dennis Penu

Staff Writer at InPRA
Dennis Penu is a Ghanaian, and a Principal Research Assistant with the Institute for Development Studies at the University of Cape Coast, Ghana. He holds an advanced master's degree in Governance and Development studies from the University of Antwerp in Belgium and a research master’s degree in Peace and Development Studies from the University of Cape Coast, Ghana.
Dennis Penu

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