At the mid-point towards the 2015 deadline set for meeting the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), progress in many African countries is not on track. The continent as a whole is lagging behind on each Goal despite a very encouraging recent rise in the rate of economic growth, an overall improvement in the policy environment, and strong macroeconomic fundamentals. Yet existing commitments – if fully implemented – are sufficient to achieve the Goals. So the focus must now be on translating commitments into progress on the ground.
A number of recent successes—including the expansion of HIV/AIDS treatment, increases in agricultural productivity, a dramatic rise in school enrolment and increased access to water supply—demonstrate that rapid progress is possible across Africa when sound national policies are adequately financed through domestic resources and official development assistance with full support from the international system. A tremendous opportunity now exists to replicate these successes across Africa in order to achieve the Goals.
The MDG Africa Steering Group recommendations represent a landmark consensus among the African Union Commission, the African Development Bank Group, the European Commission, the International Monetary Fund, the Islamic Development Bank Group, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, the United Nations Development Group and the World Bank Group on the practical steps needed to support rapid progress towards the MDGs in Africa. The recommendations call for the following key actions by sector:
- Agriculture. Africa is the only region in the world where per capita food production has fallen in the last 30 years. Therefore African governments need to be supported in launching an African Green Revolution that can double per hectare yields in a short period of time. In particular, public policies and expenditure need to target the needs of smallholder farmers including through the temporary provision of subsidies for fertilizer and seeds. Malawi’s agriculture program provides an impressive example of what can be achieved in a short period of time. Development assistance for African agriculture must rise from currently US$1-2 billion to some 8 billion by 2010. Assistance for feeding and nutrition programs needs to reach an additional US$4 billion by 2010.
- Education. The education sector has seen some of the most remarkable progress towards the MDGs, yet many countries remain off-track. The Steering Group calls on development partners to finance national education strategies that have been endorsed by the Education for All Fast-Track Initiative. No African country should miss the Education for All Goals because of a lack of financial support. In addition to ensuring universal primary education, African countries with international support need to increase expenditure for early-childhood, secondary, tertiary and vocational education, as well as adult literacy programs.
- Health. The Steering Group underscores the critical importance of financing national health systems. The tools are known to address the health challenges faced by African countries, and effective mechanisms exist to channel international support for national health strategies. To ensure that the poor can access health services, user fees for primary health care should be phased out, where possible. Investments in human resources for health, including through community health workers, need to be stepped up. Of particular concern is the slow progress towards meeting the maternal mortality MDG, so the Steering Group calls on governments to increase investments in emergency obstetrical care.
- Infrastructure. Increased investments in African infrastructure, particularly for power generation and transmission, are critical to accelerate economic growth in Africa. Due to the large number of small and landlocked countries, Africa requires substantially higher investments in regional transport and communication networks as well as power pools. The Steering Group calls on development partners to at least double financing for the sector to reach some US$23.7 billion by 2010.
- National statistical systems, census, civil registration. Progress towards the MDGs can only be measured through more systematic, comprehensive and accurate data. The Steering Group raises the profile on the need for concerted action to support a full census across Africa, better statistical systems, and more comprehensive systems of civil registration. Better systems of civil registration are critical in protecting the rights of women and children.
- Climate proofing. The Steering Group recommendations include an explicit and comprehensive call to ‘climate proof’ efforts to achieve the MDGs so that countries guard themselves against the effects of increasing world temperatures, rising sea levels, and changing weather patterns. Recommended measures included better seed varieties and irrigation, better malaria control, and renewed investments in clean power generation and transportation.
Financing and aid predictability
- The Steering Group has issued the most comprehensive assessment of the external financing needed to reach the MDGs in Africa. No new commitments are needed to meet an estimated US$72 billion a year in required external financing. This figure is in line with pledges made in 2005 at the EU and Gleneagles G8 Summits to more than double ODA to Africa to about $54 billion a year by 2010. Measured in current US dollars, this commitment is equivalent to at least US$62 billion. With additional support from countries, such as China, that are not part of the OECD, private foundations and innovative public-private partnerships, the Steering Group’s recommendations can be financed if existing commitments are fully implemented.
- Aid predictability. Today African countries do not know how much aid they will receive in coming years and therefore cannot effectively plan for the expansion of key public services. Therefore, the Steering Group calls on donors to issue country-by-country schedules for how their aid will be increased to meet the commitments made in 2005. This small change in the way aid is provided would have a dramatic effect on African countries’ ability to pursue the long-term strategies needed to achieve the MDGs.
- Scaling up aid. Experience shows that even large increases in ODA can be absorbed with sound policies. The Gleneagles commitments can be implemented without setting off high inflation or weakening incentives. To operationalize the commitment at the country level, the Steering Group is supporting a first set of ten countries in preparing scenarios for how aid can be increased. On this basis the group will support the countries in mobilizing the necessary resources.
- Follow through on financing needed. Many African countries have upheld their side of the Monterrey consensus, by continuing with economic and political reforms and by focusing budgets on MDG-related social expenditures. But the scaled-up ODA promised by G8 donors has not materialized. Recently released OECD/DAC statistics indicate that aid to Africa has barely increased since 2004. The Steering Group calls on donors to urgently increase in ODA flows to Africa in line with existing commitments.
The Steering Group anticipates that a number of key meetings in 2008 will provide opportunities to mobilize governments to take action to implement the Steering Group’s recommendations. Some key meetings are:
- the G-8 Summit (7–9 July, Hokkaido, Japan);
- the Third High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness (2–4 September, Accra, Ghana);
- the High Level Meeting of the UN General Assembly on African development (22 September, New York)
- the High Level Meeting on the MDGs to be convened by the UN Secretary-General and the President of the UN General Assembly (25 September, New York); and
- the Follow-up International Conference on Financing for Development to Review the Implementation of the Monterrey Consensus (29 November–2 December, Doha, Qatar)