UN economist: Africa making very slow progress on SDGs

Africa's lack of progress on the UN goals is alarming, with governments distracted by international crises and unable to focus on implementation


Africa is making very slow progress on the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals compared to other regions, and is even regressing on some development indicators, according to a senior United Nations economist. 

Adam Elhiraika, director of the macroeconomic policy division at the UN’s Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), gave a gloomy assessment of Africa’s progress towards achieving the goals, a collection of seventeen interlinked development and poverty-reduction objectives launched by the UN General Assembly in 2015 and later adopted as Agenda 2030.  

“Issues of finances, poor planning, (and) lack of commitment on implementing the SDGs by most governments in Africa has led to regression on SDGs in many countries. This is alarming. A lot of coups, many contested elections, insecurity, which is affecting development, is affecting the implementation process,” Elhiraika said at the Africa Regional Forum on Sustainable Development (AFRSD-9) in Niamey, Niger. 

“Also the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic, war in Ukraine, (and) drought has made countries divert their resources to health, food security, social issues, (and) economic stimulus and lose focus of implementing the SDGs,” he said.

That battery of external factors has led to a huge variation in African countries’ progress on the SDGs, with North African countries performing above average on the delivery of clean water, sanitation and energy, while the majority of those in the Sub-Saharan Africa flounder below the average.

Only 30% of Sub-Saharan Africa has access to clean and safe drinking water sources compared to the world average of 74%, he said, while the share of manufacturing in Africa remains at just 10% compared to a global average of over 40%.

Back to the drawing board

Only bold policymaking can halt the slide if there are to be any chance of implementation by 2030, Elhiraika argued.  

“Governments have to go back to the drawing board, examine their strategies, priorities and plan to achieve the SDGs. Serious auditing and decision making is required. Many countries are overwhelmed by the crisis facing their countries and are forgetting about the SDGs. As much as they need to do their best to address the current crisis they have to also remain focused on implementing the SDG Agendas for long-term and permanent solutions to their problems. Economic development, social security, (and) peace all depends on the government’s ability and planning.”

Elkiraika said there is a pressing need to make progress on SDG 17, a commitment to strengthening the means of implementation and revitalising the Global Partnership for Sustainable Development.

“SDG 17 is very important because it deals with issues of finance. Many low-income countries are struggling with resource mobilisation. The only way to mitigate the aftershocks of the Covid-19 pandemic (and) climate change is through financing. African governments need to strengthen domestic resource mobilisation, including through private financing and sustainable public borrowing. Also more efforts are needed in strategic development cooperation, particularly enhanced South-South cooperation and issuance of impact bonds,” he said. 

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