Africa will miss most of the internationally-agreed Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by the target date of 2030. But it might just reach ‘escape velocity’ enabling it to break out of its extreme poverty orbit by 2045 or 2050.
This is the sense of experts who participated in a seminar on Africa’s future at the Institute for Security Studies (ISS) in Pretoria recently.
‘Almost no Sustainable Development Goals will be met without truly revolutionary improvements in governance and the way services are delivered,’ said ISS chairperson Jakkie Cilliers, who also heads the institute’s African Futures and Innovation programme. Even in an optimistic ‘Africa Rising’ scenario projected by the ISS, most African countries would not meet the 17 SDGs.
The principle SDG is to eliminate poverty. But extreme poverty (quantified as living on US$1.90 per person, per day or less) was unlikely to be eliminated by the 2030 SDG target date in any plausible scenario, Cilliers said.
Had Charles Darwin been blessed with precognition while conjecturing about finch beak differentiation over millions of years, he would have envied us. We in the early twenty-first century — within a single lifetime — can observe homo sapiens evolving a transformative new trait with unprecedented strength through the international justice system.
Contrary to common perceptions of his work “On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection,” Darwin’s view of evolution was not confined to physiology alone. In his later book, “The Descent of Man,” he entertained a broader view that included the ways in which more fortunate humans treat the less fortunate, contending, “The aid we feel impelled to give to the helpless is mainly an incidental result of the instinct of sympathy, which was originally acquired as part of the social instincts…”
It’s a safe bet, therefore, that Darwin would have taken great interest in the emergence of the International Food Security Treaty (IFST), an initiative of international law that could equip humanity to eradicate hunger, the world’s most widespread and severe form of suffering.
The collapse of Zine el Abidine Ben Ali’s regime in Tunisia in January 2011, soon followed by Hosni Mubarak’s in Egypt, had a profound impact across the Arab world. There was an eruption of protest in Oman, Libya and Bahrain, while an incident in the town of Deraa in southern Syria sparked demonstrations that grew and spread into regular events involving thousands of young people.
Almost from the start, Bashar al-Assad’s regime was determined to maintain power, with severe repression of demonstrations leading to violence, injury and death. As non-violent demonstrations escalated into rebellion, the regime’s response was to use greater force while insisting that the stability of the state itself was being threatened by terrorists.
For almost a year this mantra was pushed insistently. By late 2012 it had become something of a self-fulfilling prophecy: dedicated young jihadists had formed some of the most cohesive elements of the rebellion, attracting recruits from across the middle east and beyond.
Almost ten years ago, Binyavanga Wainana mocked the relentless bashing of Africa for what it is: ignorance. Nowadays, however, a new gospel could use similar deriding: “tell them six of the ten fastest growing economies in the world are in Africa; drop names like Aliko Dangote and Isabel Dos Santos alongside Magatte Wade and Bethlehem Alemu; point to the 300 million middle class Africans; showcase the bustling cafes and glossy shopping malls with the latest products; spotlight the growing cities with towering structures; and always summon technology as your solution for everything. If they mention conflict, disease or poverty, chastise them for their antiquated colonial ways and refer them back to your points above.”
What’s the problem? In the interest of tackling the distorted and singular narrative of Africa as a continent of need, the “Africa rising” discourse is reinforcing its own one-dimensional story. Bolstered by recent advances in economic growth rates, Africa has been turned into a brand, a product to be packaged and sold on the merits of its financial worth. Its value is discussed and negotiated yet conversations too often exclude the context and implications of the current economic growth or the policies and institutions that sustain it. Africa is certainly rising, but how is it rising? And who is or isn’t rising with it?