A development report card

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By Prof John Harbeson

We are now three years into the second major, multilateral international effort to overcome the most salient manifestations of underdevelopment across the entire globe. The first, the Millennium Development Goals project sought to achieve eight major objectives between 2000 and 2015: ending extreme poverty, universal primary education, gender equality, reduced child mortality, improved maternal health, overcoming incidence of HIV, tuberculosis and other major diseases, sustainable environments and effective development partnerships between richer and poorer countries. Overall, for Kenya, as for sub-Saharan African countries, progress toward these eight goals was mixed and uneven. More progress was achieved on primary education, gender equality and disease reduction than on the other goals.

As a result, a more ambitious and more comprehensive and detailed follow-on effort was launched, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) for the succeeding fifteen period, 2015 to 2030. The SDG project expanded to seventeen the number of major development objectives adding to, and somewhat reformulating, the MDG list to include: ending hunger, affordable and clean energy, ‘decent’ employment and economic growth patterns, industrial innovation and infrastructure improvement, reduced overall inequality, sustainable cities and communities, ”responsible” production and consumption practices, sustainable habits for sea creatures and for humans and animals on land, and “strong” institutions to uphold peace and justice.  The dozens of sub-indicators for these goals are too numerous, and the methodologies for gauging progress too complex, to summarise in this article.

Four years into the SDG era, a preliminary inquiry is appropriate into progress made on these goals to date. For Kenya, incomplete progress on Agenda 4 socioeconomic development objectives agreed upon in the wake of the 2007-2008 state-threatening election aftermath meltdown makes significant its SDG progress. 2018 data for Kenya and 155 other countries have been released in the report Global Responsibilities: Implementing the Goals jointly prepared by Bertelsmann Stiftung and the Sustainable Development Solutions Network chaired by Jeffrey Sachs.

Overall, the Report has concluded: (1) implementation has begun in many countries but many are not yet full mobilised to do so, (2) no country is on track to achieve all the SDGs, (3) progress has been made in lessening extreme poverty in all its forms but least so on secondary education and where conflict has been prevalent, (4) progress on sustainable production and consumption patterns has been slow, (5) high income country progress has tended in some ways to undermines progress in lower income countries, and (6) better data is still needed to gauge inequalities in social and economic outcomes.

The Report establishes scores from 0 to 100 for each of the seventeen goals. Overall progress for Saharan African countries stands just over 52, with Kenya registering just under 57. The report then assesses whether countries’ existing progress puts them on track to achieve 2030 goals on each objective, make moderate progress toward them, perpetuate stagnation, or even regression. On all seventeen measures, Kenya’s present scores fall in the latter two categories. The Report also gauges trend lines on each measure. Specifically, the report finds Kenya to be trending to reach 2030 goals on gender equality and climate action though the countries progress to date has been only moderate on both. 

On six goals, Kenya has registered trends indicating significant progress falling short of 2030 goals but also reversal of existing current regression. These include ending poverty, ending hunger, achieving good health and well-being, achieving decent employment and growth patterns, accomplishing industrial innovation and growth, and building strong institutions. On four goals, Kenya trends indicate unlikely progress: clean water and sanitation, affordable clean energy, sustainable cities and communities, and care for life in its waterways. On sustainable conditions for humans and wildlife on land, the report forecasts deterioration. Data has been insufficient to gauge progress on reducing inequality, and reaching educational objectives, and development partnerships. 

The whole SDG enterprise presumes that making progress on each of these objectives should be a central priority for all countries and their governments. However, the Report is implicitly critical of wealthier countries in the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) for their insufficient mobilisation to partner with developing countries to meet these goals. Clearly, it is in the best interests of countries most vulnerable to receiving large scale spontaneous migrations from fragile conflict-ridden, and impoverished states for them to prioritise achieving SDG goals.

More generally, the SDG project keeps alive the principle of sharply focusing development assistance on the aspirations and requirements of the millions of people who are to be its beneficiaries, who otherwise seem tacitly treated as pawns in ever-present major power struggles for dominance. In many respects, the halcyon era for collaborative international development assistance focused as it should be was the decade of the 1970s, the period of détente in the Cold War competition between the United States and the then Soviet Union.(

— Writer is a professor of Political Science Emeritus, and a professorial lecturer of African Studies at Johns Hopkins University

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