This opened a precious opportunity for South Africans and Africans to join what has become a truly global debate held in every corner of the world about what should guide global efforts to fight poverty, inequality and underdevelopment when the MDGs seize to exist. With the National Development Plan now formally the country’s development vision and blueprint, a framework for South Africa’s input into the global debate is available.
It might be that we were pre-occupied by the budget speech for we thought it impacted our own households, careers and businesses. We hoped that the speech would outline how government would use resource allocation to eradicate poverty, end inequality and overcome unemployment. This seemed a lot more pertinent for us than discussions on global goals. But we want to argue that MDG discussions are just as pertinent to how we succeed in taking people out of poverty as yearly budget speeches.
Half-hearted or under-repeated effort?
There is very little that South Africa can do on its own to deal with problems of deep poverty, high inequality, unemployment, education and health deficiencies because these are transnational and structural challenges linked to the state of the global economy and development as well as the particular history that the country has. Thus, the coincidence of the budget speech and this global consultation in Johannesburg provided a perfect opportunity for us to link national efforts with a global framework.
But I cannot say that government took the consultations anymore seriously than citizens and civil society organizations. I have not noticed an energetic effort on the part of government to ensure that we take a position on post-MDGs as a country and garner the collective wisdom of academics, civil society formations, churches, youth and women in our society. These other formations have also not shown much enthusiasm for inputting into the debate about a new global development consensus, one that must have a positive bearing on national developmental efforts.
This is ironic given the fact that we see ourselves as a global actor and were recently elected into the Economic and Social Council of the UN, a great opportunity to hook into a network of development actors whose experience should be educative for our own development. We are the co-chair of the Development Working Group in the G20, whose task is to firm up a development consensus among 20 significant global economies. This is a precious opportunity to link all these platforms to the post-2015 and South Africa ought to have a strategy for pursuing this in its development diplomacy. We cannot claim to have been excluded nor can we claim ignorance when final decisions are made.
On the MDGs as a Development Agenda
The UN MDGs were a culmination of decades of a search for development consensus as the large number of new UN members in the 1950s and 1960s, which were former colonies, brought the organisation closer to understanding the challenges of the periphery. A number of summits between 1970 and 1995 focused on specific aspects of solutions including food security, health, education, social security, child and mother mortality, gender and development, and youth development. On this basis, the UN gained wisdom into what were fundamental problems to overcome and developed what is now the preferred index for measuring development progress, the UN Human Development Index. The role of the UN Development Programme (UNDP) and the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) in defending development from the ideology of neoliberalism that promoted the idea of markets as sole agents of development is monumental.
As the millennium approached, the UN convened a mother of all summits, the Millennium Summit, to decide a common development effort for the 21st century. It decided to draw from its forty years of development agenda a set of actionable development goals whose implementation could be measured. This is how the 8 development goals came about. They are goals towards the realisation of visible human development epitomized by end to poverty, child and maternal mortality, disease, poor education, environmental degradation and inequality. This would give impetus to efforts that sought to get the basics of development right by ensuring that these fundamentals of human welfare were in place in all countries within a 15-year period.
Benefits of the MDGs paradigm
This helped galvanize the world into action on the same measurable priorities, affecting most communities. It simplified citizens oversight over governments and international agency on their development efforts. It forced all to focus on improving lives of people rather than vague things like GDP and inflation rates. We in Africa and South Africa needed to achieve these goals with the assistance of international actors and collective action to change the image of our continent from one of hunger and disease to one of quality and prosperity. This new consensus influenced the development of the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) by which African countries countries committed to improving governance, building peace and fighting corruption in order to enable the continent to achieve human development and economic growth. The idea of partnership is pronounced in both the MDGs, where it is goal number 8, and in the NEPAD.
Many governments are only going to take service provision seriously and many corporations are going to take drastic steps to help develop poor areas if we put pressure on them internally and hold them to account on their global commitments. We need synergy between internal and external pressure for improved policy action. We can protest, complaint and litigate internally with limited results until we influence what the international community also does to hold the country to account on.
The UN High-Level Panel charged with developing a framework for discussions on a post-2015 development agenda has begun its work, encouraging countries and continents to hold their own consultations in order to garner views about what could be done to build on the successes of the MDGs and how. There has been discussions among civil society formations in Addis Ababa already and discussions in South Africa contribute to this on-going conversation.
A number of important issues are being underlined that South Africa should consider as it develops its official country position. These are:
The new consensus must be in the form of development goals rather than a mere declaration or protocols because the latter have a poor record of implementation.
The new consensus must not re-invent the wheel, but should build on or extend the framework of the current MDGs. A new framework would need its own decade of setting in and the poor cannot wait any longer.
The discussion towards a new consensus should not happen at the expense of strong implementation of the current MDGs because they only expire in September 2015.
There should be a conscious link made between the MDGs and the sustainable development agenda, especially the Rio + 20 consensus. The new goals must include a strong input from the sustainability discussions.
Development partners should not be allowed to renegotiate their financial commitments. The danger that a new partnership framework is developed that displaces the older ones that were negotiated with great difficulty is real and should be avoided. While understanding the economic difficulties facing developed countries, the development commitments should not be sacrificed at the altar of financial austerity.
The civil society role in the discussions and implementation of the new development consensus should be clear and strong. Civil society can no longer be left on the sidelines to support initiatives it is excluded from designing.
Commitments by corporations that have actually become the real powers in the global system need to negotiated, so that global compacts bind companies to contribute concretely and in coordinated fashion to overcoming poverty and underdevelopment. Capital markets in particular are duty bound to assist in the fight against inequality.
The new consensus must reflect progress in the discussions on development effectiveness including ways in which aid could be used to enable countries to be self-reliant rather than perpetually dependent.
Judging by the tone of global consultations, it is likely that the MDGs will come back improved with a greater emphasis on sustainability and partnerships. But the exact nature of these goals and partnerships will be determined by those who participate in discussions, hence the importance of galvanizing civil society to be involved. The sooner we realize that we as South African civil society not an island, the sooner we will take seriously what is happening in the world that has a bearing on our ability to achieve development.
This is a product of the IGD’s Development Diplomacy Programme generously supported by the DFID