SDGs – progress, but still a long way to go

Here's what the AU's African Capacity Building Foundation had to say on progress made by African countries in achieving SDGs in a recent report.


The African Capacity Building Foundation (ACBF) has published a very timely report on the progress – or lack of it – on the road to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals adopted in 2015. Baffour Ankomah reviews the report.

Four years after world leaders adopted 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and 169 targets in September 2015, and called them ‘Transforming Our World: The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development’, the African Capacity Building Foundation (ACBF), the African Union’s specialised agency for capacity building on the continent, has issued a new report tracking Africa’s progress on the road to 2030; as one would expect, the conclusion is a mixed bag.

“Life has improved for many Africans in the past 20 years,” the report says, “but there is a growing sense that progress was slower than it could have been and that a business-as-usual approach is not likely to lead to the achievement of the African Union’s Agenda 2063 or the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).”

To determine what African countries need to do to promote inclusive, sustainable development within the context of the SDGs, the ACBF led a ground-breaking study that analysed Africa’s capacities and identified areas for strengthening capacity and capacity-enabling approaches for a range of stakeholders, including international partners.

The study led to the new report, titled Capacity Imperatives for the SDGS: In line with the African Union Agenda 2063. A brainchild of the ACBF Executive Secretary, Prof. Emmanuel Nnadozie, and executed by the ACBF’s Knowledge and Learning Department, the report offers policymakers a new approach to development – one that puts Africans in the driver’s seat. It shows how countries can improve people’s lives in ways that are consistent with the ACBF’s vision of an Africa capable of achieving its own development.

Supported financially by ACBF member countries, the African Development Bank (AfDB) and the World Bank, and produced in collaboration with and under guidance from the AU Commission, as well as other organisations including UNECA, NEPAD, AfDB and the UN system in Africa, the report was officially launched in Accra, Ghana, on 26 November at a ceremony presided over by Hon. Yaw Osafo-Marfo, Senior Minister of Ghana.

Extensive survey

In many ways, the report is a call to action by African countries. The study that informs it was carried out in 11 African countries – Algeria, Cameroon, Egypt, Equatorial Guinea, Kenya, Liberia, Mauritius, Nigeria, Rwanda, Senegal, and Zambia. They were drawn from Africa’s five regions and represented different economy sizes, languages, and access to the sea.

A key message of the report is that limited human and institutional capacity in Africa constitutes a serious obstacle to implementation of national development goals. Implementation agencies, sectors, and ministries often lack people with the skills they need to achieve results, and public resource allocation decisions are not always coherently determined.

Most African countries also lack the political will to see national development strategies through to the end, involve too few non-state actors in decision making, fail to fully engage youth and women in implementing actions related to the SDGs, and rely too much on foreign financial support and technical assistance. Also, very little research addresses development challenges, while the alignment of planning and budgeting instruments with the priorities set forth in national development plans is limited.

The report identifies the capacities that African countries need in order to take advantage of the opportunities presented by the SDGs to build economies that can sustain their development aspirations. It offers policymakers a new approach to development which seeks to re-energise Africans with the spirit of working together towards collective prosperity, a common destiny under a united and strong Africa, by building a set of transformative capacities that reinforce a new sense of identity and create a new culture of self-determination and results.

Other key messages emerging from the report include:

Developmental goals, like those articulated in the SDGs and Agenda 2063, need to be integrated into both national development plans and shorter-term expenditure frameworks. That is where implementation of development projects actually takes place, as is evident in countries’ budgeting and expenditure patterns.

Government departments should recognise the need to increase private sector participation in the implementation of the SDGs, because the successful implementation and sustainability of development programmes rest on the full participation of stakeholders, including potential beneficiaries, academia, innovators, local communities, entrepreneurs, the business community, industrialists, financiers, investors, service providers, and women and youth groups.

The report found that not all African governments see the SDGs as an opportunity to involve the private sector and other relevant stakeholders. It therefore recommends that additional efforts are needed to shift perceptions of the SDGs from solely a socioeconomic and developmental responsibility of governments to citizens to an opportunity to engage private business in achieving the goals. The private sector, too, needs to reorient its thinking, the report urges. “Businesses still see their involvement in development largely in the context of their corporate social responsibility activities,” the report explains.

“Instead, they need to see the SDGs as a business opportunity that reconciles the objectives of their core business activities and the developmental aspirations of the communities in which they live and do business. Africa’s development partners have already made this shift in orientation, seeing development cooperation as a way to create business opportunities for the private sector in their own countries. Africa’s private sector needs to do the same,” the report advocates.

Dichotomy in perceptions

“There is a dichotomy between what African countries identify as their priorities and what their development partners are prepared to support, exposing the challenge of ownership of the development agenda,” says the report. “Whereas African countries generally favour budget support grants that are disbursed and managed within their own systems, bilateral partners have not yet warmed to this approach. The same can be said for concessional public funding grants, concessional loans, and aid for trade arrangements.”

The report highlights that “more Africans and their governments now believe that the SDG agenda will advance more successfully if it is funded principally by domestic rather than external resources.” 

 In the introduction of the report, Prof. Nnadozie reminds the continent that “Africa’s transformation agenda requires strong leadership and political vision; effective regional, subregional, and country institutions; competent staff; and inclusive multi-stakeholder collaboration.”

To him, four sets of capacities need strengthening: operational capacity for organisations; change and transformative capacities; composite capacities (planning, facilitating, managing, and financing); and critical, technical, and sector-specific skills.”

As a way forward, ACBF proposes to support more African countries in conducting in-depth assessments of national capacity imperatives for implementing the SDGs. It will do so by coordinating efforts, through joint partnerships, to develop a capacity strengthening programme for African countries for achieving the SDGs within the framework of Agenda 2063. As such, the programme needs support from African governments, the AU Commission, development partners and key organisations such as UNECA, NEPAD, AfDB, and the UN system in Africa.

In the spirit of regional integration, ACBF has pledged to support Africa’s five regional blocks to carry out a comprehensive skills audit to identify deficits in the number of professionals required to promote an effective change and transformation agenda. ACBF will mainstream the needed shift in mindset and move the discussion of readiness and transformation to the top of policy debates.

The Foundation will also emphasise the need for a new tripartite discussion platform for academia, the private sector, and governments on education and employable skill priorities.

“Our mission is to build strategic partnerships, offer technical support, and provide access to relevant knowledge for capacity building in Africa,” Prof Nnadozie wrote in the Introduction of the report. “This report helps achieve that mission by providing countries with a comprehensive set of capacity development priorities for meeting the continental development goals in a way that benefits all Africans. 


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