Debating the MDGs

This section includes a number of pieces that discuss and debate the MDGs per se and also other related issues:

  1. Do ‘Global Goals’ ever make a difference? – this piece from the UNDP Human Development Report for 2003 discusses the question and offers a number of examples of previous goals, some achieved in part or in full, some not achieved to date.
  2. Some criticisms of the MDGs – again, a piece compiled from many reports including the 2003 UNDP Human Development Report that outlines some of the main criticisms of the Goals from a number of perspectives.
  3. Accountability in Africa: whose problem? – excerpts from an article from (an online global magazine of politics and culture) by Associate Director of the Institute for Public Policy Research, David Mepham who explores the damage done to Africa and Africans by many of their own leaders but also by international economics and politics. In particular, he examines 4 types of damage done.
  4. The Right Kind of Aid by Roger Bate, a contributor to the website Tech Central Station (based in Washington and which is supported by a range of international corporations e.g. the American Beverage Association, AT&T, ExxonMobil, General Motors Corporation, McDonalds, Merck, Microsoft etc.) argues that people in the ‘West’ will give generously when the aid is of the right kind.
  5. Africa needs a hand up, not a hand out! – extracts from a speech by the Chairman of the De Beers Corporation in June 2005 which presents a business view of the achievements, failures and needs of Africa in the context of the MDGs.
  6. Development: EU Heroes and Villains listed – a piece by journalist Stefania Bianchi on the views of a group of development NGOs who argue that some of the richest states and the European Union are doing little to contribute to the Millennium Development Goals.
  7. Dark Continent? Poverty, AIDS and War – the everyday tsunami, Ann-Louise Colgan, Director of Policy Analysis and Communications at Africa Action (an Africa advocacy organisation based in the U.S), looks at the MDGs and other initiatives for Africa in the light attitudes and (in)actions on the issues of genocide and HIV and AIDS.
  8. Water: a Common Denominator – an opinion piece by Michael Akpan, President, Pan African Vision for the Environment published in the Lagos newspaper This Day in March 2005 and which focuses on the water and sanitation dimensions of the MDGs stressing their implications for the other Goals.
  9. Problems Aplenty in a World of Plenty – a report summary by IPS journalist Abid Aslam arguing that humans are devouring more food, material goods, and natural resources than ever before and that the worldwide pursuit of prosperity and material luxury is stoking environmental and security problems, according to the Worldwatch Institute Report for 2005.
  10. MDGs by 2015 – An opinion piece by Fr. Peter Henriot of the Jesuit Centre for Theological Reflection in Lusaka placing the MDGs in a Zambian context and reviewing some of the political challenges of achieving the MDGs in a country like Zambia.

1. Do ‘Global Goals’ ever make a difference?

Global Goals are regularly dismissed as being too ambitious and for being rarely achieved – and yet, the reality is quite different as these examples clearly show:

  • Eradicating smallpox, declared by the World Health Organisation in 1965 and achieved in 1977, 12 years later
  • Reducing child deaths from diarrhoea by half, declared by the World Summit for Children in 1990 and achieved in the 1990s
  • Reducing infant mortality to less than 120 per 1,000 live births by 2000, declared by the World Summit for Children and achieved in all but 12 developing countries
  • Eliminating polio by 2000, declared by the World Summit for Children in 1990 and now 175 countries

Significant progress has been made on other declared goals, for example:

  • Raising life expectancy to 60 years by 2000, declared by the General Assembly in 1980 and now achieved in 124 from 173 countries (almost all countries achieving the target were amongst the poorest countries)
  • Reducing child mortality by at least one-third more during the 1990s, declared by the World Summit for Children in 1990 and now achieved in 63 countries and in more than 100 countries it was reduced by 20%
  • Eliminating or reducing hunger and malnutrition by 2000, declared by the World Summit on Children and included in the Third Development Decade and in developing countries malnutrition dropped by 17% between 1980 and 2000 but the number in sub-Saharan Africa rose by 27 million in the 1990s
  • Achieving universal access to clean water by 1990, then by 2000 as declared in the Third Development Decade and the 1990 Summit for Children and access increased by 4.1 billion people reaching a total of 5 billion
  • Halving adult literacy rates by 2000 as declared in the 1990 Children’s Summit – illiteracy fell from 25% in 1990 to just 21% in 2000.

The UNDP Human Development Report for 2003 comments:

‘Whether the numerical target of a global goal was achieved is an important but inadequate measure of success because it does not indicate whether setting the goal made a difference. In many cases enormous progress has been made even though numerical targets have not been reached – as with the International Drinking Water Supply and Sanitation Decade of the 1980s… during which hardly any developing country achieved universal coverage. But the setting of global goals drew attention to these needs, and in the 1980s access to safe water increased 130% and access to sanitation increased 266%, both much more than in the 1970s or 1990s. Yet the decade has often been viewed as a failure simply because the numerical targets were not met…’

2. A summary of some of the key criticisms of the idea as well as the context/practice of the MDGs

Some of the key criticisms include:

  • They are too narrow in scope and focus – they have left out key areas such as strong governance, employment, reproductive healthcare and institutional reform at international level
  • They rely on indicators that are too narrow e.g. school enrolment gaps to track progress in gender equality or numbers of telephones to measure technological change
  • They are unrealistic and have set a stage for failure and therefore for dis-illusion and they can be used to ‘name and shame’ countries that do not achieve the goals
  • They could distort national priorities and could be imposed ‘top down’ on governments and peoples by donors thus undermining local ownership of the agenda
  • The MDGs are the latest set of ‘targets’ and ‘objectives’ agreed by the ‘international community’ to which there is only lukewarm commitment and not a lot of real political will, despite having agreed to them, governments will, in effect, ignore them.
  • They are very often abstracted from the social, political and economic realities in which they exist and from which they arise e.g. existing unequal power relations, international poverty etc.
  • They have only an indirect relationship with the human rights obligations identified in, for example, the 1986 UN Declaration on the Right to Development.
  • For many, especially those working in the filed of health and development, health in the MDGs is viewed primarily as disease or death and the link between health and wider issues of poverty and inequality is not drawn.
  • The aim of gender equality and the notion of women’s ’empowerment’ is reduced to improving women’s access to education.

One commentator, Sarah Bradshaw, a gender researcher working with CISAS in Nicaragua, summarises the main criticisms of the Millennium Development process as follows:

‘MDGs may distract from wider development issues and the commitments made at UN conferences.?The notions of equity and equality for all underpinning the Human Rights framework is lost, retreating from UN principles and undermining its work and status. The MDGs allow further expansion of the influence of the World Bank and the IMF into the social policy arena while not altering the existing macroeconomic policy framework nor adequately addressing trade imbalances.

The focus on a narrow set of linear, measurable targets means the analysis of, and attention to root causes is lost and replaced by reliance on technical fixes. The goals of gender equality and health for all are co-opted within the MDGs and become not ends/goals in themselves but means to an end and women in particular are key for ensuring the other goals, placing further burdens on them.

The conceptualisation of women within the MDGs may actually make the situation worse for women given the goals do nothing to change inequalities and actions to meet the goals may actually strengthen rather than challenge gender stereotypes. The exclusion of any discussion around sexual and reproductive rights is a fundamental weakness of the MDGs and questions the possibility that the MDG process can bring any improvement in the situation of women.’

3. Accountability in Africa: whose problem?

Harmful western policies too often reinforce the damage that many African regimes inflict on their own people – 2005 can and must be a year of change, writes David Mepham.

‘…Africa can be said to suffer from two accountability deficits: a lack of domestic accountability, with inadequate structures for holding Africa’s governments accountable to Africa’s people; and a lack of external accountability, an absence of mechanisms for holding rich countries to account for the impact of their policies on Africa. A disproportionate amount of the debate in the UK and other rich countries has focused on the first to the detriment of the second.

A critical part of the explanation for the condition of Africa does indeed rest with Africa’s elites and with the state of politics and governance across the continent over several decades. There have been many cases in which Africa’s elites have pursued ruinous economic and social policies that have impoverished their people, widened inequality and increased injustice and discrimination (Zimbabwe under Robert Mugabe is a classic modern example). These elites have sometimes been blatantly predatory, amassing enormous wealth for themselves and their associates through theft and corruption (Zaire – now the Republic of the Congo – under Mobutu Sese Soko is an especially blatant case).

Despite the spread of democratic elections across the continent, in too many countries democratic institutions remain weak or non-existent (the military coup in Togo following the death of long-term dictator Gnassingbe Eyadema which brought his son to power, is a recent illustration). Many of the worst cases of human rights violations on the continent have also been carried out by Africa’s elites against a section of their own people (the genocide in Rwanda, the wars in Congo, and the massacres in the Darfur region of Sudan are some of the more extreme examples)…

…But if African governments should be held accountable for the impact of their policies, so too must the governments of rich countries and the international institutions that they largely control. Too often, Africa’s development plight is seen as an exclusively internal phenomenon in need of an external remedy. Yet some of the policies currently pursued by rich countries are actually damaging Africa.’

Four kinds of damage

There are four areas in particular – aid and conditionality, trade, arms transfers, corruption and conflict financing – where this damage is felt.

Firstly, aid and conditionality – while Africa needs significantly more aid, not least to tackle the HIV/AIDS pandemic and to help meet the Millennium Development Goals, donor aid has sometimes served to strengthen local elites and done too little to improve the lives of ordinary Africans. Aid has also been used to promote the commercial objectives of donors through tied aid, or to leverage policy reforms through inappropriate conditionality that worsen the conditions of Africa’s poor. And the way in which aid is delivered often imposes significant transaction costs on African societies.

Second, international trade rules – these rules are heavily stacked against Africa’s interests. European Union and United States agricultural subsidies and the dumping of surplus agricultural produce is destroying the livelihoods of large numbers of African farmers. African exporters still have restricted access to rich-country markets. Many African countries also suffer the effects of tariff escalation, with countries like Ghana facing much higher tariffs on processed chocolate than on unprocessed cocoa beans when they try and export into rich country markets. Another trade agreement, on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property (Trips), has the effect of increasing the cost of technology and other essential goods, including the price of drugs for treating HIV/Aids.

Third, arms proliferation – rich countries are significant suppliers of weapons and military equipment to Africa. Some of these arms fuel and exacerbate armed conflicts or strengthen repressive regimes or rebel groups in Africa. Weapons and ammunition are also transferred to Africa by arms brokers, traffickers and transport agents from rich countries, and their governments have still not put in place adequate controls to curb this deadly trade.

Fourth, corruption and conflict financing – poor governance of the international corporate sector can damage and distort Africa’s development prospects. Despite widespread bribery in Africa involving western companies, rich country governments have done far too little to implement their commitments under the OECD Convention against the Bribery of Foreign Public Officials. For example, not a single G8 country has yet ratified the UN Convention against Corruption. Nor has enough been done to tackle the role of rich-country governments and companies in financing conflict in Africa through the purchase of commodities like oil, diamonds or timber…

The accountability deficit in these four areas reinforces what is often described as the “policy incoherence” of rich countries towards Africa. The key concern has been that rich countries should not take away with one hand what they give with the other, and that they should ensure that their broader economic and foreign policies are consistent with their stated objectives for international development…

This is not happening at present. Genuinely independent reporting, better analysis and a refined methodology for assessing coherence issues – all these could help in better holding rich countries to account. However the real obstacles to improved policy towards Africa are not technical but political. Africa’s interests, and the harmful impacts of rich-country policy towards Africa, need to be made a consistent focus of international political concern, partly by creating new mechanisms that can sustain that concern over time…

4. The Right Kind of Aid – Roger Bate 01/04/2005

As more aid pours in for the unfortunate victims of the Asian tsunami, there has been much hand-wringing that nations, notably the Untied States, have not done enough. But while the highly paid UN staff whips up, and the media avidly reports, big government aid competition, what is far less well monitored is whether the money is being well spent. If history is any guide, the short run aid, especially from the private sector, will probably be relatively well spent, but the loner term aid, especially from governments, will prop up failing systems and allow domestic funding for healthcare and social security to be diverted into arms purchases…

Donor nations may attempt to ensure that aid is spent on health care, food delivery, poverty reduction or some other desired relief work. They may also receive solemn pledges from recipient governments on the proper utilization of aid money. But once the money is thrown into the budget pot of the recipient government, the aid frees other resources for spending on weaponry and other odious acts to support suppression…

Overcoming the ‘diversion of funds’ problem in government-to-government aid appears insuperable as long as developing-country governments regard oversight as interference in their internal affairs. However, people-to-people, non-governmental aid would solve the oversight problem and have many other additional benefits.

Donor nations could leverage earmarked aid funds by a multiple of three or four, depending on their tax rates, by allowing tax deductions to their own corporate and individual taxpayers for investments and philanthropy in designated developing countries. In other words, government-to-government aid could be converted into a larger amount of citizen-to-citizen aid.

Poverty relief would be real, identifiable and quantifiable if made by private organizations and individuals. Investments and donations in recipient countries would go directly to areas where they would make the most difference in providing jobs and relieving poverty. Bureaucrats would not absorb a large percentage of the funds in administration costs, and buying arms with donor money would be out of the question…

Instead of having anonymous flows into the coffers of recipient governments, aid to developing countries would become personalized – the recipients of donations and employees of investing firms would be able to put faces to their benefactors. As a result of such personal contact, demands for aid now directed at governments would become invitations directed at investors and requests to private donors, completely changing the nature of the process. Most importantly, direct interaction between individual donors, investors and the citizens of developing countries would occur, contributing significantly to good relations between nations.

The UNs Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) aim to reduce poverty, malnutrition and ill health. A ‘global partnership’ is envisaged, coupled with the exhortation that ‘while success depends on the actions of developing countries, which must direct their own development, there is also much that rich countries must do to help.’

But since most previous government-to-government aid has failed abysmally the MDGs are likely to be missed since despite past failure, the UN continues to expect governments to be the primary agents for ridding the world of poverty, disease and all the social ills that accompany them. There is no recognition that it is private firms and individuals that are, always have been, and always will be, responsible for reducing their own poverty and that of others. It should be of no surprise that it is the private sector in China that has driven poverty from millions, but the UN misses this point…

The most effective way to address all the MDGs is therefore to leave the delivery of aid in the hands of private firms and individuals from developed countries, whose governments should refrain from taxing monies utilized by their citizens for investment and philanthropy in poor countries. Citizens of poor countries must develop institutions such as property rights, the rule of law, and freedom of exchange to sustain wealth-creation, which is the other side of the poverty-reduction coin.

Given the right conditions and incentives, the rich citizens of China, America and Europe will reach out to the less fortunate of Asia to help them create the necessary institutions needed to support poverty-reduction.

5. Africa needs a hand up, not a hand out!

Extracts from a speech by Nicky Oppenheimer, Chairman of the De Beers Corporation, London, June 14th, 2005 – June 14, 2005

…And so I want to start today with two assertions, both of which may surprise you: First, I may not look it, but I am an African and proud to be so. Indeed a third generation African married to a fourth generation African, and with grandchildren who extend my family’s connection to the continent to the sixth generation. And, because I am an African, I claim the right to say that Africa does not exist simply to make people in this country – or indeed anywhere else in the developed world – feel good about themselves. It is much more than just a suitable case for charity.

Africa is not a place only of appalling poverty and deprivation, of uncaring despots and wars of unimaginable cruelty, as the public perception would have us believe. The emblem of this Africa is the starving child with a belly swollen by malnutrition and huge eyes covered with flies, a child whose plight demands our attention and rightfully commands our charity. But, in a continent of nearly 700 million people, 50 very different countries and hundreds of different languages, there is also another Africa, vibrant and full of potential that also demands recognition.

The countries of Africa may seek a Pan-African voice through the African Union and sport a number of regional and sub-regional multi-lateral organisations, but the dreadful civil wars of the Congo, Liberia, Sierra Leone and the Great Lakes region are no more symptomatic of Africa than the troubles which plagued the Balkans in the 90s were symptomatic of Europe. Africa is much more than simply a handy metaphor for poverty and we do my continent a great injustice when we use it as such. Africa is much more than a palliative for those Western consciences pricked by sweeping generalisations of how much Africans need help.

There are countries in Africa where people are taking their future into their own hands, where success is beginning to supplant simple survival as a suitable goal in life; where innovation and the entrepreneurial spirit is alive and well and flourishing, albeit often in the most difficult conditions. There are countries whose governments acknowledge the Rule of Law, the demands of transparency and fiscal prudence, who govern in the interests of all their people, not only the elite few, and who have recognised that business, not aid, is the spur to growth.

There are some whose economic management has secured double-digit growth rates and there is one I know particularly well which is recognised by Transparency International as not only the least corrupt country in Africa, but one of the least corrupt in the world. And in these countries success has been achieved either without the benefit of aid, or in spite of it.

Sadly and inexplicably, these success stories seldom register on the public radar screen and appear to be of little or no interest to departments of overseas development. This is insulting to those African countries that set such a good example for others to follow. Instead of being largely ignored by governments, civil society and the media, these success stories should surely be celebrated.

The donor community, however, finds it easier to see and portray Africa as a whole, rather than to draw a proper distinction between very disparate countries. Some, certainly, are wracked by civil war, destroyed by corruption and rapacious leaders; but there are those which have thrown off the mental shackles of colonialism and decades of post-colonial misrule, and whose people are demanding the benefits of democracy. There are some like South Africa, Botswana, Mauritius, and Ghana which have established themselves as proud countries increasingly, or completely, independent of aid and with a clear and distinctive voice in the councils of the world.

We have heard a great deal in recent years about donor fatigue… May I suggest, however, that people in many African countries may be suffering from donation fatigue? It’s probably a surprising thought, but many are growing increasingly weary of being seen merely as recipients of Western largesse, especially largesse which expands dependence on the donor, or makes them hostage to the passions and prejudices of foreign NGOs…

…If the West were serious about what it sees as Africa’s plight, one would have imagined that the thought would have crossed its collective mind that perhaps, just perhaps, aid is not the only answer. It is as though a doctor, having discovered that a particular drug failed to cure the patient, simply increased the dose to ever-larger amounts rather than looking for different ways to treat the disease.

Once again, however, aid is presented as the sovereign remedy for Africa’s ills, only this time in amounts even bigger than anything Africa has seen before. Professor Jeffrey Sachs, in a report for the UN on its Millennium Development Goals, calls for developed nations to boost their aid budgets from 0.25 percent of their gross national product to 0.7 percent in the next 10 years… But money by itself is only a part of any solution, long term involvement is much more important. Debt cancellation itself, however, is nothing more than aid by another name. It is also, to put it kindly, an example of the triumph of hope over experience.

It may be unkind, but nonetheless true, to suggest that the West is not seeking a real solution to Africa’s problems, but an excuse, swathed in the highest motives, for not doing the really difficult thing and finding – together with African leaders – solutions which really work. Aid, after all, only costs money. Real solutions, such as the abolition of domestic subsidies which impoverish Africa’s farmers and tariff barriers which penalise its producers, cost votes…

Of course aid has a role and an important one in relieving endemic poverty. But if we are really serious about helping the poor out of poverty, we must accept that aid cannot be the only, or even the most important, remedy in what must be a suite of solutions…

Africa, I believe, deserves more than your charity.

6. Development: EU Heroes and Villains listed – Stefania Bianchi

Some of the richest states European Union are doing little to contribute to the Millennium Development Goals, says a new report by three leading development groups.

BRUSSELS, Feb 14 (IPS) – As European Union (EU) development ministers prepare for an informal development meeting Tuesday (Feb. 15), the non-governmental organisations (NGOs) Oxfam, ActionAid and Eurodad say member states such as Germany and Italy are doing too little to help achieve the United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

Their joint report ‘EU Heroes and Villains’ launched in Brussels names and shames European governments whose aid commitments, trade and debt policies are failing the poorest countries.

Only four EU member states – Sweden, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and Denmark – have so far fulfilled a promise made in 1970 by the world’s rich countries to give at least 0.7 percent of their gross national income (GNI) as foreign aid.

The report hails these countries as “heroes on the world stage” for surpassing the internationally agreed target, but says that the good reputation of the Netherlands, which contributes 0.81 percent, is at risk because the government is pushing for a change to allow security-related expenditure to be counted as aid.

In addition Denmark, which is paying the most of all EU states with 0.84 percent, is named as a “leading champion”, but the report expresses concerns that the Danish government had been cutting down on aid spending since 2001, when it gave 1.03 percent. The development groups say the rest of EU countries have a long way to go to meet the 0.7 target.

“The other 21 EU states are still a long way off track in terms of their promise. Although this failure is understandable for the new EU member states who face major economic challenges, this is inexcusable for other EU countries which include some of the richest in the world,” the report says.

Italy, which is one of the bloc’s wealthiest countries, is the “leading villain on the EU stage” of member states, contributing just 0.17 percent of GNI, the report says. The report also criticises German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, leader of the EU’s largest economy, for his promise at the World Economic Forum in Davos last month that Germany would reach the 0.7 percent goal in the “medium term”. “On current trends, Germany will not reach the 0.7 percent until 2087, which is a long way from being in the ‘medium term’,” the report says. “If the German government is serious about creating a greater role for itself on the world stage, or securing a permanent place on the UN Security Council, it must now set an ambitious and binding timetable to reach 0.7 percent.”

The MDGs include a 50 percent reduction in poverty and hunger, universal primary education, reduction of child mortality by two-thirds, cutbacks in maternal mortality by three-quarters, promotion of gender equality, and reversal of the spread of HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases.

A millennium summit of 189 world leaders in September 2000 pledged to meet all of these goals by 2015. A summit later this year will review progress towards the goals and set the development agenda for the next decade.

The NGOs say Ireland deserves a “special black mark” because it has reneged on its commitment to meet 0.7 percent by 2007 — a change of policy, which the groups say illustrates the fragility of GNI commitments.

“Such timetables have little value when member states change their mind on when they can meet the 0.7 target. Other commitments by France and the UK to meet the target by 2012 and 2013 respectively are also far too late as countries have made a pledge to achieve the MDGs by 2015,” Louise Hilditch, head of ActionAid International’s Europe office told media representatives at the report launch Monday.

The report praises the EU’s 10 newest member states which joined the bloc just over nine months ago, and says that although many are only beginning to progress from being net recipients of aid to bring donors, they are already threatening to overtake some of the old member states…

The development groups are urging the EU to take positive action on three issues — improving the quantity and quality of international aid, easing the burden of unsustainable debt, and making the rules for world trade fairer…

… On trade, the NGOs say the EU Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), which protects European farmers, continues to “devastate livelihoods” in developing countries.

“France remains an obstacle by blocking essential reforms which include an end to agricultural export subsidies,” the report says. “Despite some small and tentative steps forwards, Europe has largely failed to make any contribution designed to make trade work for poor people.”

The report argues that the EU should show leadership and act as “a catalyst to pressure other stingy donors” such as the United States and Japan to push for a real breakthrough on aid in 2005.

“Europe can be the world leader in the fight against poverty. But for this to happen, we need to see concrete changes in an increase in aid, a joint effort on debt relief, and steps to make trade fair for poor countries,” Luis Morago, head of Oxfam’s Brussels office said Monday.

7. Dark Continent? Poverty, AIDS and war: The everyday tsunami

Ann-Louise Colgan

…There are some people in the world’s wealthy countries who forecast that 2005 will be a decisive year for Africa…

In 2005, a confluence of major international events will also spotlight Africa’s poverty-related challenges, and will highlight the need for the world’s richest countries to do more in support of Africa’s efforts. In July, Britain will host the G-8 summit in Scotland. In September, a United Nations (UN) Special Summit will review progress on the Millennium Development Goals, which aim to reduce by half the number of people living in extreme poverty by 2015. In December, the World Trade Organization’s (WTO) sixth ministerial conference in Hong Kong will reveal whether the Doha round of global trade talks have secured new deals to benefit the world’s most impoverished countries.

Civil society campaigns in the U.S. and in the U.K. are also pushing 2005 as a special opportunity for rich country leaders to address poverty in Africa and other impoverished regions. They are optimistic about victories on debt cancellation, aid and trade this year.

It is important to note that these international meetings and campaigns are Northern-dominated and rarely include African input. Indeed, they can have the effect of drowning out African voices. Meanwhile, on the ground, African civil society campaigns and some African governments continue to demand real action on priority issues defined by Africans.

Then how should we measure the outcomes of these opportunities? For, while a new international focus on Africa is warranted, and while much more can and must be done to address the continent’s challenges, the sad reality is that 2005 risks being another year of “compassionate showmanship” rather than a year of sea change. The poor track record of the U.S. and other rich countries when it comes to Africa requires us to watch carefully what transpires in 2005 and to be clear on how we will measure the success of their actions this year and beyond.

As genocide continues to unfold in Darfur, Sudan, the failure of the Bush administration and other rich country governments to stop another such crime against humanity in Africa may yet be the darkest stain on their record in 2005…

This Year’s “Hot Topics” – Debt, Aid & Trade

This year’s calendar of global events and negotiations indicates an international focus on three key issues of importance to Africa – debt, aid, and trade?and some progress is likely on each in 2005.

On debt, activism around the world in recent years has led to a growing realization on the part of rich countries that something must be done to address the debt crisis in the world’s most impoverished countries. There has also been an increasing acknowledgment that the current debt relief framework?the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) Initiative?has failed to resolve this crisis. African countries continue to struggle under an unsustainable burden of debt, and are still required to spend some $15 billion in debt service payments to wealthy creditors each year. Most African countries must spend more on debt service payments that they can spend on health care and education combined…

There are still some differences between the U.S. and U.K. in these regards… Despite these disagreements, there are indications that an agreement can be expected in 2005 on some form of debt relief or cancellation for some sub-set of deeply impoverished countries.

Meanwhile, civil society groups and some governments in Africa and elsewhere in the global South continue to call for outright and unconditional debt cancellation, emphasizing that these debts are illegitimate and should not have to be repaid. They urge the Bush administration to apply the same standard it has in calling for the cancellation of Iraq’s odious debt to the odious and illegitimate debts of African countries…

Even after debt cancellation, additional development assistance will still be required for African countries to be able to address the challenges of poverty and HIV/AIDS. 2005 is a benchmark year for the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), a set of international development goals that seek to improve health, education and the environment across the world, with the overarching aim of reducing by half the number of people living in extreme poverty by 2015.

When the UN meets in September to review progress toward these goals, it will be clear that while some regions are on track, Africa remains the exception. In fact, an interim UN report has revealed that, at current pace, Africa won’t reach these goals until 2169?and that will still only have reduced poverty there by half. The United Nations states that meeting the MDGs will require a doubling of annual development assistance from rich countries to impoverished countries throughout the world, to $135 billion in 2006, then rising to $195 billion by 2015. It describes this as “entirely affordable,” particularly when the world’s military budget is $900 billion a year…

…Not only are aid flows insufficient, the patterns in which they are directed increasingly reflect geo-strategic concerns rather than efforts to reduce poverty. An Oxfam report from December 2004 warns that the “war on terror” and related geo-strategic calculations are dictating where aid money is directed in a dynamic reminiscent of the Cold War. Over the past three years, flows of aid from the U.S. to Israel, Egypt, Jordan, Iraq, Turkey, and Afghanistan were equal to aid to the rest of the world combined. Furthermore, when up to 70% of U.S. foreign aid is tied to an obligation to use that money to buy goods and services from the U.S., this immediately undermines development efforts in African countries…

HIV/AIDS & Genocide in Africa – International Failures

It is not yet clear to what extent African priorities of defeating HIV/AIDS and promoting peace and security will feature on the agenda of rich countries in 2005. But what is already quite clear is the abject failure of these countries to respond to such priorities in Africa with the urgency they require.

The latest annual AIDS epidemic update released in December 2004 reveals that sub-Saharan Africa is still by far the worst affected region in the world?home to up to 28 million people living with HIV/AIDS, or 64% of the global total. African women, particularly young African women, are disproportionately affected by this pandemic ( It is estimated that almost four times as many young women as young men now live with HIV in sub-Saharan Africa…

…Beyond the inadequate funding levels, the approach of U.S. policies on HIV/AIDS continues to contradict what are some of the most important ways to address this crisis in Africa. Rather than promoting access to cheaper, generic versions of essential HIV/AIDS medications, the Bush administration places a priority on its ties with the pharmaceutical lobby, and instead approves only the use of expensive name-brand drugs. These generally cost three times as much as the generic versions, thereby reaching only one-third of potential beneficiaries.

In addition, the Bush administration’s embrace of the ideology of the religious right has led it to promote an abstinence-only approach to HIV prevention strategies at home and abroad. This perspective dangerously places a premium on ideology over science and flies in the face of what is known about the most effective ways to stem the spread of this disease in Africa and elsewhere. And abstinence-only prevention programs do little to support the needs of women, when many of those contracting HIV are staying faithful to one partner, and when effective prevention clearly hinges on women’s sexual and reproductive rights.

Meanwhile, the Global Fund to fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, which has proven to be an effective mechanism for addressing this pandemic in some 127 countries, remains under-funded by the U.S. and other rich countries…


The year has begun with a natural disaster of unprecedented proportions in the Indian Ocean, and, as the world struggles to help the countries of South Asia respond to this crisis, there are fears that this may divert attention and resources from Africa’s needs in the coming year.

What is perhaps more significant is how the rapid and massive resource mobilization for the tsunami victims stands in stark contrast to the minimal level of global attention and resources given to crises that are less visible but equally deadly in Africa. In the first two weeks after that natural disaster, international donors pledged more than $5 billion to tsunami relief?an amount almost equal to the total amount that the UN received for all humanitarian relief efforts globally last year. The global AIDS crisis, which costs about 3 million lives each year, received pledges of only $3.6 billion from all rich country governments for the whole of 2004.

If 2005 is to be a decisive year for Africa, the U.S. and other rich country governments must replace compassionate charades with serious action in support of Africa’s most urgent priorities. They must cancel Africa’s debts, greatly increase their funding to fight HIV/AIDS, fulfill their previous promises on trade-related reforms, and support multilateral efforts to promote peace & security in Africa, with the immediate priority of ending the genocide in Darfur.

8. Water: a Common Denominator

This Day (Lagos newspaper)
Opinion piece by Michael Akpan, March 1, 2005

The UN Millennium Development Goals, and their associated targets, are now the centre piece of the global development agenda. To combat poverty, hunger, disease, illiteracy, environmental degradation and gender inequality, water is a key. The importance of water cannot be underestimated; poverty, hunger, environmental problems and diseases could be directly combated and significantly scaled back if fought with access to water as a primary goal.

Child and maternal mortality would drop, and other important issues, including education and gender equality, would indirectly benefit from achievement of the safe drinking water and basic sanitation targets identified within the MDGs. Currently, 1.1 billion people lack access to safe drinking water, and 2.4 billion people lack access to sanitation — “the biggest scandal of the last 50 years,” according to the Water and Sanitation Collaborative Council (WSSCC). As it currently is, the situation limits development prospects in general and development in particular.

Water is critical, for example, in achieving three health-related targets: to reduce by two-third the death rate among children under five, reduce by three-quarters the rate of maternal mortality and to halt and begin to reverse HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases. Water-borne diseases are the biggest killer of young children. Access to improved quantities and quality of water and sanitation will directly reduce child death. According to WSSCC, at any time more than half the poor of the developing world are ill from causes related to hygiene, sanitation and water supply. Diarrhoeal disease alone kills six thousand children everyday. Improved nutrition and food security, for which access to water is critical, will reduce susceptibility to a wide range of diseases and will lower both the child and maternal mortality rates.

Malaria could be successfully reduced through water management that limits risk from mosquito breeding habitats. The Millennium Development Goals aim also to improve the lives of slum dwellers, for whom improved water management and sanitation services are critical. The urban poor suffer from poor quality, unreliable and overpriced services, and long queues if and when water is available … In fact, in most developing countries only about 1-2 per cent of government spending goes to low cost water and sanitation…

…Achievements in water also help further the goals that help create gender equality and achieve universal primary education. Poor women and girls in rural and urban areas are almost always the family or village water gatherers, but water sources are frequently many hours’ walk. With better water services, girls can use their time, for instance, for schooling. This time management would allow women to access primary education, helping to achieve the primary education goal while empowering women through education, thus accomplishing the goal of gender equality. Studies, too, have shown that there is a direct relation to villages with access to water and their ability to attract teachers and other professionals …

…Water links all activities involved in trying to achieve the MDGs, and using water as an example can also highlight potentially conflicting targets that therefore must be managed. Hunger and poverty alleviation will imply increased food production and strengthened economic development. These side effects of that may hinder the achievement of the target for safe drinking water (in particular), through increased pollution, and the MDG on environmental sustainability (in general), through river depletion and pollution…

…The last of the MDGs is to “develop a global partnership for development” as one important vehicle for the achievement of the other seven goals and the targets. Partnership thus in the water sector would play a critical role in achieving the health, poverty and environment-related MDGs, as well as education and gender equality. With water, the development of local agricultural sustainability (where possible) would help combat hunger and poverty and develop local markets; sanitation would be delivered to combat against water borne disease and mortality rates. Watershed protection would contribute to environmental sustainability for this precious resource.

Mr. M. Akpan, president, Pan African Vision for the Environment

9. Problems Aplenty in a World of Plenty – Report by Abid Aslam

WASHINGTON, May 14 (IPS) – Humans are devouring more food, material goods, and natural resources than ever before and the worldwide pursuit of prosperity and material luxury is stoking environmental and security problems, according to a new report on trends shaping the planet’s future.

Increased production and consumption of everything from grain and meat to oil and cars reflects strong economic growth in 2004, says “Vital Signs 2005”, released this week by the Washington-based research group Worldwatch Institute. But the social and environmental costs of economic growth go largely unnoticed, the report says. Pollution is rising, ecosystems are being degraded, and many of the world’s poor people, shut out from the gains of economic growth, are being left further behind.

“We have by no means freed ourselves from the material world and its persistent threats,” said Christopher Flavin, Worldwatch president.

The study highlights the example of China, which it describes as “a global force that is driving consumption and production of almost everything through the roof.”

This, the report says, is most evident in Chinese demand for oil and steel. Oil consumption in the world’s most populous nation surged by 11 percent last year to 6.6 million barrels a day, fuelling the fastest rate of increase in world oil consumption in 16 years. Likewise, Chinese demand has driven up world steel production by one-third in the last five years, to a record level of more than one billion tonnes. “In terms of scale, it is as if all of Europe, Russia, and North and South America were simultaneously to undertake a century’s worth of economic development in a few decades,” the report says…

…Air pollution alone is estimated to cause some 590,000 premature deaths per year in China and the country’s economic growth has led to a jump in its emissions of greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide. Scientists blame these gases, released mainly when oil and coal are burned, for global warming. China emits 47 percent more carbon dioxide than it did in 1990 and in 2003, it accounted for half the global increase. The country now ranks second, behind the United States, in global carbon emissions and these are projected to keep increasing apace with rising demand for energy and cars, the report says.

While large developing countries like China and India will have a major impact on the world’s future, the report also says that wealthy nations with small populations and “sky-high consumption patterns remain a major threat to the global environment.” The United States, for example, is home to five percent of the world’s population but spews more than one-fourth of the world’s greenhouse gases. Likewise, it accounts for a quarter of global oil consumption, guzzling an estimated 20 million barrels of oil every day…

…World production of grains, meat, and fish rose in 2004 but the number of hungry people also rose for the first time since the 1970s. And despite healthy economic growth, a record number of people were without work or were looking for a job in 2003…

…In the Middle East, where 58 percent of the population is under the age of 25, one-fourth of young people of working age are unemployed. Rather than boost job creation or use their wealth to address social, health, and environmental problems, many nations have responded to the security concerns raised by large and unemployed populations by increasing defence spending, the report says. Military spending worldwide rose to 932 billion dollars in 2003, an increase of almost 20 percent since 2001 and the United States spends “almost as much as all other countries on Earth combined,” it says.

By contrast, the world’s donor countries spent a scant 68 billion dollars in 2003 on official development aid and rich countries are failing in their pledge to fund the U.N. Millennium Development Goals, the report says. Announced in 2000, the goals include halving global poverty and malnutrition, reducing infant and maternal mortality, and improving access to health care and education, all by 2015.

Less than one-fifth of all countries are on course to meeting targets that also include halving the proportion of people without sustainable access to safe drinking water by 2015 and improving the lives of at least 100 million slum dwellers by 2020, the report says.

MDGs by 2015

Peter Henriot, The Post Newspaper, Lusaka, Tuesday, August 30th, 2005

In the midst of all the flurry of the debate over the new Constitution for Zambia, we must not forget some other very important topics that affect the daily lives of all our citizens; topics like poverty, education, health, women’s rights, environment. These topics, of course, are central in the draft constitution , being very well treated in Part VI, the Bill of Rights, where economic, social and cultural rights are enshrined.

But these important topics are also taken up in the lively discussions going on right now about the ‘Millennium Development Goals’ (MDGs). These are the goals drawn up and pledged in 2000 by the United Nations Millennium Summit of 189 Heads of State and governments. The eight goals, with 18 targets, cover the range of human improvement and livelihoods desired by all peoples. In mid-September, the UN will hold another summit of world leaders to examine progress on meeting the goals by the targeted date of 2105.

In preparations for the UN Summit, the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning will this week hold a conference to explore the attainment of these goals here in Zambia. Stakeholders will be expected to evaluate how Zambia has been doing since the commitment was made to the MDGs and what prospects there are for achieving the goals by 2015. The adverts for this government conference optimistically highlight the very positive thesis ‘Its Possible!’

‘Its Possible!’ But is it?

Before answering that question and agreeing or disagreeing with that positive thesis, let’s look at what these goals actually promise Zambia. I want to use some simple language to describe the goals, to move away from the development ‘jargon’ that might obscure just how powerful – and beautiful – the goals really are. Here is what the eight goals call for by 2015:

  1. Poverty and hunger: cut in half the number of people who live on less than one US dollar a day and who suffer from hunger
  2. Education: make sure that all children start and finish primary school
  3. Girls: be sure that as many girls as boys go to school
  4. Infants: cut back by two-thirds the number of children who die before they reach the age of five
  5. Mothers: cut back by three-quarters the number of women who die when they are having babies
  6. Disease: stop terrible diseases like HIV/AIDS, malaria, TB, from spreading and make them less common
  7. Environment: cut in half the number of people who lack clean water, improve the lives of people who live in slums, and promote policies that respect the goods of creation
  8. Global partnership: promote greater cooperation among all nations with special concern for fairer deals for poor countries in trade, aid, debt, new technologies, etc.

These MDGs, we can all agree, present a picture of human development that is certainly very desirable, highlighting conditions considered necessary for the well-being of the human family. For me, they sum up the elements required to attain true development, defined as ‘the movement from less human conditions to more human conditions.’ This is a people-centred view of development, one that asks as the very first question to evaluate any policy, project, programme or plan, at any level: “What is happening to the people, especially, what is happening to the poor?”

To achieve the MDGs in Zambia by 2015 would mean tremendous improvements in the lives of all our ten million citizens. Today, 70% to 80% of the people live below the poverty line, unable to meet basic daily needs, life expectancy is under forty years, infant and maternal mortality rates are among the highest in the world, and our health and education systems are sadly lacking in basics. Achieving the MDGs should be what we hear our leaders – those presently in government and those who would like to come into office – talking about in very concrete and creative ways.

To attain the MDGs here in Zambia, indeed, anywhere in the world, three key things are essential. Firstly, we have to have the knowledge of the right steps to take, e.g., big steps like building dozens of new schools and training hundreds of new teachers, and small steps like providing mosquito nets to households in malaria zones. We need wisdom.

Secondly, we need adequate resources to move efficiently and quickly to take the right steps. We need money resources (generated from inside the country and coming from outside the country), as well as personnel resources.

Thirdly, and I would venture to say, most importantly, we need the political will to make the hard decisions to move us forward to attain the goals. Political will is more than rhetoric that gains headlines in newspapers today but achieves nothing on the ground tomorrow. Political will is making the hard choices, making the unpopular moves, even taking real risks, when it is clear that these are the best choices, wisest moves and safest risks to improve the lives of the people. It is a matter of putting priorities into planning, priorities into budgeting, priorities into implementation.

For the past several years now, the Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace (CCJP), in its astute analysis of the national budget, has repeatedly said: ‘The problem for Zambia is not resources but priorities!’ Yes, we can admit that there are scarce resources in the country, but we also have to admit that resources can always be found when they are for priorities that government considers important. (How else can we explain the paradox that funds for motorcades to the airport or for new vehicles for top officials always seem readily available, but funds to provide drugs in the hospitals or to supply books in the schools always seem severely limited?).

What a difference it would make for Zambia if in all of the political debates today the possibility of attaining the MDGs became a central feature. Then we might read less headlines in the papers like ‘X says Y is a liar!’ or ‘A is insane claims B’ or ‘The Q part is stealing from the people’ and more that tell us ‘X calls for new educational policy’ or ‘Y explains need for Economic Rights in the Constitution’ or ‘Z party releases full manifesto based on eradicating poverty’. We could move from the politics of personalities to the politics of policies!

Last year, the UNDP released a study in Zambia that revealed that only the goal of improving gender equality and women’s empowerment was ‘probable’ to achieve by 2015. While the country has high ‘potential’ in other areas like universal primary education and dealing with diseases and environmental challenges, it is ‘unlikely’ to reach the targets for dealing with poverty, hunger and maternal health needs.

But this year we have some promising hopes of debt cancellation and more focused efforts for national development planning. Will this improve our chances of attaining the MDGs?

‘Its possible’ But is it? Let’s hear our government officials, politicians, civil society and church leaders, trade union officials and business leaders tell us what they think – and what they are willing to do to make that possibility a reality!


8 Millennium Development Goals

(Peter Henriot, Zambia)

  1. Poverty and hunger: cut in half the number of people who live on less than one US dollar a day and who suffer from hunger
  2. Education: make sure that all children start and finish primary school
  3. Girls: be sure that as many girls as boys go to school
  4. Infants: cut back by two-thirds the number of children who die before they reach the age of five
  5. Mothers: cut back by three-quarters the number of women who die when they are having babies
  6. Disease: stop terrible diseases like HIV/AIDS, malaria, TB, from spreading and make them less common
  7. Environment: cut in half the number of people who lack clean water, improve the lives of people who live in slums, and promote policies that respect the goods of creation
  8. Global partnership: promote greater cooperation among all nations with special concern for fairer deals for poor countries in trade, aid, debt, new technologies, etc.

It is hoped that the Millennium Development Goals will be reached by 2015.

Break into small groups of 5 or 6 people. Silently, choose the goal which is most/least important to you.

Together in your small group, discuss your choices.

Pick the groups top 3 most important goals and be able to say why you chose these.

Return to the large group and discuss the choices made and the debates you had and try to come up with an overall listing of the most important goals to you all.

Primary Education

Presentation 1

  • Global enrolment in primary education increased from 596 million in 1990 to 648 million children in 2000.
  • But there are still 100 million children worldwide who are not in school.
  • More than half of whom are girls.
  • 90 million of these are in Asia or sub-Saharan Africa.

Looking at the statistics above, what shocks you most? Why do you think this is the case? What are the consequences of so many people not being educated? Do you have any suggestions as to how this situation can be improved?

Presentation 2

Look at this picture of a classroom in a rural school in Western Province, Zambia.

classroom (220K)

  • What do you see?
  • How does it differ to your own school?
  • What do you think are the main challenges for teachers and for students attending this school?
  • What is the link between what you see in this picture and the Millennium Development Goals?

Coffee & the MDGs

“Coffee income is very important to this household. I use it for paying school fees, meeting medicinal bills and running family affairs. But now I am losing hope in coffee. It has disappointed me so much”

These are the words of one coffee farmer in the Masaka District near Lake Victoria in Central Uganda. They capture the desperation fely by millions of producers.

As in other countries, coffee in Uganda is predominantly a smallholder crop. It is grown alongside food crops – such as potato, maize and bananas – to provide a source of household income. Surveys of coffee farmers in 1999 and 2002 covering four regions that account for half the country’s production capture the impact of falling prices. During the first half of the 1990s rising household incomes among coffee farmers – a result of curremcy devaluation, reducated taxation on producers and stable world prices – were one of the main forces driving poverty reduction in Uganda. Since 1997, as world prices plummeted, forced adjustments by farmers have begun to reverse this progress:

  • Increased debt. More than one-third of coffee farmers reported being unable to pay back a loan because of falling prices.
  • Reduced consumption. Families reported having to cut meat and fish from their diets to reduce the number of meals eaten. On the day the farmer quoted at the top of thisbox was interviewed, his 10- and 12-year old sons had not eaten breakfast.
  • Reduced investment. Families reported cutting spending on home maintenance and the purchase of goats, an important source of protein.
  • Sale of food crops. Families reported having to sell food staples to pay for health costs and school fees.

Source: Vargas Hill 2005

The crisis in coffee

  • What do you think of this ‘crisis in coffee’ situation?
  • Is there a difference between Uganda peoples dependence on coffee and yours?
  • How does reading this piece make you feel?
  • What in particular have you learned from this?
  • If you had the opportunity, what if anything would you change?