on Friday, 02 August 2019.

Dear Colleagues,

Here is our discussion topic for August, 2019. It is inspired by the outcome of a recent Consultation.

The opportunity presented by the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) once again place Africa at the crossroads as was the case 60 years ago when we gained independence from colonialism. Africa may either grasp and run with the opportunity offered by the SDGs or waste it. This was the subject of a three day meeting that took place in Kampala, Uganda 16 – 18 July, 2019; under the theme “Governance for Health in Africa; Lessons learnt since independence to inform the future”.

The current huge gap in health and other development indices between Africa and other regions of the world were noted as a matter for concern, pain and shame and some participants were deeply moved and were seen crying and shedding tears! Why did Asian countries such as Singapore, South Korea and Malaysia that got independence at the same time and with similar indices develop much faster than African counterparts? Some of the causes of these disparities are known to be clearly wrong and intolerable but are accepted as “normal” and are allowed to persist when corrective actions are within reach. Why is this?

The mindset of African people and their leaders over this period of time was discussed and it was noted that the positive, confident and ambitious mindset prevailing around the time of independence was lost and was replaced by that of dependency and self-doubt. This transformation took place during a period of bad governance characterized by military dictatorships and mismanagement; condoned by the cold war between western powers and the Soviet Union. African economies collapsed and the continent lapsed into beggar hood as Highly Indebted Poor Countries needing both money and ideas from developed countries and their institutions in order to stand up their economies again. Donors inserted themselves into African governments and called the shots.

The good news is that African leaders took decisive action by transforming the Organization of African Unity that focused on removing remnants of colonialism into the African Union that has zero tolerance for illegitimate governments and military dictatorships and is pro-people espousing an African renaissance to restore self- pride and self-confidence. What is lacking is that this philosophy from the African Union has not been sufficiently disseminated to the populace including the intelligentsia and this remains a major part of the problem. What should be done now?

First, we need recognize that the SDGs are a negotiated global compact to create a better world for all people and to protect and preserve the planet. Their implementation is coordinated by the UN but critical action takes place among communities within countries. While Governments have key roles that cannot be delegated such as ensuring that the state is effective, law and order is maintained. Another key role is to create levels of awareness and an environment that enables and empowers people and communities to actively participate in improving their own living conditions including their health and well being articulated in SDG3. There is a gap here. Last weekend I spent some time with rural people in Uganda and I was struck by how little they and their leaders know about SDGs; four years into their implementation! National Development plans in which SDGs are domesticated should to be aggressively publicized and popularized pointing to the people and communities what their own respective roles should be to achieve the SDGs.

Second, the meeting last week expressed disappointment with the African professional and technical class. These are Africans who are well educated very often at the cost of public resources. They follow the world and are fully aware of the causes of the wrong and unacceptable situations that become “normal” in communities and countries. However, this class of Africans sits back and improves their personal and immediate family circumstances while the rest of the population is left to suffer “normally’. The silence and lack of outrage against the unacceptable in African countries by this group of people was condemned and changing their behavior was identified as a corrective measure that is within reach. Deliberate actions should be taken to strengthen the professions by supporting professional associations, professional colleges, regulatory bodies, academic institutions and related bodies so that they become socially accountable and do not look away when unacceptable situations arise in their midst. Strong institutions in and out of government led by these professionals are needed.

Third, the development of human capital was recognized as central to Africa’s future with an extremely young population. The quality of education and training was noted to be declining and the working conditions of those with education were not conducive pushing many to migrate to richer countries with aging populations and are looking for skilled labor.

Responsibility for achieving all these lies upon each and every one of us individually and collectively starting now!

Can this work? I think it can. What do you think?



Comments (1)

  • Eli Nangawe

    Eli Nangawe

    06 August 2019 at 14:19 |
    May I thank you very much Francis for flagging this interesting and inspiring topic for discussion.
    Indeed we should not "follow the world and are fully aware of the causes of the wrong and unacceptable
    situations that become "normal" in communities and countries".

    The SDGs opportunity should neither be wasted or lost. But let me recall what we did before this successor: The MDGs moved along with an inbuilt agenda of poverty reduction which was pro- people i.e People swimming in poverty were at core of attention, they were consulted, they were listened to, and their rights brought to focus in the course of moving forward with development. Then somewhere on the way they were forgotten and now their rights vocalised but in reality and by practice the rights were usurped! Here and there within the SDGs one comes across the rights agenda.
    Taking SDGs opportunity into concrete actions should address Rights in a way that does not allow bureaucracies to simply vocalize it while strangling or violating them in practice. We should not lose too much time before coming with analyses of the human rights practices within the continent and using the hard evidence to undertake commitments and resolve to change out respective country practices for the better.
    A quick desk study that I did on the Human Rights situation in 14 countries (Anglophone, Franchophone, Maghreb and Lusophone) revealed more similarities than contrasts: Almost all are culprits! What can be stopped, if we seriously introspect and realise how ashaming and how it projects us as inhuman, is conceivable when there is greater awareness multilevel and within our African Society at large. (See slide 7 and 8 of a view I summarised from that study).
    Our leaders at independence had a genuine concern and relentless effort to bring humanity and caring for all people as first and foremost. Hence the fight for independence, the fight against racism and racial discrimination, and the focus to fight against poverty, ignorance and disease. Then neocolonialism came with its ugly results of coups, self aggrandizement, nepotism, corruption, marginalization, inequity and worsening gini coefficients, and adjustment programs that actually allowed dictatorial regimes a period to thrive with their malpractices unaddressed.
    As MDGs came along with Poverty Reduction Strategies corruption was still on; anti-corruption bodies got established but soon became masters of the corruption game! Rights received a fair amount of lip service while in practice abuses continued to intensify. Greed took a firm grip and some countries began changing constitutions in favour of longer terms in power; expertise in ballots manipulations grew. People were remembered only near elections and soon after they were left to fend for themselves. Those who may know the truth and pose a risk may be silenced or if 'lucky' they are forgotten in pre- trial detention.
    It seems Asian countries continued to pay close attention to their people as they struggled to become tigers after independence. Some may not have a good human rights record but at least they stimulated their entrepreneurship and supported their innovation efforts. They encouraged the growth of their small industries and adapted foreign technologies to boost their local production and then aggressively or insidiously penetrated foreign markets while we were being destabilized by cross border or intra-country clashes in form of armed conflict, devastating diseases (HIV, Ebola) and out migration of Labour force, corrupt regimes, and bad governance.

    We have to stop to be by-standers waiting for action from the other corner! It is not "normal" out there.

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