Cooperating for Africa: two challenges to meeting development goals

Posted in: International development

Seung-Jin Baek is an Economist at the Renewal of Planning Section of the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), based in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, and is studying on the IPR's Professional Doctorate programme.

Currently, Africa faces a great challenge, in that the considerable development objectives that the continent must meet are being tackled through addressing two separate agendas. At the regional level, Africa has her own long-term development framework – Agenda 2063 – that aims to achieve an integrated, prosperous and peaceful Africa. Then, at the global level, the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development – adopted in September 2015 – sets out Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that are comprehensive and promise to rally global partners in support of Africa’s development.

Under these two agendas, Africa is now confronted with a dual transition: the global-level transition from the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) to the SDGs, and the continent-wide implementation of Agenda 2063. The numbers of goals, targets and indicators involved in each plan reflects just how complex this dual transition is: Agenda 2063 has 7 aspirations, 20 goals and 34 priority areas, 171 national targets, 85 continental targets and approximately 246 indicators, while the SDGs comprise 17 goals, 169 targets and 230 indicators. Implementation will be no easy task for African countries.

These two agendas will provide a foundation for Africa’s inclusive growth and structural transformation. To achieve this, both African countries and development partners need to scale up their commitments to the implementation of the plans by leveraging synergies among them. Two factors are critical in this regard: engagement on Africa’s part with emerging partners, and a commitment from Africa and its partners to prioritise KID – knowing, integrating and domesticating both agendas – to make its goals achievable.

Africa’s engagement with development partners

The first area to be addressed is emerging partnerships, which will provide the financial framework within which development agendas can be achieved. Undoubtedly, global partnerships have been playing an important role in Africa’s development during the MDG implementation era, through bridging financing gaps for development and building policymaking and technology capacities. There is, however, still a considerable gap in addressing the special needs of African countries – such as the promotion of inter- and intra-continental trade, infrastructure development, and governance improvement as well as environmental management.

The most effective channel of such partnerships is trade, which has been a major commitment from development partners. Recent World Trade Organization international trade statistics, however, show that the share of Africa’s exports declined from 3.3 per cent in 2013 to 3.0 per cent in 2014 and 2.4 per cent in 2015. This is partly due to unfavourable movement in global commodity prices, which have a significant impact on investment and economic growth on Africa, given its heavy dependence on natural resource products for export.

Another essential channel is official development assistance, or ODA. Based on analysis of the OECD development statistics, Africa has maintained its position as the largest recipient of ODA over the past three decades with regional share of about 43 per cent – meaning that almost half of world ODA was injected into Africa. It should be noted, however, that most OECD-DAC countries do not meet their ODA commitments to provide 0.7 per cent of their countries’ GNI. In fact, the total ODA from the DAC group reached only 0.29 per cent of the combined GNI – implying a delivery gap of 0.41 per cent. Because this huge gap is unlikely to narrow in the near future, the quality of ODA and its use have to be seriously taken into consideration.

Role of emerging economies in Africa’s development

In the light of these global partnership trends, there are a number of action points for both Africa and development partners. First of all, it is imperative that African governments strengthen macroeconomic sustainability and public management of natural resource revenues, and leverage such funds for the transformation of their economies.

Given the substantial delivery gap in ODA commitments, it is also extremely important for Africa to develop and strengthen partnerships with emerging economies such as the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) as an alternative, but very important, source of financing, learning and technology. For instance, according to Oxfam International’s Africa-China Dialogue Platform, China has emerged as the largest trading partner to Africa over the past five years: Africa’s trade volume with China reached US$225 billion, which is twice that the continent shares with the United States. Furthermore, Chinese foreign direct investment and other forms of development assistance to Africa are substantially increasing.

With this growing role of emerging partners, in addition to that of traditional development partners, the international community all together should work closely with African governments to strengthen capacities for domestic resource mobilisation and particularly to curb illicit financial outflows. According to the ECA’s study on illicit financial flows, Africa is currently losing more than US$50bn annually – almost double the foreign aid flowing into Africa – from aggressive tax avoidance practices by multinational companies.

Africa’s dual transition to the SDGs and Agenda 2063

The second point to which I refer is the dual transition that Africa must undertake to address both the SDGs and Agenda 2063. Despite the challenges identified above, recent developments at the regional and global levels point to an increasingly supportive financial environment for Africa. The question now is: what are the challenges associated with dual transition, and which areas of development should both Africa and development partners focus and how? For this, the MDGs to Agenda 2063/SDGs Transition Report 2016 clearly identified challenges and opportunities.

Implementation of both agendas requires advocacy for and sensitisation to the details of both frameworks to ensure awareness of their mutual relevance to national development and the relationship and synergies between them. In this context, the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development should be understood as an attempt to respond to the global dimensions of Africa’s development challenges, while Agenda 2063 should be viewed as a response to continent-specific development challenges and aspirations, many of which overlap.

With the sheer volume of goals, targets and indicators embodied in each of the agendas, there is inevitably significant convergence between them. In this regard, an integrated set of goals, targets and indicators – along with a harmonised review and reporting platform to develop a core set of continental indicators – is required to effectively track progress on both agendas. Such arrangements need to take into account the levels of development of individual countries.

While convergence between the two agendas is significant, integrated and coherent implementation of both agendas into national planning systems will be an operational challenge as significant as it is vital. In recognition of this challenge, the ECA has developed a draft toolkit that maps the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and Agenda 2063 at the goal, target and indicator levels and provides a diagnostic tool for integrating both agendas in national planning frameworks.

Capacity matters most

In effect, successful implementation requires strengthened capacities for policymaking and the analysis of inter- and intra-sectoral impacts of policy initiatives. Even with the adoption of the SDGs alone, countries will require an integrated approach that simultaneously addresses the economic, social and environmental dimensions of sustainability in a balanced way. This is an area where evidence-based analysis of the structural effects (tradeoffs and synergies) of key policies is needed.

In the past there has been a tendency to consider immediate benefits above all else; the economic benefits of increased oil production, for example, were not adequately weighed against the possible negative environmental and social costs. Therefore, there should be a significant effort to identify the most appropriate institutional architecture that individual countries can use to facilitate effective implementation of the two agendas. Invariably, the role of planning agencies will be paramount in ensuring that the economic, social and environmental dimensions of policy decisions are reflected in a balanced manner in all aspects of programme and project execution.

In this new age of Africa’s development, multi-stakeholder partnerships remain one of the most critical means of mobilising internal and external resources. Furthermore, the active participation of emerging partners is required to address Africa’s challenges of dual transition and to support its operationalisation. In this regard, traditional partners and emerging nations need to establish ways of partnering and cooperating with each other towards supporting Africa in realising its development aspiration, particularly for the areas of KID:

[K]nowing about both agendas to simultaneously address the three dimensions of sustainability with strengthened evidenced-based policymaking capacities

[I]ntegrating both agendas to harmonise frameworks and establish common mechanisms of implementation and follow-up architecture

[D]omesticating both agendas in national planning frameworks with strengthened institutional capacities for effective institutional coordination and arrangements



This blog is mainly derived from Seung-Jin’s presentation during the Oxfam International Conference, which took place in Addis Ababa on 28 September 2016, and from the MDGs to Agenda 2063/SDGs Transition Report 2016, a joint publication by the ECA, African Union Commission, African Development Bank and United Nations Development Programme which was launched in the United Nations General Assembly on 21 September 2016. The views expressed in the blog are his own, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations.

Posted in: International development


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