In ungodly hours of Monday 15th April, 2019, I was airborne on the Royal Air Maroc heading to the Jamaica of North Africa – Marrakech in the Kingdom of Morocco. The aura that ushered me in this old, but new city of Marrakech left me with no option but to have a second and constant look with caress at this splendid Kingdom.
This warm embrace and the virtual fullness of time indicate that indeed, Marrakech was up once again to host the Africa continent. This time, it was the Fifth Session of the Africa Regional Forum on Sustainable Development convened by the Economic Commission for Africa in partnership with the Africa Union (AU), Africa Development Bank (ADB) and the United Nations (UN) System to review progress, share experiences and cogitate on lessons learnt in the implementation of Agenda 2030 for Sustainable Development Goals and the AU Agenda 2063 for the Africa we want. The regional forum also focused on countries reporting their Voluntary National Reviews (VNR) at the UN High –Level Political Forum (HLPF) in July 2019. The VNR is the UN review platform for the implementation of the SDGs held in July every year to strengthen policies and mobilize multi-stakeholder support and partnership for the Goals.
The theme for the Fifth Session of the regional forum was “empowering people and ensuring inclusiveness and equality”. The SDGs 4 (Quality Education), 8 (Decent Work and Economic Growth), 10 (Reduced Inequalities), 13 (Climate Action) and 17 (Partnership for the Goals) and the corresponding Goals of the 2063 Agenda for Africa speak aptly to this year’s theme. Incidentally, this is the theme for UN- HLPF in New York in July this year.
Africa’s ambitious effort to end poverty and give dignity to her people was the overriding echoes in the corridors of Hotel La Palmeraie in Marrakech. High -sounding and very promising for the continent it looks at the beginning of the forum, however, the harsh realities set in to assess Africa’s resilience and ability to achieve Agendas 2030 and 2063. The reading from that self-assessment in Marrakech on the capability and the culpability of Africa to achieve Sustainable Development is the thrust of the message from Marrakech.
The general view from Marrakech is that the SDGs are unlikely to be achieved in the continent by 2030 at the prevailing pace and scale of implementation. This can be attributed by the prevailing circumstances confronted by the region ranging from economic growth levels, gross domestic product (GDP), per capital growth, high levels of poverty, debt burden and inequality.
Africa’s average economic growth of 3.2 percent is below what is required to achieve the SDGs in eleven (11) years. The per capital growth of 0.6 percent is too low to create any meaningful role to reduce the high levels of poverty and inequality particularly for our rural poor and the vulnerable category of our population. To achieve this grandiose vision, Africa needs an incremental financing needs as projected to be between $614 billion and $638 billion per annun. The outstanding challenge is the achievement of Goal 7 which addresses the infrastructural gap in ensuring affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all. It became very clear that at the present pace, most countries in Africa will unlikely achieve Goal 7 (Affordable &Clean Energy) of the SDGs. And the effect of not achieving Goal 7 will clog up development in critical infrastructure, transportation, industrialization and service delivery.
The good news from Marrakech is that countries in the region are taking slow, but gradual steps to reduce the incidence of people living in extreme poverty on the continent. Secondly, primary school enrollment has also broadly improved across the continent. However, the need to sustain these gains by strengthening the production of disaggregated data, inclusive education, budgetary allocation to the education sector and the use of evidence – based decision making cannot be over- emphasized. Science, Technology and Innovation (STI) should be used as an enabler in strengthening the means of implementation and partnership for sustainable development in the continent. Africa should meaningfully use her endowed human resource especially her scientists to develop technologies that are adaptable and adoptable in the continent. Africa Universities should also move away from the conventional grammar school approach to education into a more problem – solving approach through STI and ICTs.
At national level, the narrative is evident. The incidence of multi-dimensional poverty as of 2017 was 64.8 percent. This means that almost two-thirds of Sierra Leoneans are multi-dimensionally poor and the population in extreme poverty is 10.8 percent. In the rural areas, poverty in all its forms is at 72.4 percent, the Sierra Leone Integrated Household Survey reveals. The worrying reality is the unforgivable high poverty ratio of our future generation – the children of Sierra Leone. A recent report by government on child poverty indicates that 77.4 percent of children are poor – meaning 8 out of 10 children in Sierra Leone can be considered as poor in many ways. Unfortunately, Pujehun District, my place of birth has the highest level of child poverty with 93 percent of children found to be multi- dimensionally poor. Bonthe District has 91 percent and Moyamba District 88 percent respectively.
With the alignment of the National Development Plan (2019-23) with the SDGs Agenda 2030, AU Agenda 2063, the g7+ Peace Building and State Building Goals, the framework is now set to transforming the sleeping lion in West Africa into a stable and prosperous democracy. Achieving the five (5) years Medium-Term National Development Plan (MTNDP) is estimated at $ 8.15 billion. The Government now needs greater mobilization of resources to finance the plan through improving tax revenue management, plugging illicit financial outflows, fighting corruption and developing capital market to attract investment. The government should step up action to ensure inclusiveness and equality education, scale – up economic diversification, promote decent work and inclusive economic growth, reduced inequalities, scale up climate change, ensure peace, justice and strong institutions and strengthen partnership and means of implementation. All of these are too many too much to achieve in a worry. What the Government needs now is to prioritize its development efforts and the National Development Plan is very clear on it. Pages 7 and 11 of the MTNDP make an interesting reading. District and Regional priority rankings are clearly and unequivocally spelt out in the MTNDP. The ranking of development priorities at district and regional levels came about as a result of a “nationwide consultative process with a physical outreach to about 2 million citizens” – meaning, the achievement of the National Development Plan requires Government to roll-out the plan having pages 7 and 11 of the MTNDP constantly in mind.
Sharing Sierra Leone’s aspiration on the issues in Marrakech was the Deputy Minister of Planning and Economic Development. He assured the regional forum that Sierra Leone is on a trajectory of putting its development aspiration right this time and by 2039, the country will achieve middle income economy – which is incidentally nine (9) after the SDGs and twenty – four (24) years before the end of AU Agenda 2063 – the Africa we want.
Marrakech was bold enough to send this alarming message to the countries on the continent. The last frontiers as the capitalists would lament or as the capitalists would want us to believe should be seen opening up in the face of overwhelming challenges of the modern era. As a matter of factual historical claim, the continent of Africa survived slavery, it survived colonialism, it survived the cold war and it will surely survive poverty and climate change before AU Agenda 2063. By that time however, the writer of this piece would have been an octogenarian.
By: ML Deen Rogers, Parliamentary Focal Point on the SDGs