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Post-2015: A vision for an African development based on indigenous knowledge and resources - Chika Ezeanya

Dr. Chika Ezeanya

Abstract: A sustainable and effective post-2015 development agenda for Africa must have its emphasis on building the capacity of Africans to identify, grow and strengthen their own systems and processes.

This article is a part of the Pambazuka Special Issue "From MDGs to SDGs: Claims vs. reality", published on May 29th 2015 as a result of the cooperation between AfricAvenir and Pambazuka.

2015-05-29, Issue 728

INTRODUCTION
Deliberations have peaked across the globe on the most ideal pathway to development in the post-2015 world. In those debates, Africa assumes its prominent position as the continent which remains unsuccessful in meeting several of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). The MDGs sought to and actually did define what development should mean for Africa. They rolled out strategies for achieving pre-fabricated development goals and mapped out funds in order to develop Africa. A decade and a half later, the fact that the MDGs have not achieved much concerning the development of Africa suggests the need for a radical departure in the crafting of new goals.

The recently released propositions for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) present very interesting plans and could be a firm basis for discussions regarding Africa’s situation in a post-2015 era. It is crucial, however, to start talks with an understanding of Africa’s development as an endogenous process that requires Africans themselves to be at the forefront. There is a need for the strengthening of African ideas, which will act as the foundation for policy actions, social transformation, and - in the final analysis - some form of growth. Authentically African platforms and soft skills, processes and systems must be strengthened in order to improve the chances of Africans taking the lead in development efforts. 

This article first explores the foundations laid by the MDGs, then discusses the SDGs in their positive and negative aspects, to make finally clear why the emphasis has to lie on building indigenous capacities in Africa, based on knowledge created in Africa. 

MDGS STIFLED INDEPENDENT APPROACHES IN AFRICA 

According to performance indices the MDGs, which are nearly at the end of their period, have performed most poorly in sub-Saharan Africa. This result should not come as a surprise regarding the region’s equally poor performance in Official Development Assistance, after which the MDGs were fashioned. Indeed, the MDGs in Africa were built on sand, as it was made clear that their realization was going to be donor-dependent. The global or rather western economic crises collided with aid fatigue to make the implementation of the goals impossible. But even in a hypothetical absence of the global economic crises, several doubts and questions persist regarding the MDGs: the question of the amount of money paid to the developed nations of today in order to bring them up to their present level. The answer in most cases is none. Dependency is not a pathway to advancement. 

Dependency stifles creativity and innovation. And it is these two which built and sustain the developed world – not aid. The pillars of the modern era were built and are maintained by citizens who constantly search for solutions to prevailing challenges of their time by using resources available to them. The MDGs denied African countries that very basic and foundational human need to think, decide and act independently in order to generate societal and environmental advancement. 

The fact that the task of shaping the MDGs and their financing was majorly borne by the developed nations, led to the inevitable outcome of leaving much of the successes of the MDGs to that part of the world. Ezeanya (2013) notes that 

“the MDGs were established on presumptions of expertise of the intimate developmental complexities of developing countries on the part of developed countries; a we-know-what-you-need-and-how-you-need-it-fixed paradigm. The MDGs were founded on a disguised superiority complex that held citizens of developing countries as people unable to understand the intricacies of their own existence, and therefore incapable of formulating workable, homegrown solutions.”

THE POST-2015 DEVELOPMENT AGENDA FOR AFRICA

The apparent shortcomings of the MDGs make it essential for governments interested in an effective and far-reaching post-2015 agenda for Africa to analyze the SDGs that have been submitted in September 2014 during the 69th United Nations General Assembly. They are the final reports of the after Rio+20 United Nations Open Working Group consisting of 17 goals and 169 targets. Their aim was to integrate social, economic and environmental dimensions of development.

During the 69th Assembly, the space for the much awaited intergovernmental negotiations on the post-2015 development agenda was opened up. The final agenda should be declared in September 2015. The SDGs were declared a foundational document in further negotiations, alongside prior experiences, lessons learned from the MDGs and other documents and ideas from governments and intergovernmental organizations. 

ROLE OF FUNDING IN THE POST-2015 DEVELOPMENT AGENDA 

It is crucial to point out that the post-2015 agenda should not perpetuate the financial dependency which formed the basis of previous global development plans, including the MDGs. Regrettably, as utterances by key parties involved in framing the post-2015 framework show, money is again placed at the forefront of the post-2015 development agenda. Dilma Rousseff, president of Brazil, commented during the UN General Assembly Debate on the SDGs in 2014: “We must be ambitious when it comes to financing… especially towards least developed countries.”[1] In a report presented on October 17, 2014, the expert committee which formulated the financing of the SDGs estimated that $66 billion was needed annually to eradicate poverty in all countries. According to the committee member Geir Pedersen (Permanent Representative of Norway in the UN) "what is important in the report, and also in the discussions and preparations for others is that –you know- we, Norway and other donors, we should stick by our promises on official development assistance and that's important -particularly for the least developed countries that's very important-, but if we are to be successful we need so much more."[2] 

These statements by key post-2015 players are disturbing for Africa in its role of receiving aid for decades without much improvement to show. But what could make the post-2015 goals really sustainable? 

REAL SUSTAINABILITY: APPROPRIATE EDUCATION AND CAPACITY BUILDING

At the heart of strategies and plans for Africa in a post-2015 era must be the emphasis on strengthening independent and critical thinking among Africans. But how can Africans be enabled to generate ideas that are suitable to their locality while meeting globally acceptable standards? That would be the very definition of sustainable development. As stated elsewhere by the author, “the question of a 2015 agenda for Africa should be that of how and not what. The MDGs tried to address the question of what, that is, hunger, poor health, poverty, environmental degradation, etc. A post-MDGs agenda should focus on how to build Africans up in order for them to understand their unique challenges and address the same with indigenous resources and easily accessible homegrown tools.”[3] 

A sustainable and effective post-2015 development agenda for Africa has to have its emphasis on the capacity of Africans to identify, grow and strengthen their own systems and processes. Capacity building as a concept is not the mere transfer of Western knowledge to sub-Saharan Africa as appears to be predominantly interpreted by global institutions. Sustainable capacity building should strongly encourage Africans to search within their own knowledge systems for development ideas across key sectors.

For sustainable development to occur there is the need to focus on the promotion of quality education and on the enhancement of access to appropriate technology across the African continent. Technological processes should be simplified and diluted across rural communities where the majority of Africans are resident. Technology should also be homegrown and grassroots based in order to encourage creativity and innovation. Quality education, on its own part, is firstly about content. It consists of an indigenous knowledge-based curriculum that strongly takes cognizance of and builds on local realities. Such form of education also entrenches creativity, innovation, values and a commitment to a national vision, which are all common aspirations of society.

The essential question to ask in framing the SDGs is: What do Africans need to know about themselves that they do not know yet? In the fields of pharmacology, governance, agriculture, pedagogy, etc - this question is necessary because Africa has for the most part robbed itself and the world of the continent’s authentic ideas and practices. Strengthening Africa’s own knowledge systems will have a ripple effect on all sectors, one of which is the growth of local innovations. 

INFRASTRUCTURAL DEVELOPMENT

On the other hand, attempts to place emphasis on infrastructural development as part of the way to development must be approached with caution. Infrastructure can only be utilized, maintained and enhanced by capable hands. Capability means technical as well as social-psychological capability, self-assurance, strength of character, empathy and commitment in men and women to positive and progressive ideals and values. In essence, while indeed there is the dire need for infrastructural development in Africa, there is even greater need for making Africans able to identify their own shortcomings and needs on the one hand, as well as their strengths, capabilities and resources on the other hand. With this ability infrastructure could be developed locally and cheaply.

CONCLUSION

Dilma Rousseff, president of Brazil, told the UN General Assembly that “it will be crucial for us to identify means of implementation that correspond to the magnitude of the challenges we have committed to overcome.”[4] For the President of the United Nations General Assembly, Sam Kutesa, member states must work tirelessly over the next 12 months to agree on “a truly transformative agenda” to improve the lives of all people. These statements establish the need for the identification of new and novel means for success after the expiration of the MDGs. A post-2015 development agenda for Africa needs to depart radically from the MDGs in order for success to be achieved. This can be accomplished in several ways. Part of it is a shift from the focus of financial obligations on the part of the developed countries to a focus on how Africans can be encouraged to strengthen their own systems and knowledge. Capacity building is the key, but only when it focuses on how Africa’s authentic knowledge systems can be endogenously developed through clearly defined quality education. 

END NOTES

[1] UN begins talks on SDGs, ‘carrying the hopes of millions and millions’, September 24, 2014. http://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2014/sep/24/un-begins-talks-sdgs-battle-looms-over-goals

[2] UN / FINANCING POST-2015 DEVELOPMENT, 17th October, 2014. http://www.unmultimedia.org/tv/unifeed/2014/10/un-financing-post-2015-development/

[3] Dr. Chika Ezeanya: After 2015, then what? Africa in a post-MDGs era. http://chikaforafrica.com/2013/03/18/after-2015-then-what-africa-in-a-post-mdgs-era/

[4] UN begins talks on SDGs, ‘carrying the hopes of millions and millions’, September 24, 2014. http://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2014/sep/24/un-begins-talks-sdgs-battle-looms-over-goals

* Dr. Chika A. Ezeanya is a researcher, writer and public intellectual whose works focus on determining appropriate strategies for Africa's authentic and sustainable advancement, based on indigenous knowledge and home-grown strategies. Chika received her PhD in African Development and Policy Studies from Howard in Washington D.C., and has worked as a World Bank consultant in Washington D.C., Rwanda and Nigeria. Chika was part of the UNDP Consultations on a Post-2015 Development Agenda for Africa in Johannesburg in 2013. She has taught, conducted research and worked in several countries across three continents. Chika is a fiction and non-fiction writer in addition to being an international conference speaker. She is currently engaged at the University of Rwanda.

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With the friendly support from Landestelle für Entwicklungszusammenarbeit and Engagement Global.

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