“At the midway point between their adoption in 2000 and the 2015 target date for achieving the Millennium Development Goals, sub-Saharan Africa is not on track to achieve any of the Goals”. http://www.un.org/millenniumgoals/docs/MDGafrica07.pdf
Yes, according to William Easterly, author of “The White Man’s Burden”, at a February 6 event, Africa was set up to fail by the way MDG targets were set and indicators defined (http://www.brookings.edu/events/2008/0206_africa.aspx). With wit and by taking occasional cheap shots at those who developed the MDG goals and targets, Easterly held the attention of a large audience. Using data and trends, he made a compelling case why MDGs did not give sub-Saharan Africa credit for its considerable progress, thus contributing to the stereotype of “Africa’s failure”. In his response, Danny Leipziger of the World Bank took issue with many of Easterly’s claims pointing out, for example, that Tanzania was treated no different from Nepal for most MDG goals. Here is the question: Do you believe that MDGs are fair or unfair to Africa?
MDGs have been embraced by many of us and have become an important instrument for advocacy and for focusing development aid. Presentations made by IH section members at annual APHA meetings often refer to MDGs as benchmarks. However, many feel that the targets are overly ambitious and unattainable for the least developed countries, especially in sub Saharan Africa. This argument is is rooted in our experience how fast progress can be made when starting from a low develoment baseline. Easterly’s analysis provides some hard evidence in support of this assertion.
Easterly points to five ways that bias MDG targets against Africa:
- Choosing 1990 as a benchmark year when Africa’s economies were in a slump instead of 2000, the year when MDGs were adopted.
- Applying linear relationships to time or per capita income when nonlinear relationships may be more appropriate.
- Opting for percent changes that hide considerable progress when measured in absolute numbers.
- Setting level targets like universal primary school enrollment that penalize Africa, because it starts from relatively low levels compared to other regions. Change targets can reduce this bias.
- Expressing water and sanitation coverage in negative terms, which increases the gap between Africa and other regions, rather than using a positive indicator that would show the gap narrowing.
Curiously, Easterly’s paper is mute about high population growth that makes progress much harder in Africa, at least in relative terms. He also pointed out that MDGs were designed as global targets. They should not be applied to regions or countries as the UN, The World Bank and others do routinely.
No doubt, where data exist, sub-Saharan Africa has made substantial progress with several MDG targets. However, it is still far behind other regions and not on track for reaching any of the targets. If you believe Easterly, then the MDGs and their targets are not fair benchmarks for Africa; they should be made more region and country specific. On the other hand, adjusting one’s targets because progress is slow may be setting the bar too low and give an excuse for not increasing the investment in people and economic growth.
So, are MDGs unfair to Africa or is this more about avoiding accountability? Share your thoughts!
Read Easterly’s complete paper at http://www.brookings.edu/~/media/Files/rc/papers/2007/11_poverty_easterly/11_poverty_easterly.pdf.