On the eve of a major United Nations review of the Millennium Development Goals, a new review says Africa has made considerable progress in the past half decade but that the continent’s governments and the international community still had a ways to go.
Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s Commission for Africa - which includes nine prominent Africans such as Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi and former Tanzanian President Benjamin Mkapa - reported on the weekend in a report called “Still or Common Interest” said the majority of Africans have yet to experience the benefit of economic growth.
The 17 commissioners revealed their findings five years after the publication of the landmark report, “Our Common Interest.”
The new reports says: “Africa has seen average growth rates of over 6 percent from 2003-2008 and a quadrupling of trade and foreign investment.
This was largely driven by African governments’ efforts to make it easier to do business in their countries supported by increased African and international investment in infrastructure - as well as record levels of demand for African goods.
The Commission noted that this demand for Africa’s natural resources, particularly from emerging economies, has transformed the continent’s relationships with the outside world. Relief for debt valued at $100 billion and a 46% increase in aid to Africa since 2004 have helped African countries increase their spending on health, education and other social sectors. Governance has improved in many countries, and though some existing conflicts remain intractable, there have been no major new conflicts on the continent.
“Some countries in Africa are on track to meet some of the MDGs, reflecting the progress made since the last report....However the majority of Africans have yet to experience the benefit of economic growth, and progress towards the MDGs needs to be broader and faster if the continent as a whole is to make significant progress towards meeting the MDGs.
The Commission credited African governments with doing more than ever before to ease business and investment on the continent. “Donors have supported this by boosting their support to infrastructure and providing the aid and debt relief that has allowed African governments to increase their expenditure in key areas such as health, education and agriculture.
“But there remains much to be done. Progress on reforming international trade rules has been dismal; donors are providing less in aid than their commitments; and African governments are still not investing as much as they had promised in key areas.”
Indeed, in South Africa, considered the strongest economy on the continent, massive slashes inn the health budget has creted a severe shortage of nurses and denied critical patients of life saving care. Many African governments are still far short of commiting the promised 15% of their annual budgets to health care as part of the so-called Abuja Declaration.
Increasingly, African economies are being boosted by private capital. According to Nile Capital, stock markets and public companies represent approximately $1 trillion in market capitalization. Of 53 African countries, 23 have active stock markets with a total of 1,500 companies listed. With returns stronger than in the US and elsewhere, the offshore portfolio exposures of large institution and hedge funds to the continent are increasing.
The MDGs are a set of eight development targets agreed upon in 2000 at a UN summit that are aimed to slash poverty, reduce hunger, improve health and education.
While many countries in Africa will achieve MDG targets, many will not. Recently, UNICEF Executive Director Tony Lake pointed out that while a strong focus has been made over the years to meet MDG targets, in the process, millions have been left behind - in inequality gaps that hides their plight. The organization is making a push to utilize desegregated data to reveal these widening disparities.
"Even in many countries making progress toward the MDGs, we see gaps between the richest and poorest children widening," Lake said. "It is hard to reach the very poor. They often live in remote areas. Even those in urban areas find themselves marginalized by weak transportation links and limited physical infrastructure."