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AFRICA: Uneven Progress on Development Goals

Evelyn Kiapi interviews SYLVIA MWICHULI, deputy director of the U.N. Millennium Campaign Africa

KAMPALA, Oct 15 2009 (IPS) - The Millennium Goals cannot be achieved at the United Nations. The U.N. can create a platform for governments to make commitments but cannot force compliance by member states.

Girls to the front: but girls' primary school enrolment still lags behind that of boys. Credit:  Manoocher Deghati/IPS

Girls to the front: but girls' primary school enrolment still lags behind that of boys. Credit: Manoocher Deghati/IPS

Only citizens and their elected representatives – at the national level – can hold governments to account for the promises to reduce poverty made in 2000 at the UN General Assembly in New York.

The U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon and his predecessor Kofi Annan both repeatedly stated that the missing ingredient is political will.

As the annual Stand Up, Take Action campaign on the Millennium Development Goals kicks off around the world, Sylvia Mwichuli, deputy director of the U.N. Millennium Campaign (UNMC) in Africa spoke to IPS about the need to demand accountability in both North and South. Excerpts of the interview below.

IPS: What MDG has seen the most dramatic progress? SYLVIA MWICHULI: This is a general question which may hide the tremendous progress being made in individual countries. Different countries are scoring differently. Goals that may be met by one country may not be met by another and the reverse is also true.

Millions Stand Up

In 2006, the Stand Up campaign set a new Guinness record for mass mobilisation on a single issue when 23 million people participated. In 2007 over 43 million people were recorded as taking part, and in 2008 this leapt to a massive 116.7 million people.

"Standing Up" is a symbolic action to show your support of speech, person or idea. It is a display of solidarity. It shows the strength our united struggle against poverty and inequality.

That said, the goal of universal primary education is most likely to be met by all. According to 2008 United Nations MDGs report, by 2006 the net enrolment ratio exceeded 71 per cent in most of sub-Saharan Africa.

Great strides are being made on gender empowerment. Uganda, Rwanda, Tanzania, Nigeria, South Africa, Malawi and Zambia are on course to realise this goal.

Ghana and most of the North African states are on course to meet all and even surpass some of the targets.

IPS: Where has there been the most dramatic failure? SM: There are challenges in meeting Goal Three, gender equality and women’s empowerment, and Goal Five, improving maternal health.

Girls’ primary education enrolment still lags behind that of boys and their dropout rates widen as they go up the ladder of education.

African women still die in great numbers while giving birth. In fact, an African woman’s risk of dying from treatable or preventable complications of pregnancy and child birth is 1 in 22 compared to 1 in 7,300 in developed countries.

IPS: What are the major stumbling blocks towards the achievements of the MDGs? SM: The major stumbling block is failure of political will by both countries of the South and those of the North.

The developed countries – except a notable few – have not kept their end of the bargain on Goal 8 (develop a global partnership for development, including dealing with debt and creating a more open, and non-discriminatory trading and financial system).

With the exception of just 16 countries, Africa’s debts have not been cancelled as promised. The countries of the North have not eliminated trade barriers like tariffs on goods from Africa as promised.

And they haven’t increased overseas development assistance to the levels promised, while the quality of aid is still a source of concern.

Whereas African states dedicated themselves to creating favourable conditions in their countries, a look at their national action plans and budgetary allocations, shows a lack of commitment.

Many of them think of MDGs as yet another begging opportunity. MDGs aren’t about aid but (about) prioritisation and proper use of our own nationally-generated resources.

In fact, some countries do not need aid at all, they just need a caring, accountable and a democratic government. But all we see are local and international development funds draining into pockets of government officials, politicians, local and foreign private companies. This denies the poverty-stricken, the expectant mothers and the children an opportunity to have an education or to get medication.

Goals number 1 to 7 can only be achieved at the national and local levels and not from New York or London.

IPS: Besides MDG 3, many of the millennium goals are specifically tied to the situation of women. Goals on maternal health, on education, and ultimately on reducing poverty, which in Africa particularly has a woman’s face. How do government and civil society efforts to attain MDGs recognise the fact that reducing poverty is underpinned by women’s rights and empowerment? SM: Seventy per cent of world’s poor are women and children. The economic crisis that started in 2008 is expected to have the most devastating effects for women, who perform 66 percent of the world’s work but earn only 10 percent of the world’s income and own 1 percent of the world’s property.

It’s against this background that the MDGs 2, 3 and 5 (were designed). It is evident that eradicating poverty is a function of ensuring women rights, ensuring girls attain education and also that women occupy key decision making positions to influence policy.

Governments recognise that poverty has a female face but what is lacking is the political will.

IPS: What is Piga Debe? What successes have been achieved with Piga Debe for women’s rights? SM: Piga Debe is a Swahili word for making a loud noise. This is a campaign started to fast track MDGs 3 and 5 that relate to women’s health, gender equality and women’s empowerment.

These are the goals that face the most risk of not being met by 2015 even by countries like South Africa, Uganda, Ghana and Rwanda that have made real progress on MDG 3.

IPS: How has the framework of attaining MDGs helped strengthen development in East Africa? SM: Greater focus on universal primary education, poverty and women’s empowerment and gender equality.

For example Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda have greatly increased budgetary allotment to the education sector, to 20 percent which is way above the global target.

We are also seeing more national funds being devolved, like the Community Development Fund in Kenya. Forty-eight percent of seats in the Rwandan parliament are women.

All this has been as a result campaign initiatives like MDG Parliamentary caucuses set up in Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda.

(Read the full interview here)

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