Africa and the Sustainable Development Goals

Africa and the Sustainable Development Goals

In September 2015, 193 member states of the United Nations agreed upon seventeen Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to be achieved by 2030, ) as the organizing principle for development to 2030. The SDGs provide time-bounded goals and targets in key sectors, including health, education, agriculture, energy, infrastructure and the environment for all nations to achieve. The aim of these goals is to achieve Economic prosperity within planetary boundaries that leaves no one behind.


Sustainable development is one of the most ambitious, all-encompassing goals that the UN has ever set for itself. It requires a well-balanced relationship between lasting human development and the sustainable use of our planet’s resources. As such, sustainable development cuts across the mandates of United Nations bodies who must all work together to ensure delivery on their promises.

For Africa, the SDGs present enormous challenges whilst at the same time offering immense opportunities. Despite significant economic progress, reduction of poverty and improvement of infrastructure, African nations are still affected by wide scale poverty, disease, lack of infrastructure, political instability etc. World Bank statistics show by 2012, 43% of Africans lived under the poverty line, with and millions dying each year from preventable diseases.

The SDGs present a significant opportunity for Africa to develop. To achieve the SDGs, African governments, businesses, civil society need to collaborate in unprecedented ways.

Africa has experienced significant economic progress since 2000. The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) provided a powerful framework to focus political attention, financial resources and investments on the battles against poverty and preventable disease. Extreme poverty fell from 56% to 43% from 1990-2012; economic growth averaged over 5% annually; universal primary education enrolment reached 77%, and disease prevalence in Africa dropped by over 50% for HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. Although not all countries achieved all of the MDGs, there were significant gains made throughout the continent.

The SDGs set significantly more ambitious targets however. Whereas the MDGs targeted poverty and health, the SDGs take a holistic approach to economic development as a whole, and therefore require more expansive and complex solutions. To achieve the SDGs by 2030 will require key breakthroughs in policy (both international and domestic), increased levels of public and private financing, the creation and diffusion of new technologies, and improved governance and accountability in all of the various sectors of the SDGs.

Approximately six out of every ten SDG indicators cannot be tracked in Africa due to severe data limitations. Strengthening statistical systems in Africa is an imperative for successful implementation of the SDGs and Agenda 2063 as it underpins evidence based policy making. Disaggregated data by age, gender, income and geographical location is necessary to better target support to groups at risk of being left behind in the development process.

To date slow progress has been made towards poverty reduction in Africa despite the accelerated growth enjoyed over the past decade. There exists a disproportionate prevalence of poverty among women and youth, with a lack of inclusiveness and sustainability of primary-commodity driven growth. Moving forward, structural transformation anchored by commodity-based industrialization and accelerated reduction in inequality is a pre-requisite.

Africa’s infrastructure deficits undermine industrial development and comprehensively show the stagnation in manufacturing. Although value-addition in agriculture has been rising, it remains substantially low by global standards due, in part to limited investments and inefficiencies at all levels of the agricultural production chain. Increased efficiency of investments in agriculture, both private and public, is vital to addressing food insecurity in Africa. Expanding irrigation from the current 5% is critical to improving agricultural productivity and total output. Improvement in the productive capacities of Africa’s work force requires investment in skills.

Improvements in gender parity at primary and secondary school levels have been taking place steadily over the last few years. The continent has also seen significant improvements in women’s representation in national parliaments. Improvements in health systems can be seen through the declines in maternal and child deaths, reduced adolescent fertility rates and increased access to family planning. However levels of child and maternal deaths still remain unacceptably high.

Technological innovations such as MPesa that facilitate the use of mobile telephones for financial transactions have made it possible for the under-served and unbanked segments of society to gain access to financial services including mobile accounts. Finally turning to the oceans, African coastal and island states are threatened by increased environmental degradation and the risk of flooding. Thirty-eight African states are now taking steps towards better management of life below water. Successful implementation of the SDGs and Agenda 2063 will require an integrated approach that coordinates the efforts of all sectors of government working in collaboration with the private sector and civil society.

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