Between February 24 and 27, about 3, 000 delegates including cabinet ministers and other high-level representatives of UN, AU and its Regional Economic Communities (RECs), convened in Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe, for the 6th session of Africa Regional Forum on Sustainable Development (ARFSD-6), themed: “2020–2030: A Decade to Deliver a Transformed and Prosperous Africa through the 2030 Agenda and Agenda 2063.”
The Africa Regional Forum on Sustainable Development (ARFSD) is an annual intergovernmental gathering that seeks to advance implementation of both the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and African Union’s Agenda 2063. It is being convened by the UN Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), in collaboration with African regional organizations, notably the African Union Commission (AUC). The 6th session of ARFSD was convened by ECA, in collaboration with the Government of Zimbabwe, AUC, the African Development Bank (AfDB) and the UN system.
ARFSD serves as a platform for reviewing progress; experience and lessons sharing; as well as building consensus on recommendations aimed at accelerating the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development (SDGs) and Agenda 2063: ‘The Africa We Want’. Hence, sessions of ARFSD provide Africa’s collective regional input to the UN High-level Political Forum (HLPF) on Sustainable Development, convened every year under the auspices of the UN`s Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC).
This year`s Forum, held five years since the adoption of the SDGs in 2015, marks the beginning of the UN’s 2020 Decade of Action and Delivery on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), as per the theme of ARFSD–6. The Decade of Action signals a renewed commitment by the international community to accelerate action towards reaching the global goals, by fast-tracking sustainable solutions to the world’s biggest challenges – from poverty and gender equality to climate change and hunger; inequality and closing the financing gap.
Thus, ARFSD 2020 was a regional follow-up focused on the reviewing of progress made in the implementation of both Agenda 2030 and its twin sister, Agenda 2063; it facilitated peer learning and also advanced transformative solutions and actions towards accelerating the implementation of the SDGs and Agenda 2063 in Africa
In her opening address at the Forum, Deputy Secretary General of the United Nations Amina Mohammed, said the annual meeting had come at “a decisive moment for delivering [on] the goals of our two mutually reinforcing Agendas – Agenda 2030 and Agenda 2063.” She noted the fact that major scientific and analytical reviews done in 2019 had made it clear that the world was not on track to achieve the SDGs by 2030 adding that the AU’s first report on the implementation of Agenda 2063 had also demonstrated that, despite early progress, there was “an urgent need for enhanced action”.
“2020 is an opportunity for all of us to chart a different course and to kickstart a Decade of Action to deliver [on] the SDGs, as called for by the Secretary-General at last September’s SDG Summit. This is why all regional fora for the SDGs take an added sense of urgency this year, starting by Africa today. Region by region, we will build momentum as the world enters the Decade of Action. I am convinced that, with leadership by African governments and strong support from their partners and young people, the Decade of Action can deliver major improvements in peace and prosperity across the continent,” said Ms Mohammed.
The UN scribe noted that while the HLPF would continue to provide the main platform for global engagement and sharing of experiences on the SDGs, the Decade of Action i.e 2020 – 2030, would allow for annual stocktaking on Africa’s collective journey towards 2030 adding that, as the Decade of Action begins, it was vital to recognize the progress being made by the continent on multiple fronts such as economic growth, public health, climate action as well as peace and security.
“Africa continues to have some of the world’s fastest-growing economies, and growth is projected to remain stable in 2020. The proportion of people living in poverty is declining – from 34.5 per cent in 2015 to 32.5 per cent in 2019. In ten countries, poverty rates are below 10 per cent. Africa has made progress in the quest for peace and security, mostly by strengthening continental response frameworks and institutions, as well as by working with the United Nations and other organizations on the ground to secure inclusive transitions,” said Ms Mohammed.
“There have been considerable gains in health outcomes – with less women and children dying in childbirth or because of diseases; improvements in access to education and electricity; and a dramatic rise in internet connectivity. Commitments on climate action are also encouraging, with all African countries having signed the Paris Agreement and 48 having ratified. Significant momentum is building through initiatives like the African Continental Free Trade Agreement.”
UNDSG Mohammed, however, noted that even though over the last five years, many governments have aligned their national plans and strategies with the 2030 Agenda, while 45 African countries would have completed Voluntary National Reviews (VNRs) by the end of the 2020 HLPF, the African continent needed to accelerate the pace and scale of its collective action.
“The absolute number of people living in poverty on the continent has been increasing since 2013, owing in part to high population growth rates. That number has now reached 428 million. Africa also has the highest prevalence of hunger, with 22.8 million people severely food insecure; many of whom go to bed hungry. Income inequality is also high, and in most African countries, the rate of youth unemployment is more than twice that of adults. Gender inequality is costing sub-Saharan Africa $95 billion every year in lost opportunities. Africa’s natural environment is also suffering. Forest cover is disappearing by half a per cent annually. Africa is expected to lose 50 per cent of its birds and mammals by 2050,” she said.
Going forward, UNDSG Mohammed said since no African country was on track to deliver on the SDGs by 2030, all countries must increase their ambitions so as to deliver on; universal access to quality social services and an economy that provides decent jobs for all; a stronger involvement of the general public in sustainable development issues to ensure all Africans see their futures in the SDGs and the goals of Agenda 2063; as well as major increases in international investment and support for African solutions such as the Silencing the Guns campaign.
In his opening remarks at ARFSD–6, Kwesi Quartey, deputy chairperson of the AU Commission, said it was important to take note of the AU’s theme for the year 2020 i.e “Silencing the Guns: creating conducive environment for Africa’s development,” noting that it was by now sufficiently clear that without peace, security and stability, prosperity would continue to elude Africa. Moreover, Quartey said although poverty rates were declining and access to primary education, health and electricity were improving, while gender parity at the lower level of education had continued to improve and there’s significant positive change in female representation in national parliaments; this progress was still insufficient!
“On many of these goals, variations across and within countries are large. Our financial requirements are even larger. Poverty rates are declining, but the absolute number of people living in poverty continues to increase. Population growth rates remain dangerously high. Opportunities for decent [work] are not keeping pace with population growth. Lack of quality education and access [to] health service is a stark reality that we face today as a continent. Many of our people, particularly our youth, our women and our girls continue to be left behind. Persistent inequalities in the continent remain with us,” he said.
Nonetheless, Quartey said remarkable progress had been achieved since the January 2018 signing of the AU-UN Framework for the Implementation of Agenda 2063 and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, aimed at accelerating the implementation of Africa’s sustainable development agenda, noting that the AU had been advocating for the joint implementation of the two agendas in an integrated manner. “The AU collaboration with ECA, UNDP Regional Bureau for Africa has been promoting peer learning and peer review and experience sharing on implementation of both the continental and global agenda in an integrated manner. We do this by jointly organizing different platforms and reinforcing dialogues,” he said.
While also addressing ARFSD-6, Oliver Chinganya, director of the Africa Statistics Centre at UNECA, observed that AFRSD 2020 was a turning point for the continent – with challenges and opportunities presenting themselves in equal measure. “We need to ensure that our efforts are equal to or greater than the challenges we wish to address. We have over 220 million people classified as hungry, one-fifth of children out of school, youth unemployment continues to grow and over half of the population without electricity. We must work together to deliver actions that match the magnitude of the challenges our people face,” said Chinganya.
Chinganya noted that he was notwithstanding pleased that the African continent had met at the ARFSD–6 and in one and coherent message, had agreed to ensure the continent meets the SDGs in ten years to come. “Not a single person said we shouldn’t, or we can’t – we all agreed that we can. [Thus], it is my hope that the same positive and confident spirit will help us work in a coordinated and integrated manner to implement and realize the transformation that we seek.”
Exactly ten years to 2030, delegates at ARFSD 2020 unanimously resolved on the need for Africa to key into global efforts to deliver on the 2030 Agenda through new targeted interventions, aimed at mobilizing governments, civil society, businesses, and the continent’s youths to see the Global Goals as their own. The delegates adopted a ministerial declaration tagged: ‘The Victoria Falls Declaration on the UN Decade of Action and Delivery for Sustainable Development in Africa,’ containing Africa’s priorities and crucial policy measures for speeding up of the implementation of both 2030 Agenda and Agenda 2063.
In the Declaration, ARFSD-6 delegates who included African ministers responsible for all the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and Agenda 2063 called on all AU Member States to, “Urgently revisit frameworks for the implementation of the 2030 Agenda and Agenda 2063, and align their national development plans with the principles of the two agendas,” also calling on “African stakeholders to set in motion programmes and projects to deliver on the 10 commitments for action outlined in the political declaration of the SDGs Summit…”
The Declaration further called on African countries to “Develop and implement people-centered and inclusive national strategies to support the UN Decade of Action and Delivery for Sustainable Development, strengthen mechanisms for the mobilization of resources at the national level, and make efficient use of funding for the two agendas; and Implement the key messages of the Regional Forum.”
It also called upon the UN Development System (UNDS) and other partners, “To scale up their support of member states’ capacity development for the implementation of the two agendas, and establish and implement a regional strategy to support the UN Decade of Action through targeted interventions and capacity development in transformational areas, including: climate action; youth education, entrepreneurship and innovation; women’s empowerment; food systems; data and statistics; trade; evidence-based voluntary national and local reviews and integrated planning, monitoring, evaluation and reporting tools; science, technology and innovation; and stakeholder engagement.”
In addition, the Forum urged AU Member States to accelerate the implementation of the SDGs and Agenda 2063, by amongst others, leveraging local governance structures; harnessing diaspora remittances to finance the social, health, and educational needs of their citizens; as well as adopting a results-based management approach combined with an effective monitoring and evaluation system.
ARFSD-6 had taken an exhaustive look at barriers to, and opportunities for progress in the implementation of both Agenda 2030 and Agenda 2063. High-level panels examined performance across all the 17 SDGs which are clustered around the “Five Ps” – people, prosperity, planet, peace and partnerships as well as the 7 aspirations of Agenda 2063. Sadly, the Forum had noted that despite some pockets of progress made, African countries and development partners were not on track to achieve the goals of both agendas. Consequently, this calls for renewed commitment from AU Member States, UN, AU, and other stakeholders; this is crucial for accelerating efforts to deliver on both Agenda 2030 and Agenda 2063.