In 2001, all 192 United Nations member states agreed to a set of eight international development goals to be achieved by 2015. With only five years to go before the deadline, only a third of those targets have been reached. Most countries are not expected to meet the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) target in time.
In an event hosted by Carnegie, a distinguished panel examined the status of the Millennium Development Goals in Africa. Jan Vandemoortele, a former UN staff member and co-architect of the MDGs, highlighted the progress made so far at the global level. Shanta Devarajan, chief economist of the World Bank’s Africa Region, focused on the progress so far in Africa toward achieving the MDGs. Selim Jahan, director of Poverty Division at UNDP, discussed the successful policy interventions that could assist countries in achieving the MDGs target by 2015. Carnegie’s Eduardo Zepeda moderated the event.
Regional vs Global Progress
The Millennium Development Goals are, by their nature, collective goals applied in a broad global canvas. The targets themselves are set by extrapolating global trends through 1990. The panelists agreed that applying the targets to individual regions can be problematic:
- Since the MDG targets for 2015 are extrapolated from global trends, it is incorrect to look at a single region, such as Africa, and say that they are off-track for the 2015 targets, argued Vandemoortele. MDGs are collective global targets. They are not targets for Africa only. It is the international community missing the point, insisted Vandermoortele.
- The MDG targets set a bar particularly difficult to achieve for African nations, which started the twenty-first century at very low development levels, Vandermoortele reminded the panel.
- Jahan agreed that vast disparities in the regional and national levels require a consideration of the MDG targets that goes beyond global averages. With only five years remaining to meet the MDG targets, he suggested that an analysis of proven interventions that could be scaled up and replicated in the regions that are lagging could help accelerate progress.
From a global perspective, the world is on track to achieve the income poverty targets, mainly due to massive poverty reduction in China. However, Devarajan pointed out, global progress does not mean that Africa is equally on track to achieve the targets.
The Pattern of Progress
Panelists discussed some of the factors contributing to slow progress toward the MDG targets in Africa, including inequality, structural constraints, and unemployment:
- Increasing economic inequality in African nations has meant that when progress toward the MDG targets has yielded tangible benefits, those benefits have bypassed the poorest citizens who need them the most. Vandermoortele pointed out that there is evidence that in a more economically equal society, fewer people live in poverty and there are fewer health and social problems. An increase in social inequality will thus impede progress toward achieving the MDGs.
- To sustain the progress made so far, it is necessary to address the social, political, and economic constraints that are hindering sustained economic growth, increase in trade, and improvement in human development, said Jahan. He suggested the implementation of a comprehensive, integrated reform package to deal with all facets of the existing constraints. He also suggested using models from other successful southern hemisphere development initiatives to help African nations move forward on the MDGs.
- Jahan argued that employment creation could be the missing link between economic growth and poverty reduction. “For a long time, we depended on growth-led employment generation, which basically turned out to be jobless growth. Can we have employment-led growth?” he wondered.
Africa and the Global Economic Crisis
The global economic crisis has slowed down and perhaps even reversed the progress made towards the MDGs. “Fortunately, the timely and appropriate responses of African policymakers have helped dampen the impact and set the stage for the continent to benefit from a global recovery,” argued Devarajan. He contended that Africa’s rapid growth since 1995, improvements in service delivery, and better policies have changed the MDG outlook for Africa. Africa can meet the MDGs, “if not by 2015 then soon thereafter,” he concluded.
Aid Effectiveness and International Financial Institutions
Panelists discussed the effectiveness of international aid and international financial institutions in making significant and long-lasting progress toward achieving the MDG targets.
- Jahan argued that a multi-pronged strategy and multi-actor involvement is necessary to enable international development aid to contribute to progress on the MDGs. He suggested that international financial institutions have three crucial roles they can play:
- They can play a positive role in international development by speeding up the process of meeting development goals.
- They can bring outside knowledge and expertise to developing countries;
- They can effectively deal with global constraints related to a country’s growth such as international trade, innovation, and acquisition and use of new technology.
- Vandermoortele stated that sustainability depends on achieving a deep transformation at the local level. International donors and financial institutions cannot create local change, and there is a risk that international involvement will keep the MDGs from the grassroots effect they are intended to have.