Last week at the Department for International Development in London the Deputy Prime Minister of the United Kingdom Nick Clegg was joined by Henry Bellingham the Foreign Office Minister for Africa and Andrew Mitchell the International Development Secretary. They announced that the UK was going to strive to achieve the Millennium Development Goals and encourage other members of the G7 to follow suit. Watching the presentation got me thinking about the Millennium Development Goals and how they came about in the first place.
Were these laudable goals agreed by the heads of developing countries at one of their summits in consultation with local community organisations, taking into account the situation on the ground? Or was it another top down programme foisted on the developing world by Western experts and development economists who’s experience and understanding of the poor in the world are based on Gap years,stints at the World Bank & IMF and most importantly time spent working for NGO’s ?
In September 2000 at the UN, the largest ever gathering of heads-of-state unanimously adopted the Millennium Declaration, committing to reach eight goals by 2015. Known as the MDGs these are the measure by which International development efforts are to be judged. It was estimated that at the time that in order to reach these goals the Developed World would have to dig into their pockets and provide another $50billion in aid commitments.
There is nothing wrong with the goals per-se, how can anyone be against eradicating extreme poverty and hunger or for that matter promoting gender equality in the developing world. Africa still has some of the highest maternal death rates in the world, so any thing that helps reduce this can only be a good thing right?
So how is it that apart from China and India most other developing nations are no where close to achieving any of these goals? The UN press machine and the Overseas Development Institute have been pushing the story of how Ghana & Vietnam are doing well in their pursuit of these goals, however speaking to people on the ground in Ghana their experience is slightly different from that of the Overseas Development Institute and the UN press machine.
from the UN website
When the UN and its host of International Development Agencies meet later today, they will announce that most of Sub-Saharan Africa is far off from achieving the goals, indeed some countries might have actually reversed achievements they’ve made. The financial tsunami we have just experienced took care of that. The most likely call that will go out will be for an increase in Development Aid, my question to them is this; Haven’t we been here before?
In September 2005 the same group of people met in New York to discuss the MDG’s, and back then as it is now most Sub-Saharan African countries were still no where near achieving these goals even though Aid had increased from $53billion in 2000 to $73billion in 2004.
The trend is quite clear, the International Development community and their friends in the NGO world got to together to hash out an over ambitious plan which they knew they would most likely never be achieved. Every five years they meet to pat each other on the back and come out with the same press releases i.e we have seen some progress but we are still far off from achieving these goals hence we need more development aid in order to achieve them.
World leaders not wanting to appear uncaring agree to increase their pledges, the Aid community get more money for their projects and everyone goes away till the next meeting. The biggest losers from all of this is the poor in Africa who have no say in any of this, they just get told these are the goals you need to achieve and we will spend a couple of million from taxpayers in the West to see if we can achieve them.
Whilst these goals are undoubtedly well intentioned they are just not practical, different countries have different issues, and to expect more than 100 countries to achieve the same goals in a defined period seems rather simplistic.
Many African countries are averaging growth rates between 4-7%, Nigeria is expected to grow 10% in 2010. A Deputy Minister of Finance in Ghana mentioned to me that he wouldn’t be surprised by double digit growth in the Ghanaian economy next year. The point I’m trying to make is that rather than focus on some contrived universal goal, we should look at each country individually and consider holistic solutions that take into account each country’s strengths and weakness’s.
Looking at the ODI’s report some countries in Africa have made some progress in increasing the number of children in primary school, reducing maternal deaths as well reducing poverty, however because the MDG’s have absolute targets which fail to take account of where some countries are starting from the result that the media will focus on is this that we have failed to achieve the goals.
There will probably be report out today which will say more Aid will help in closing the poverty gap and increase the chances of achieving the MDG’s. As I have argued previously the data on Aid and its relation Economic Development is not as clear cut as is sometimes made out, whilst Aid will contribute to some growth and Economic Development, no amount of Aid will make Africa achieve the consistent growth that both India and China are experiencing.
In order to achieve consistent 7-8% growth a country has to be manufacturing and selling things to the rest of the world.Its as simple as that, you don’t need an economics degree from Harvard to work out that Trade is the only way out of poverty.
So as the world experts meet in the United Nations to begin their high level talks my two pence to the motherland is this, GOOD GOVERNANCE & TRADE is the surest route out of poverty.
In conclusion I would like to propose to the UN that rather than MDG’s( Millennium Development Goals) we should have MDA’s( Millennium Development Aspirations), followers of British politics will appreciate the difference.