Overline: SDGs
Headline: Implementing the Sustainable Development Goals in Africa: A Long Way to Go

Conference Center Kigali Africa
Based in Kigali, Rwanda, the SDGs Center for Africa organized a major SDG conference in 2019. IASS/ Solène Droy

As 2019 comes to an end and the world prepares for COP 25, one can wonder about the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in different continents, and especially in Africa. Based in Kigali, Rwanda, the SDGs Center for Africa organized its major SDG conference in June 2019, where it launched its landmark “SDG Index and Dashboard Report” 3.5 years after the UN adopted its 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The report paints a mixed picture of progress towards achieving the SDGs across the African continent.

“The challenge we have ahead of us for Africa is a shallow river. But we must ensure that we cross it as if it were a deep one.”

This message concluded the three-day conference held in Kigali, Rwanda from June 12 to 14 to review the implementation of the SDGs across Africa. The conference was hosted by Belay Begashaw, Director General of the SDGs Center for Africa.

The event attracted over 2,000 guests from Africa, Europe, the USA, and the Asia-Pacific Region, and saw the launch of two major reports on the implementation of the SDGs in Africa: the “Africa-2030-SDGs-Three-Year-Reality-Check-Report” and the “Africa SDG Index and Dashboard 2019 Report”. Both reports stress the need for greater efforts to meet the SDGs and for high-quality data on SDG indicators, with the latter representing a major challenge for many African countries.

This SDG reality check was initiated by Paul Kagamé (see picture of the gallery), President of Rwanda since 2000, whose long-awaited presence made the atmosphere of the event very special: the packed hall, radios and cameras following his speech with particular attention, while the city of Kigali was under high surveillance to ensure the transport and security of the presidential delegation and invited heads of state and delegates from other African countries.

Rwanda - the land of a thousand hills

Rwanda wishes to be one of the socioeconomic development champions in Africa. It has often been touted as a good example of achievement towards the Millennium Development Goals (the predecessors of the SDGs) and its efforts to achieve the SDGs are laudable. According to the SDG and Dashboard 2019 Report, which establishes a ranking of 52 African countries based on 97 indicators across all 17 goals, Rwanda ranks 12th with a score of 57.9 (the best score being 100, the worst 0), namely two places after South Africa, the best performers being Tunisia, Mauritius, Algeria and Morocco (North Africa), with scores between 64 and 66.

After the Genocide 25 years ago, Rwandans embarked on a rebuilding process driven by a shared Vision 2020 based on three fundamental choices: unity, ambition, and accountability. The process aims to transform Rwanda into a middle-income country by 2020. The results are palpable: within Good Governance and Access to Justice (SDG 16), citizen participation and home-grown solutions such as Imihigo (performance contracts) and Umuganda (communities coming together to perform activities of public interest) have strengthened Rwanda’s development.

SDG 5: Within Gender Equality Rwanda shows signs of progress

Women are well represented at different levels of decision-making and the country boasts the best record for female representation in parliament (61.3 percent). Digitalization is also a driver of development in Rwanda, illustrating the country’s wish to move from an agrarian to a knowledge-based economy. The country has largely abolished the use of plastic bags and tourists are prohibited from bringing plastic bags and packaging into the country. This progress led to the establishment of the SDG Centre for Africa in Rwanda’s capital city of Kigali in 2016.

Considering now Africa as a whole region, some other countries are benchmarked for progress: Tunisia, Morocco, Algeria, Egypt, Botswana and Ghana are on top of the list. If we look at trends in North Africa (apart from Libya), it is mostly on track to meeting SDGs 1 and 6, moderately increasing on goals 3, 4, 5, 7, 9, and 15. No goal shows a decrease in performance. Overall, North Africa looks better placed to be the SDG performer.

Nevertheless, those (relative) successes should not distract from the significant hurdles Africa still faces: poverty and inequality remain widely prevalent, the continent is home to 280 million people afflicted by malnourishment and 63 million stunted children. Progress on social inclusion is outstripped by rapid population growth. Enrolment in education and job systems and access to drinking water are only modestly on track. As Belay Begashaw (picture) stated in an article published just after the SDGs conference in July:

“The SDG Center’s forecasts (for the SDGs for which we have sufficient data: poverty, malnutrition, maternal mortality, net school enrollment, access to electricity, and access to drinking water) show that all African regions except North Africa are unlikely to meet the SDGs. The struggle is more pronounced for Central Africa across all the goals.”

Belay Begashaw

Compared to other regions, Africa has faced a steep climb from the outset in its efforts to achieve the SDGs, with low tax revenues in relation to GDP at one end of the problem, and enormous development needs at the other end. Recent evidence shows that those problems as well as many other complex challenges still prevail in the region.

The continent faces three major gaps: the data gap, the financial gap, and the implementation gap.

On the data gap, it is worth mentioning two striking figures: data is only available for 40 percent of the SDG indicators and just 22 percent of African nations are believed to operate independent statistics services. The financing gap for SDGs is estimated at between 500 billion and 1.2 trillion USD annually. Both gaps explain the implementation gap that looms large in the reports.

Despite clear-sightedness and realism on the immensity of the challenges still to be met, the SDG three-year reality check also showed huge enthusiasm especially through the involvement of women and young people into the discussions to implement the SDGs.

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