On Friday, 1 September 2023, the Mo Ibrahim Foundation (MIF) organised a webinar highlighting Africa's journey toward achieving the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and its 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). This webinar had particular significance because we are currently at the midpoint of this ambitious agenda. During the discussion, speakers delved into Africa's progress and challenges in achieving the SDGs.
The webinar was hosted by Diego Fernandez Fernandez, Senior Analyst, and Tracy Kituyi, Research Assistant at the Mo Ibrahim Foundation (MIF). They were joined by distinguished speakers, Stephannie C. Adinde, Senior Economist at the Overseas Development Institute (ODI) and Fellow at Sierra Leone's Ministry of Finance, and Dr. Enock Nyorekwa Twinoburyo, PhD, Senior Economist at The Sustainable Development Goals Centre for Africa (SDGC/A).
Diego provided context by outlining Africa's performance in achieving the SDGs at the midway point of the UN Agenda 2030.
Here are some key insights:
- SDG Summit Milestone: The impending 2nd Sustainable Development Goals Summit in New York (September 18-19, 2023) signifies the halfway mark toward achieving the UN Agenda 2030's 17 SDGs.
- SDG Index's Role: The SDG Index, annually released by the Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN) since 2016, serves as a vital assessment tool for the performance of all 193 UN Member States on the 17 SDGs. In 2022, African countries achieved an average score of 56.7 out of 100, reflecting a commendable increase of 2.5 points since 2015.
- Regional Comparisons: Despite this progress, Africa's average score still lags ten points behind the global average (66.7) and more than 20 points behind that of OECD countries (77.8).
- Climate and environmental: Africa excels in climate and environmental SDGs such as Goal 13 and Goal 12 but needs to improve in economic and human development goals like Goal 9, Goal 7, and Goal 1. There is a trade-off between climate and development goals for the continent.
Compelling data points to a potential trade-off between climate-related goals and development goals. Countries excelling in climate action may need more affordable energy and economic infrastructure.
Top African Performers in 2022
In 2022, Northern African countries took the lead in the overall SDG Index, with Tunisia, Morocco, Algeria, and Egypt achieving notable scores. However, the most improved countries since 2015 include Côte d'Ivoire, Benin, Senegal, Djibouti, and Rwanda.
The Challenges in the Last Five Years
Certain SDGs have deteriorated in Africa over the past five years, including Goal 16 (Peace, Justice, and Strong Institutions) and Goal 15 (Life on Land). Progress has slowed, putting Africa's overall achievement of the SDGs at risk.
Critical Challenges to Achieving the SDGs in Africa To achieve the SDGs in Africa, addressing several pressing challenges is imperative:
- Sustaining Governance Progress: Good governance is pivotal in realising the SDGs. However, recent years have seen a stagnation in governance progress, especially in security, the rule of law, and participation.
- Multilateral System and Financing: Africa needs a more representative multilateral system to address global crises like COVID-19 and climate change effectively. The current financing gap for the SDGs in Africa stands at a staggering $194 billion annually, necessitating a transformation of the international financial architecture.
- Data Gaps: Africa grapples with significant data gaps, hindering evidence-based policymaking. Notable data gaps encompass health capacities, mental health, the rural sector, economic informality, climate change resilience, age-disaggregated data, and disability data.
Once the debate started, there were clear themes covered by both speakers:
Dr Enock highlighted the impact of climate change on poverty and food security, but current indicators need to reflect the challenges and data gaps in this area accurately. While Africa has low carbon emissions, it needs more data to adapt. Africa is also particularly vulnerable to adverse climate shocks. Additionally, 95% of Africa's agriculture relies on weather, as irrigation and other methods are limited.
While the percentage of people living in poverty has decreased, the number of people living in poverty has increased, indicating that population growth is still a challenge in Africa; this is the only continent that has not yet undergone a democratic transition, a critical issue that needs attention. Additionally, Diego's presentation showed that economic and human development are closely linked to population growth. While there has been progress in human development, social exclusion persists, with gender and rural areas being particularly affected. Tracy also noted Dr Enock's comment regarding the critical relationship between governance, the SDG process, and the issues surrounding data gaps and financing.
Human Capital and Sustainable Development Goals
Stephannie C. Adinde highlighted the pivotal role of human capital in achieving the SDGs. Africa's rapidly growing population, projected to reach 2 billion by 2050, offers both potential and challenges. The Human Capital Index for Africa, scoring below the global average, underscores the need for progress in health and education indicators. Education Challenges and Progress
Education is central to achieving several SDGs related to gender equality, economic growth, and poverty reduction. Despite dedicated efforts, Africa faces challenges in education, with high rates of out-of-school children, particularly in Sub-Saharan Africa. Fiscal constraints, exacerbated by COVID-19, have impeded investments in education.
We know that Africa is not a country. So, even when we look at regions, we notice disparities and inequalities across countries. For instance, countries like Seychelles and Mauritius have averages closer to what we see in Eastern Europe and Central Asia. But Chad and South Sudan have averaged at or below 0.3. That being said, it's also essential to recognise the efforts being made. African countries are committed to advancing human capital outcomes, specifically health and education. – Stephannie
Stephannie emphasised the crucial role of education in breaking the cycle of intergenerational poverty. Education opens productive opportunities, advances growth and development, and helps meet regional and global work demands. With many Africans being young, improving education systems is necessary to train a workforce to meet these demands.
Many African countries have taken steps to improve education. Around 53% of countries on the continent have implemented legal frameworks that establish at least nine years of compulsory schooling. This policy is essential for ensuring access to education. Additionally, around 57% have incorporated free education for at least nine years into their legal frameworks, and many measures are being taken to incentivise children to attend school.
However, many underlying factors still hinder education in different countries, such as poverty, cultural norms, climate change, or displacement. Efforts are being made to address these factors and improve access to education for all.
African governments have committed to investing a substantial portion of their budgets in education, aiming for 4 to 6% of GDP and 15 to 20% of the national budget. Yet, on average, countries still spend around 4.1% of their GDP on education, below the global average of approximately 4.3%.
Health Progress and Challenges
Stephannie stated that Africa's maternal and child health has improved and the fight against diseases like HIV, malaria, and tuberculosis reflects commendable progress. Nevertheless, challenges persist, necessitating sustained efforts to enhance healthcare access and outcomes.
So, for instance, in 2022, Mali, the 13th most dangerous place to give birth in the world as a woman, committed to implementing policies for free healthcare for children under five and pregnant women.
We know that that will go a long way in reducing maternal mortality, a significant healthcare challenge in the continent.
Population Growth and Economic Development
Dr. Enock Nyorekwa Twinoburyo expanded on critical issues affecting Africa's progress, including population growth and economic development. He emphasised: Africa's rapidly increasing population presents challenges, especially concerning economic development and poverty reduction. While relative poverty has decreased, the absolute number of people living in poverty has risen due to population growth. Social exclusion remains a challenge despite human development progress, particularly along gender and rural lines. Investments in economic and human development must address these disparities.
Africa's journey toward achieving the Sustainable Development Goals showcases notable progress in certain areas while highlighting significant challenges in others. To secure a sustainable future for the continent, addressing governance issues, closing data gaps, investing in human capital, and fostering economic development is imperative. Africa's commitment to these goals is evident, and collective efforts can help bridge the gaps and ensure a brighter future for the continent.