Printer Friendly

Encouraging signs for Africa.

The world's foremost proponent of the MDGs over the years has been Professor Jeffrey David Sachs (pictured right), the controversial author of the 2005 New York Times bestseller The End of Poverty, twice named one of Time magazine's 100 Most Influential People in the World. He spoke to New Africans Curtis Abrahams. Here are excerpts of the conversation.

Have the MDGs been a success?

Yes, I think to everybody's surprise the announcement of the MDGs in 2000 captured the attention of governments and civil society. When I took the job as UN special advisor on the MDGs, many NGOs approached me saying: "Why are you doing this?" Or, "These goals are stupid" or "useless" or "ill-informed".

There were a lot of cynics and a lot of sceptics. But I think the idea that the world should turn its attention to the world's poorest people was rather heartening, and it turned out to be a kind of lever to promote change in some very important areas.

The MDGs played a huge role in propelling that idea forward; giving birth to the Global Fund for Fighting Aids, TB and Malaria and a very successful US programme called PEPFAR for fighting HIV/Aids.

How have the MDGs helped ordinary Africans?

In general, across Africa there has been a significant though not uniform advance in reducing infant and maternal mortality; saving people with HIV/Aids; reducing mother to child transmission of HIV/Aids; getting more children to school; controlling malaria infections and improving access to clean drinking water and so forth.

Most of the indicators have improved and even the poverty indicator, which remained constant in Africa for decades, started to improve significantly after the year 2000, though we don't have good up to date data.

What has been responsible for this success?

There are two huge factors that, in my opinion, have caused this success. The advances of mobile technology have made a big difference for Africa in opening up rural areas to information, business, finance and general connectivity. The second issue is that Africa's commodities prices, on the whole, have been pretty good for the past decade, partly because of Chinese demand.

Why have some African countries failed to make progress on the MDGs?

In some places there is, or has been, war or armed conflict. In other places there has been bad governance, and these places don't make progress, they fall backward. The chaos in Somalia, Sudan and South Sudan as well as in parts of the Sahel are places where progress has been slow or nonexistent.

One can look across the African continent and see quite a lot of variation depending on governance, access to finance, geography, etc. Some places are much harder than others. Places like the Sahel, the Horn of Africa, North and North-Eastern Uganda and other drought-prone areas are really tough because they are dry, so agricultural activity is very difficult because farming there is rain-fed. There are many factors that have caused some countries to miss the MDG targets, so the record is mixed, but the positive signs are really encouraging.

Are you concerned about the increasing US militarisation of some parts of Africa, to deal with terrorism?

In general, the US takes a military approach to these problems. My own view, which is definitely a minority view in the US, is that these are developmental problems, by and large, and if there were more focus on building infrastructure, education, helping farmers to meet their Basic needs for seeds, fertilizer and irrigation equipment and so forth, we would actually attain a much faster degree of stability.

How has China helped African countries to achieve their MDG goals?

At the most fundamental level China and African countries are complementary economies. Africa is largely natural resource rich and China is natural resource scarce. China's economic rise, which has been the single most important economic event on the planet in the past generation, has meant a great increase in demand for Africa's primary commodities or semi-processed commodities. This in turn has led to a lot of investments in mining, infrastructure, road building, transport, and ports.

My view is that China is in for the long-term picture: good diplomatic relations, good commercial relations, long-term access to Africa's primary commodities, and that it's willing to play a constructive role in financing infrastructure and in building markets together with Africa.

Is it not the trend that China is establishing manufacturing centres in Africa?

There is even another stage taking place right now that is potentially very interesting. China is helping Ethiopia, for example, to develop some manufacturing centres and China has the idea of doing this in several places in Africa.

This could be a significant contribution to Africa's growth because it builds on China's own experience of building special economic zones where manufacturing production can take hold, and if that happens in Africa it could be really important as a source of jobs and as a source of economic growth beyond exporting primary commodities. With wages in China rising very rapidly right now, actually making some Chinese firms globally uncompetitive, African manufacturing hubs are attractive. This could be another big wave of Chinese contribution to Africa's economic growth.

And the other countries contributing to African growth?

Brazil has had some role but not on the same scale as China because of its connections to the Lusophone African countries like Mozambique. India, of course, when it was growing faster than it is right now was also starting to make some important economic connections with Africa. And India potentially has an important role to play in ICT and farming technology sectors.

More recently, Japan's Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe, toured Africa, signalling his recognition that Africa is important for Japan and that Japan could be potentially important for Africa. South Korea has also started to take a greater interest in investing in Africa. So, I think, generally the Asian connections are quite important and will be an important boost for Africa's overall development.

Has the billions of dollars in foreign aid helped to reduce poverty and foster economic growth in Africa? Some of your fellow economists, such as Dambisa Moyo and Williams Easterly don't think so.

Some of the aid has worked and some of it has not. So it's been a mixed picture. But the real question is to understand what works and how to promote that, and also understanding what does not work and stopping that.

It's easy to point out the development programmes that have failed, but it's also very straightforward to point out the successes.

What has gone wrong?

There's a lot that has gone wrong. Sometimes foreign aid has been used for political manipulation. At other times it's been used [by the West] to buy allies [in Africa and elsewhere] rather than for serious economic development. On other occasions it's been driven by ideology rather than good evidence or logic.

So the crucial question for me is therefore one of design and politics. How to get the very best out of something that can be very beneficial to the world's most vulnerable peoples.

How do we get the rich countries to keep their promises of aid to Africa?

It's complicated, of course, but one of the things I try to do is to emphasise what is working, because a lot of the excuse is that the promises are not helpful because things aren't working in Africa. This is simply false in many areas. I know that disease control could be dramatically improved and that major improvements in infrastructure could also occur with well-designed aid programmes, and so I try to strip away the excuses.

I don't want to let the traditional donors off the hook because there is still work to do, especially to help the poorest places in Africa and the poorest people to at least get a foothold in development.

Where are we in terms of getting the new UN Sustainable Goals up and running post the 2015 MDG completion point?

The SDGs will be adopted in September 2015, so there is a rather elaborate negotiating process underway that was initiated at the Rio+20 Summit in 2012 in Rio de Janeiro, and that summit said that there should be SDGs and the summit set in motion the intergovernmental negotiations.

On 25 September 2013, the UN General Assembly voted on a timetable to reach the SDGs by September 2015. I think this process is more or less on track.

It's complicated because you have 194 governments negotiating right now and there are different points of view in different regions.

How are you involved with the SDGs?

I'm leading a project under the auspices of UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon called the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network. The SDSN aims to create a network of think-tanks, universities, businesses and NGOs to share knowledge and ideas about how to achieve sustainable development. In the first year of this project, we produced a document recommending 10 SDGs, and this paper had some constructive impact on the ongoing discussions.

Now we are about to release a second document on a recommendation on targets and indicators for sustainable development, and we are trying to sponsor online learning and awareness. My personal role in this is that I am teaching a free online course, globally, about sustainable development. It has an enrollment of 35,000 people around the world. I'm also making available a free online text and free videos and lots of live interaction online. So we are trying to promote this kind of massive online accessible information resource, which we want to establish in the post-2015 period. We are also considering a kind of free online university of sustainable development. This is a part of the work I'm engaged in right now.

African countries need not simply look at GNP to gauge their socio-economic growth, hut what is called the triple bottom line approach. Can you explain what this is?

The idea of the Triple Bottom Line is really at the core of sustainable development. It means society must have economic, social and environmental objectives.

The economic side deals with continued economic growth and continued reduction of poverty. The second focuses on the social aspect, which is complicated but mainly deals with the health of our communities, including social trust, equality and breaking down barriers of discrimination to create more vibrant and more equal communities.

The third is environmental; recognising that the pattern of economic growth the world has been in for almost two centuries, has for the past two centuries created an absolutely unprecedented threat to the future because of human-induced climate change and also, the human-induced destruction of habitats and biodiversity through pollution, and the fact that our nitrogen fertilizer use is causing a lot of damage around the world.

So we have to place environmental concerns at the forefront of policy and that is what sustainable development aims to do, it aims to makes all three pillars of society high-priority objectives.

What will be the main challenges of applying SDGs in Africa?

Of course, each region has its challenges but I would like to see the period of 2015 to 2030 be a period for Africa to achieve real broad-based economic take-off, and nearly the end of poverty on the continent. That's a huge challenge, but it's the kind of challenge we should subscribe to. It would mean, for Africa, basically two decades of massive infrastructure investment in energy, transport, education, health facilities. I believe in investment-led growth and it's my belief that this is what has enabled China to achieve double-digit economic growth and this is what I'd like to see Africa achieve.

I would like to see fourfold economic growth in the African economy. If Africa can do this and really achieve the demographic transition--getting the demographic dividends by making sure between 2015-2030 that all girls stay in school; that all young people get at least a secondary education; that there is more urbanisation; a decline of high fertility rates through more education and urbanization--all this could come together to achieve a period of great breakthrough for Africa, that China has achieved in the past generation.

At the same time this has to be done in a very difficult global context; a time of global climate change, which will attack Africa heavily. But by Africa using available information technologies, rapid economic growth is possible: online education, online healthcare and, of course, online finance are all things that could propel growth right now.

Africa also has potentially vast renewable energy resources that it could combine with recent oil and gas discoveries--hydrocarbon gas finds in east Africa, big geothermal potential along the Rift Valley, massive hydropower in central Africa and huge solar power potential, particularly in West Africa. All this could really make a base of electrification for Africa that would be large-scale, a big breakthrough and consistent with global environmental needs.
COPYRIGHT 2014 IC Publications Ltd.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2014 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Title Annotation:Africa; Jeffrey David Sachs
Author:Abrahams, Curtis
Publication:New African
Article Type:Interview
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jul 1, 2014
Previous Article:No Nigerian will be left in darkness--Professor Nebo: as Nigeria's power reform unfolds, the benefits of the government's initiatives are becoming...
Next Article:Malians just want peace: Mali's Minister of Digital Economy, Communication and Information Mahamou Camara, sheds light on a number of issues...

Terms of use | Privacy policy | Copyright © 2019 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters