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DEVELOPMENT-AFRICA: MDGs Depend on Power Relations Changing

Moyiga Nduru

JOHANNESBURG, Mar 14 2007 (IPS) - ‘‘The people of Nigeria’s oil-rich Niger Delta are poor not because they do not have resources but because they do not have political power. Those who wield power in Nigeria are building skyscrapers in Lagos and Abuja while there is nothing in the Niger Delta. It is the same at the global level.”

These are the words of Tajudeen Abdul-Raheem, deputy director of the Millennium Campaign for Africa based in the Kenyan capital Nairobi. In the past week, he participated in an Anglican Church conference entitled ‘‘Prophetic Witness, Social Development and HIV and AIDS” which examined progress towards the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

Rowan Williams, the archbishop of Canterbury who heads the 77 million Anglicans, also attended the week-long conference in South Africa’s commercial hub of Johannesburg, along with over 400 other ministers from the Anglican Church. The conference ends today (14 March).

According to Abdul-Raheem it is ‘‘clear that there is no political will to achieve the MDGs. If there was, goals one to seven could have been achieved in Africa without any problem. As I see it, the problem is goal 8 which is tied to aid, debt and trade. Rich countries in the west do not want to open their markets to poor nations.

‘‘This will undermine the other seven MDGs. The solution, therefore, is to change the global power relations at the UN, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the World Trade Organisation. Unless we change the global power relations, we will not achieve much,” Abdul-Raheem said.

Salil Shetty, director for the Millennium Campaign for Africa, agreed. In his paper, ‘‘How Anglicans can help achieve the MDGs”, he said: ‘‘The key to the Millennium Compact is that rich countries have to meet their obligations to help poverty eradication as spelled out, rather imprecisely, in goal eight of the Millennium Goals.

‘‘This implies meeting their commitments on aid, debt and trade,” Shetty pointed out.

‘‘On aid, the priority is to meet the long-standing commitment by developed states to contribute 0.7 percent of GNI (gross national income) to ODA (overseas development aid), alongside a big improvement in the quality of aid. This should include untying and simplifying aid procedures and putting an end to (policy) conditionalities,” Shetty said.

‘‘On debt, much deeper and quicker cancellation of debt – many African countries pay out more in debt servicing than they spend on preventable child deaths. Debt sustainability has to be redefined in terms of achieving the Millennium Goals.

‘‘And we need a much more level playing field in the trade arena. This includes time-bound elimination of agricultural subsidies that make the poor poorer, policy space for developing countries, reviewing all intellectual property agreements that simply benefit TNCs (trans-national corporations) and also hinder food security and the health needs of the poor,” he added.

Speaking to IPS at the sideline of the gathering, Shetty pointed out that rich countries spend more money on armaments than on combating poverty. ‘‘Before the Iraq war, military spending had reached 900 billion dollars a year. Aid still remains at 70 billion dollars per year.

‘‘This is why we want the rich countries to open their markets. They give us aid with one hand and take it away with the other hand through imbalance in trade,” he explained.

The result is an inability by poor countries to meet the MDGs. ‘‘Following the current trajectory, if we carry on in a ‘business as usual’ mode, the goals will not be achieved even by 2015, which many of us thought was too far away,” Shetty pointed out.

‘‘It is commonly understood that these goals will not be achieved in sub-Saharan Africa. For example, goal one on halving poverty and hunger will, at today’s pace, only be achieved in 2147 by most countries in the region,” Shetty said.

Less than 20 û out of 53 – African countries are likely to reach the MDGs by 2015, said Mamhla Mniki of the African Monitor. The African Monitor was set up by Anglican Archbishop of Cape Town Njongonkulu Ndungane to monitor progress towards the MDGs in Africa.

For example, goal one to halve poverty is likely to be reached by 2015 by only Botswana, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Egypt, Ghana, Lesotho, Mauritius, Libya, South Africa, Morocco, Tunisia and Uganda, Mniki said.

In universal primary school education, only four countries are expected to meet their targets, she said.

Shetty believes the MDGs can be achieved with political will. ‘‘Many of the poorest countries in the world are showing that the goals can be achieved if there is political commitmentùeven in the most adverse circumstances such as those faced by sub-Saharan Africa.

‘‘Malawi, Eritrea and The Gambia provide positive examples of the extension of primary education. Ghana and Mozambique are all picking up on the health front, not to speak of Uganda and Senegal on HIV/AIDS. Egypt halved its maternal mortality rate in eight years,” Shetty said.

At the conference Bryan Davis Volcere, an Anglican priest from the Seychelles, insisted that he had not seen poverty among his 400 church members. Seychelles, tiny islands with 81,000 inhabitants located in the Indian Ocean, enjoys one of the highest standards of living in Africa.

‘‘There is no extreme poverty in Seychelles. HIV prevalence is very low. We have free education and free health care. Everybody has a house with running water and electricity. There is no question over whether we will meet the MDGs,” Volcere told IPS in an interview. Seychelles’s economy depends on tourism and fishing.

Last year Dr Luis G. Sambo, the World Health Organisation (WHO) director for Africa, commended Seychelles, Comoros, Cape Verde, Mauritius and Sao Tome and Principe for making progress in health care.

‘‘On average your countries are closer to meeting the MDGs pertaining to health than the rest of Africa. Some have already attained some of the goals,” he told a meeting of the five island states in Seychelles.

Seychelles is not alone in claiming that it will meet the MDGs by 2015. South Africa has committed itself to meeting all the targets set by the United Nations by 2014, which is one year ahead of the deadline, Abdul-Raheem said.

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