The African continent’s progress in achieving the UN Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) by 2015 has gathered pace and credibility over the past few years. Africa continues to make incremental progress on the majority of the eight development goals aimed at improving social and economic conditions in the world’s poorest countries, which all 193 UN member states agreed to more than a decade ago.
Realistically, even though the continent is unlikely to achieve every single development target by 2015, the rate of progress on several key development indicators, which include; primary school enrolment, gender parity in primary school enrolment, the proportion of seats held by women in national parliament, HIV/Aids prevalence rates and the share of women in non-agricultural wage employment, have all improved exponentially or seen greater positive strides been made over the past few years.
In addition, in certain instances, Africa has exceeded and out-performed other regions around the world, such as South East Asia, Latin America, the Caribbean and Western Asia in terms of levels of development. But degrees of development on the African continent are also characterised by large and persistent variations in performance across sub-regional, national and sub-national jurisdictions.
Africa’s attempt to achieve its UN MDG mandate by 2015 is furthered challenged by the reality of uprisings and political transitions in North Africa, the worsening sovereign debt crisis in the Eurozone and economic stagnation in North America and a slowing of growth in the East. But despite these volatile variables, continued steady economic growth and improvements in poverty reduction in Africa continue to have a positive impact on development on the continent.
The rate of poverty and the absolute number of poor people in Africa declined during 1990-2008. According to the World Bank, with the exception of North Africa, the overall rate of poverty in Africa has dropped from 56% to 47% in 18 years. This has been driven in part by stronger economic growth and a decline in the proportion of workers now living below the poverty line on the continent. But despite these improvements, decent employment remains at a premium in Africa as the majority of jobs are found in the informal sector, which generally has low incomes, low productivity and poor working conditions. As a result, vulnerable employment accounts for approximately 70% of employment growth, with the majority over-represented by women.
The proportion of children under five who are malnourished has also dropped, but only marginally, this despite a reduction in the poverty rate. A contributing variable to the incremental decline has been the continued escalation of food prices, which has ultimately had an adverse impact on the food budgets of lower-income groups. As a result of this, young girls and rural dwellers are the most affected on the continent.
In terms of access to education, the net primary enrolment in most African countries has shown exponential gains, with levels exceeding 90% in a number of countries. Completion rates remain sluggish however. Predictably, dropout rates are higher among girls than boys. Teacher absenteeism, late age entry by children in primary school cycles, poor health and nutritional status of pupils, financial constraints, distance to school and quality of educational facilities are some of the factors affecting educational quality and completion rates and require urgent attention.
In addition, African countries have made significant strides in promoting gender parity in primary education. But greater emphasis needs to be given at secondary and tertiary levels to fully exploit women’s intellectual capacities.
In terms of environmental barriers to improved levels of development on the African continent, poor sanitation, limited access to drinking water sources as well as declining forest cover are among the most pressing environmental challenges facing the continent. More positively however, carbon dioxide emissions have stabilised in most African countries, with the majority of countries having managed to lower their consumption of ozone-depleting substances.
Performance on health indicators such as infant, under-five and maternal mortality also continues to improve. Africa also appears to be starting to win the battle against HIV/Aids. This is evident in terms of a fall in the prevalence rate — particularly among women — as well as a sharp decline in the regional rate of new infections and a reduction in mother-to-child transmission. Behavioural change and access to anti-retroviral therapy have underpinned the turnaround in Africa.
Africa has unquestionably made significant progress over the last decade in terms of development. As the 2015 MDGs mandate edges ever closer, the international community, represented by the UN, will need to decide on whether the existing MDGs should be retained in their current configuration, re-calibrated or replaced by an alternative framework altogether.
Consultations with African member states suggest that re-calibrating the MDGs to take into account emerging issues and to reflect a mix of development enablers and outcomes is the preferred option. Enablers, such as peace and security as well as individual and institutional capacity building, are vital preconditions for the changes needed to achieve progress on international agreed goals and continued and sustained levels of development in the developing world, more specifically, the African continent.