December 16, 2019

The SDG Investments Africa Needs

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Global discord represents another obstacle to Africa’s ability to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals. But the continent can still play a major role in fulfilling the United Nations’ 2030 Agenda – especially if it makes further progress on tackling epidemics and strengthening national health-care systems.

GENEVA – The late Michael Elliott, the former president and CEO of the anti-poverty advocacy organization ONE, described the year 2015 as the most pivotal since 1945 in terms of humanity coalescing in pursuit of a common aim. In 1945, the world was searching for peace; 70 years later, it agreed on a roadmap toward a better, more prosperous future in the form of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

By 2016, however, the global coalition started to crack and suffer setbacks. There have even been attempts to retreat from some of the SDGs and their targets – such as tackling climate change or promoting open trade. For Africa, this global discord represents another obstacle to achieving the SDGs. But the continent can still play a major role in meeting them – especially if it makes further progress in tackling epidemics and strengthening national health-care systems.

After all, Africa has been one of the world’s faster-growing regions in recent years. Although this growth is volatile and uneven, the steady reduction in poverty on the continent is real. So are the increases in life expectancy and the decreasing number of deaths from HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, malaria, and other diseases.

Meanwhile, Sub-Saharan Africa’s increasingly young population is projected to double to more than two billion by 2050, and to almost double again by the end of the century. The urbanization rate will probably reach 50% by 2030.

Yet these demographic trends may produce a burden rather than a dividend. According to the World Bank, 299 million people in Sub-Saharan Africa lived in “fragile situations” in 2017. And although many African countries have made inroads against disease, several regions have not, and in some places the gains have been partly reversed. This is the case in the Sahel region, where the fragile balance between development, security, and the environment is particularly evident.

Faced with such trends and challenges, African policymakers have an overloaded (and front-loaded) agenda. Promoting greater inclusion and job creation, moving up global value chains, managing conflict-affected regions, and adapting to climate-induced stresses will all be crucial to Africa’s chances of meeting the SDGs. But governments sometimes have limited toolkits, and the best policies and investments for driving sustainable economic growth – and therefore promoting equity, inclusive development, and prosperity – can be complex.

Donald P. Kaberuka, a former president of the African Development Bank, is Chair of the Board of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria.

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