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Namhla Mniki-Mangaliso is the co- chair of the Africa CSO Working Group on SDGs and executive director of the African Monitor, a nonprofit working with youth movements across 10 African countries to produce citizen-generated data on the progress being made in achieving the SDGs
What has the experience been monitoring the implementation of the SDGs across the continent?
We launched the Citizens Report at the beginning of the year and have already completedwork in 7 West African countries including Nigeria, Ghana, Sierra Leone, and Senegal;we are now working in 3 east African countries and 3 southern Africancountries. Most of the governments we are working with have integrated the SGDsinto their national development plans, the SDGs are built on the principle ofensuring the poorest of the poor are given priority which means budgets andprograms accord priority to them.
It also means services must also reach the poor first; however, what we are discovering in the course of our work is the fact that the poorest of the poor, the most excluded communities, are not accessing services such as social grants. One of our surprising discoveries is that whereas education is supposedly free in these countries, the associated costs to schooling make it impossible for the children of the poor to have access to education.
The other finding has to do with the disparities between female-headed households and male-headed households; by and large, female-headed households struggle harder to access services, and stable employment or rather sustained sources of income. Our citizen-generated data gives us information that doesn’t really exist in official statistics; we are realizing that there is a complementarity between official statistics which shows you the big picture and citizen-driven data which tells you about what is really going on at the level of communities.
Now, we are able to advise governments on how they can better reshape their programs and services to reach these excluded households. One of the interesting experiences is we have found out that communities in urban areas have better access to government services than communities in rural areas and it is those rural communities that need the services more than those in urban areas.
We are now three years into the implementation of the SDGs, where is Africa in terms of the implementation?
There are some African countries that have done impressive work in terms of integrating the SDGs into their national development frameworks; Ghana and Tanzania are good examples. When I said integration I meant they took the SDGs and integrated them into their national development plans. What is happening in many countries is that the policy frameworks are available but no effort has been made to push for the implementation of the agenda.
My sense, which is particularly based on our data, is that most African countries do not have a sense of urgency in terms of delivery of projects. We don’t have greater efficiency in relation to prioritizing the poor and targeting them better. Innovation is also lacking in terms of the implementation of solutions.
Now, let me talk about why we are here with the young people from across Africa, I was earlier on saying that the SDGs themselves are not a success because they are in a space of political contestations. So, even though they have been adopted by countries, there is still a power dynamic for which it is difficult to ensure those in power are actually taking the SDGs serious or those that have excessive wealth are actually promoting equal distribution of wealth.
As Africans, we need to think of how to break down the power structures and barriers that stop people from accessing the opportunities that are supposed to be associated with the SDGs.
What potentials do the SDGs hold in terms of taking Africans out of poverty and ensuring prosperity for all across the continent, if well implemented?
I was earlier today talking about how much the SDGs are a noble pursuit because it is the first time that the global community has said we are going to move away from the idea of seeing development from the prism of charity, that we need to go and fix the problem of the poor. Instead, we are going to be creating opportunities for the poor to activate and sustain their own development.
So, the SDGs are focused on social development, economic justice, environmental sustainability and accountability; the idea that governments should be transparent, which had always been missing in global development frameworks. For the first time, citizens are given the opportunity to hold their own governments accountable.
Therefore, if well implemented, I think they will lead to drastic improvements by 2030 but the reality is that we are not living up to expectation in terms of the implementation. There are a lot of talks about what countries should do but not a lot of transformational moves around changing the state of poverty, which we know is manmade.
Not much is known about the SDGs at the grassroots level across Africa; the same with the Agenda 2063 of the AU. Don’t you think there is a need for synergy and harmony between these two important development agendas for effectiveness?
Agenda 2063 came before the SDGs and African leaders used the agenda as the guiding framework during the negotiations for the SDGs, therefore, as civil society, we were during the negotiation for the SDGs referring to Agenda 2063 and that is why I believe there is a synergy between Agenda 2063 and the SDGs, in terms of content.
My own perspective is that the locus of attention in each country should be the national development plan; however, the national development plan should leverage regional and global frameworks in order to accelerate their own delivery. So, where the national development plan does not match up to the global standards and where the indicators are not specific in the national plan, they can borrow from the global standards.
Also, there are cases where countries can have higher ambitions, for example, our own definition of poverty in South Africa is at higher level than the definition of poverty in the SDGs. So, for me, there is no contradiction between the three development frameworks: the SDGs, Agenda 2063 and the national development frameworks of respective countries.