Shaping the Global Development Agenda after the MDGs and what it means for Africa, Rwanda

Date published on source: 
8 June 2015
Lamin M Manneh
Source organisation: 
New Times

Kigali:  As the twilight rapidly sets in on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), with their end-2015 deadline fast approaching, the efforts that have already been underway for at least two years now for ushering in another new dawn for a global development compact are also at full speed. These are being carried out in the context of what is now dubbed as “the Post-2015 Consultations” aimed at shaping the new development agenda for the world and its implementation, monitoring and reporting mechanisms for another 15 years after the expiry of the MDGs.

In this process, a great deal of political will has been demonstrated together and actively utilise the lessons of experience from the implementation of the MDGs as well as the benefits of hindsight regarding what could have been done better during the preparations for the MDGs before their launching at the Millennium Summit in September 2000.

What are these lessons and how are African countries also utilising them? What do they mean for Rwanda, in particular?

It is useful to start with those basics. In my article on MDGs published by The New Times on June 26, 2014, I argued that although the introduction of the MDGs did provide the poorer regions of the world, especially African countries, with important opportunities for effectively tackling the development challenges they were facing on the eve of the 21st Century, including high poverty levels, hunger, illiteracy, gender and spatial inequalities, increasing disease burdens and deteriorating environmental conditions, all combined with dwindling financial resources, the full exploitation of these opportunities have been constrained by a number of factors.

They include the very inadequate sensitisation of the broad sections of the populations throughout the world about the meaning and significance of MDGs before their formal adoption at the Millennium Summit, which meant that national ownership and broad support for them as well as the processes of exerting parliamentary pressure on the Executives for MDG implementation were slow to pick up momentum. Related to that was weak high level commitment and capacity in most countries to effectively translate the global goals, targets and indicators into operational policies and action plans within national poverty reduction and development strategies, that would have facilitated their realisation at a more rapid pace.

The analytical frameworks for the MDGs and the pathways for their realisation were also inadequately defined. Most countries were slow to embrace policy and programme innovations (with the exception of countries like Rwanda) for accelerating the pace of attaining the MDGs at much cheaper costs in the face of severe resource scarcities. Importantly also was the overwhelming (but ill-placed) expectation that external financing would meet almost all the funding requirements of achieving the MDGs. Remember the 2005 Gleagles Summit, where commitments were undertaken by the major donor countries to double ODA in order to accelerate progress towards achieving the MDGs?

Regarding the Intergovernmental negotiations on the Post-2015 development agenda, as already noted, these processes have now reached a fairly advanced stage. The fifth session of the negotiations, which took place in New York between 18 -22 May 2015 was the last “thematic” session. The remaining negotiations that will take place in June and July, 2015 will be devoted to discussing the outcome document.

It is encouraging that throughout the on-going consultations at the global, regional and country levels on shaping the new global development agenda that will succeed the MDGs come January 2016, the above lessons from the experience with MDGs before and during their implementation are being put into effect. It is also gratifying that this time around, African countries have not been left on the sidelines in that lesson learning and application. . As in the case of many development initiatives, Rwanda is ahead of most countries in the region in these preparatory processes.

The heavy, time and energy consuming process of the consultations and negotiations on the new global development goals have prompted many observers, especially the more cynical ones, to question the relevance of a new global development compact. Our simple and emphatic response to that is, in fact, more than ever before in mankind’s history, the international community needs such a collective approach for confronting the old and new development problems.

There are two main reasons for this imperative: the first is that the global community has become even more interconnected than anytime in the world’s history; when there was a sudden outbreak of ebola last year in three West African countries, virtually the whole world felt threatened. Other epidemics such as SARs, MERS do not know national boundaries.

The second reason is that whilst much of the work started with the MDGs need to continue, particularly tackling extreme poverty, new development challenges are emerging that require a new global vision, compact and reinforced collective efforts. The experiences of Philippines and Nepal with respect to natural disasters, which in turn are believed to be the results of climate change, amply demonstrates that such occurrences cannot be effectively handled by individual countries on their own.

The UN Secretary-General, in his 2013 report entitled “A Life of Dignity for All” succinctly captures these emerging challenges as follows: “…the world has changed radically since the turn of the millennium. New economic powers have emerged, new technologies are reshaping our societies and new patterns of human settlement and activity are heightening the pressures on our planet (aggravating the adverse effects of climate change). Inequality is rising in rich and poor countries alike.” There is increasing consensus that the new global development agenda should be underpinned by “Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)”, that seek to address simultaneously the triple needs for more inclusive economic growth patterns, social justice and sound environmental and natural resources management.

Learning from some of the deficits of MDGs that arose from inadequate consultations with, and sensitisation of, broad sections of the world’s population, the UN Secretary-General launched with effect from 2012 extensive debates, consultations (including the involvement of a High-Level Panel of Eminent Personalities, co-led by the Liberian and Indonesian Presidents along-side the British Prime Minister as well as an Open Working Group) and surveys among ordinary people on what should constitute the key elements of the post-2015 agenda. In all this, over seven million people from a wide spectrum of social groups and hundreds of civil society organisations, academicians and the private sector, have participated in such debates and surveys through, inter alia, a powerful social network platform called My World Survey, 11 thematic consultations and over 100 national consultations.

The outcomes of all these processes are informing the on-going inter-governmental consultations among the UN’s member states on the definition of the new global development agenda. Rwanda’s country consultations were carried out in April/May 2013 as well as in the course of 2014 and they produced very useful results about what the Rwandans want to see in the Post-2015 agenda. It is also notable that the Rwanda Government officials believe that the country’s second medium –term Economic Development and Poverty Reduction Strategy (EDPRS II) for 2013 – 2018 period does incorporate most of the elements of the emerging post-2015 agenda.

Results from the global surveys indicate that there has been a convergence of the wishes of the people around the world on what should be the key components of this new global development agenda: eradication of extreme poverty by 2030; promotion of inclusive growth and sustainable economic transformation as well as creation of adequate decent employment opportunities;; addressing exclusion and inequality; accelerating the promotion of gender equality and a more focus on the special problems of young girls; provision of quality education, life skills and early child development; ensuring universal health care and more vigorous response to emerging health problems, notably NCDs and epidemics; stepped up efforts at addressing the effects of climate change and environmental challenges across the board; ending hunger and malnutrition; addressing of demographic and urbanization challenges; building of more resilient infrastructures; better handling of migration; ensuring peace, security and more responsive governance processes; stricter enforcement and adherence to human rights; and renewed global partnership. (UN SG’s Report: A Life of Dignity for All.)

The new global development goals have assumed the name of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). There are 17 of them covering the above areas, with 169 targets and over 300 indicators. As at the time of writing this article, the Inter-Governmental Group and the UN Statistical Commission are still working towards finalising the indicators before presentation of the new compact to the UN general Assembly in September 2015. The UN Secretary-General classified the proposed 17 SDGs into 6 categories: Dignity (end poverty and fight inequality); People (ensure healthy lives, knowledge, and the inclusion of women and children); Planet (protect our ecosystems for all societies and our children); Prosperity (grow a strong, inclusive and transformative economy); Justice (promote safe and peaceful societies, and strong institutions); and Partnership (catalyse global solidarity for sustainable development).

As could be expected, many critical observers have raised questions about the shear breath and ambition of these goals, the feasibility of monitoring them and tracking actual progress within and across countries. They pose the question: if monitoring of 8 MDGs, 18 targets and 48 indicators have posed serious challenges to the national, regional and international community, how about 17 SDGs, 169 targets and over 300 indicators? Our response to these questions are that, these challenges notwithstanding, the complex problems facing the world now and in the foreseeable future indeed require much more ambition and effort on the part of the international community. Regarding the monitoring challenges, we believe that the rapid technological progress the world has witnessed since the introduction of the MDGs should be put into effective use in dealing with these challenges.

Another important issue with respect to SDGs is how their implementation will be financed. In this regard, the rough estimates that have been made by the intergovernmental committee of experts on sustainable development financing have put the cost of providing social safety nets alone for eradicating extreme poverty at about US $66billion a year, while annual investments in infrastructural improvements and development (water, agriculture, transport, power) could be as much as US$7 trillion, globally!

Public finance and aid are expected to continue to be central to supporting the implementation of the SDGs, but they will not be adequate. The other key sources that are being looked at are the following: enhanced domestic resource (savings) mobilisation; resources generated from the private sector, through tax reforms, along with a crackdown on illicit financial flows and corruption; trade and foreign direct investment; improved natural resources management; and more resort to external capital markets. Foundations could also be significant sources of additional financing.

A major conference on financing for SDGs is planned to be held in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, in July 2015, where it is hoped that concrete financing mechanisms for the SDGs will be further explored, agreed upon and developed.

As with the case of the MDGs, the poorer regions of the world, notably African countries, stand to benefit most from such a renewed global compact, if the final framework adequately takes into account their specific interests and needs. It is, therefore, encouraging that the African leaders have jointly evolved, through, the strategic coordinating leadership of the African Union (AU)a common African position on the Post-2015 Development Agenda for the continent, which rightly puts special emphasis on inclusive growth and structural economic transformation, promotion of science, technology and transformation, human-centered development, sound environmental management, peace and security and adequate financial mobilisation, including from domestic sources as well as mutually beneficial partnerships. The countries (individually and collectively through the AU) should be encouraged and supported to continue with a vigorous engagement in the on-going inter-governmental processes for the final definition of the post-2015 global development agenda.

From the foregoing, it could be said that with the new approach adopted by the international community, for defining the post -2015 agenda, with UN facilitation, the optimism that there will be greater success this time around compared to the aggregate results realised globally through the MDGs is well-placed. Given the remarkable progress that Rwanda has registered towards the MDGs, it is encouraging that the country has maintained strong engagement in the shaping of this new global development agenda, at both the national and in the intergovernmental processes in New York and elsewhere.

Rwanda has carried out two phases of national consultations on the post-2015 development agenda, in 2013 and 2014 respectively. In addition, Rwanda has been selected by the UN Headquarters to be among the countries that have piloted the formulation of the Governance and Institutional Capacity Development elements of the SDGs, under the leadership of the President’s Office, Ministry of Finance and Economic Planning, Ministry of Local Government and Rwanda Governance Board, with support from the One UN Rwanda Team. It has also started a multi-partner dialogue on Financing for development, under the leadership of Ministry of Finance and Economic Planning, especially in preparations for the incoming July 2015 FFD Meeting in Addis Ababa. It is also expected to actively participate in the September 2015 general Assembly, where the SDGs will be formally endorsed and accepted as well as in the December 2015 Climate Conference.

Most importantly, we hope that the Government will soon start the review of its current medium-term economic development and poverty reduction strategy and the long-term Vision, 2020, which is expected to be extended through 2030, with a view to integrating in them those new goals, indicators and targets that have not been taken into account at the time of their formulation. Accomplishment of the latter in an expeditiousness matter after the September 2000 Millennium Summit has been a key factor of success in the remarkable progress the country has made towards the MDGs. We expect nothing less in the case of the SDGs.

The writer is UN Resident Coordinator in Rwanda