Beyond 2015: A successor vision in the making of next Millennium Dev’t Goals (MDG) By Keffyalew Gebremedhin
There are many of us who strongly believe that the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) have been a major politico-economic initiative of the post-Cold War world. With the launch in September 2000 of UN-MDG by the UN General Assembly, the subsequent twelve years have unmistakably affirmed the continuing relevance of the United Nations system to the modern world with its seemingly eight simple goals, their 19 targets and 60 indicators.
The specificity of this claim is not intended to take away the importance of other international initiatives of the post-Cold War World, such as environmental protection and sustainable development, which started with the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED). In June 2012, its successor platform the Rio+20 UN Conference on Sustainable Development is guiding national international actions.
One can boldly say that the developing world, which has been promised the rewards and dividends of a world without the Cold War and was thus anticipatory got the MDG through its successful negotiations with its partners. This has become an important compact between the technology and financial rich north, which pledged to provide increased international aid. The resource rich south committed itself to focus on building its human and institutional capacities with the goal of improving the lives of its people as part of the global measures required for the building a peaceful and prosperous world.
Competitive spirit MDG has unleashed and the way forward
As a matter of fact, the MDGs have sparked competitive spirit among developing countries. This has created favorable conditions for realization of their objectives. The June 2012 report to the Secretary-General by the UN System Task Team on the Post-2015 UN Development Agenda acknowledges the MDG as having “brought an inspirational vision together with set of concrete and time-bound goals and targets that could be monitored by statistically robust indicators.”
In other words, these have facilitated achievement of important social goals such as poverty reduction, expanding schools, fighting infant mortality and making sanitation and drinking water a reality for sizable populations around the world.
In assessing the gains made on annual basis by the MDG agenda, as required by a decision of the General Assembly, in his 2012 report UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon underlined the achievement of several milestones. He elaborated that by pointing out:
“The target of reducing extreme poverty by half has been reached five years ahead of the 2015 deadline, as has the target of halving the proportion of people who lack dependable access to improved sources of drinking water. Conditions for more than 200 million people living in slums have been ameliorated—double the 2020 target. Primary school enrolment of girls equalled that of boys, and we have seen accelerating progress in reducing child and maternal mortality.”
As important as these successes are, however, they do not represent the end of the road. While with the remaining few years, more targets still need to be achieved, already the report stresses the need to see beyond 2015. A few of the indicates to that are the remaining tasks and challenges ahead in such areas as:
(a) Vulnerable employment has decreased only marginally over twenty years,
(b) Decreases in maternal mortality are far from the 2015 target,
(c) Use of improved sources of water remains lower in rural areas,
(d) Hunger remains a global challenge,
(e) The number of people living in slums continues to grow, and
(f) Gender equality and women’s empowerment are key
As to the successor agenda, i.e., after 2015, the above mentioned report submitted by the team of the Secretary-General proposes the new agenda to have four key dimensions:
◙ Inclusive social development;
◙ Inclusive economic development;
◙ Environmental sustainability; and
◙ Peace and security
This is justified by the need to tightly link the three fundamental principles of – human rights, equality and sustainability – with the key goals of environmental sustainability, inclusive social development, inclusive economic development and peace and security to the notion of “freedom from want” for present and future generations. This is expected to build on the three existing pillars of the sustainable development concept – economic, social and environmental.
The debates and consultations
The conversations on the post 2015 successor arrangement have started in earnest by the initiative taken by the Secretary-General, making available the Task Team’s report to the international community and civil societies. There have also been consultations and debates within government circles and civil society groups.
While there is no doubt that the current approach must continue, perhaps the major haggling point could be what some consider either have not been adequately emphasized or are totally lacking in the present MDG agenda. In other words, what would be included or taken out of the current MDG is a point of the negotiations, when they begin in earnest.
For now, for instance, the November 23, 2012 debate by the members of the Lords in British parliament has brought out some of the concerns and those issues they want to see included.
Accordingly, there were some members who strongly felt that development must mean more than simply reducing poverty. In that regard, there was call for conflict prevention to precede development in any country as the essential condition for peace. The view that sees the MDG as having created “global awareness of the interrelated and multi-dimensional nature of poverty” seems to want to see the post-2015 mechanism “to be grounded in human rights, reducing inequality and ensuring environmental sustainability, and the process has to be inclusive. It must be drawn up after a rigorous process of consultation and commitment to the concept of genuine partnership.”
On the other hand, there was also the view advocating the fight against corruption, support for political and civil liberties, “especially but not only for women, and access to public health for all-health that enfolds all diseases” to be highlighted.
While different views were aired, in the end the government spokesperson in the debate summed up to the members, assuring them of the UK’s commitment to do everything “to deliver a bold, useful and realistic post-2015 framework that will drive poverty reduction and deliver real improvements in the lives of generations to come.”
Similarly, many civil society groups, including Beyond 2015, which coalesces 570 civil society organisations in over 95 countries, are also interested in seeing the integration of the various outcomes of international conferences, in particular the Rio + 20 and its sustainable development goals into the post-2015 successor vision. For them, its importance lies in highlighting the nexus between environment and poverty and the protection of human rights.
As in the case of many civil society groups in different countries, Kepa, the civil society coalition in Finland also shares the view that the preparation of the goals for the post-2015 vision should be “fair, equitable and iclusive manner at UN and national levels.”
Kepa also stressed the need for inclusion of environmental, human rights and corporate responsibility issues in the new goals.
It further has called for correction in the hitherto MDG course. In that regard, it urged the new development goals to offer solutions to the structural problems of the global economy, the climate crisis and on the inequality front. In that respect, it stated:
“The post-MDG goals involve plenty of open questions. A fundamental question is whether we should formulate realistic goals or a general declaration which does not oblige governments to take concrete action and may therefore remain as mere rhetoric within the UN corridors. Secondly, we must decide whether the agreement should be based on unanimity or whether it is also possible to include themes that are not endorsed by everyone. A third key question is how to promote sustainable use of the environment and socially sustainable development in such a way that neither one will be overshadowed by the other.”
While the Finnish government position is not yet out, in a statement which appeared on the WIDERAngle in February 2013, Minister of International Development Cooperation Heidi Hautala stressed that the new set of goals would need to be built built both on the strengths and weaknesses of the present MDGs.
She also emphasized her preference to see problems addressed not “in separate silos, but as questions that are irreversibly interconnected.”
Much in the same manner as others, the Finnish minister made reference to the global conversations on the inclusion of a fourth pillar to the international development agenda: peace and security, without giving any indication whether she is in favor of it.
In terms of position, she indicated that she would like to see in the MDG successor arrangement the inclusion of the good governance, democracy, and rule of law goals, issues very close to her heart.
Africa & the MDG consultations
From the few papers I have scanned so far, there are consultations within Africa about the post-2015 agenda. The AU has indicated that to date two sub-regional consultative meetings have taken place, one in Mombasa last October and the other in December in Dakar. The priority issues identified by these meetings are to be reviewed at a subsequent regional consultation planned for this month. It is on that basis, the final outcome document is finalized Africa’s Common Position on the post 2015 development agenda.
There already are criticisms by some African observers of the consultation processes and whether they were productive. One observer considered it unfocussed. Early on, the AU, through NEPAD, has expressed the view that serious concerns still remain in attaining the MDGs, indicating that this is due to the region having the highest proportion of people living in extreme poverty and many of the failed states that have hardly registered any progress in implementing the MDGs.
CAUTION: What agendas & safeguards in their implementation?
Overall, there is strong convergence of views on the need for post-2015 agenda. Whether this would crystallize the concrete issues with strong political support, some of which have already been broached by different parties is to be seen. Rightly, the UN Task Team rightly points out that the immediate challenge is reaching consensus on the contours of an agenda.
Extensive consultations and negotiations could be foreseen regarding the peace and security dimension. There would be some need for clarity of views and a number of safeguards. Certainly, there cannot be development without peace nor peace without development.
The moment the peace and security agenda becomes one of the major pillars or separate cluster, or goal, it would tempt some members of the international community to give it the highest priority. Authoritarian countries also get the opportunity to hijack the process to facilitate their unaccountable governance. The result is that the development aspect would face the risk of being accorded secondary importance, or ordinary people would have no voice in how their life should be transformed.
Why is it important to raise such concern? Especially, those countries that want human rights, the rule of law, democratic governance, the fight against corruption to become important elements of the post-MDG agenda would surprise themselves in seeing again how much authoritarian regimes would prove crafty in undermining them.
The peace and security agenda designed to prevent internal conflicts, ward off terrorism and extremism could be exploited to silence domestic opposition and muzzle the media, if Ethiopia’s experience is to offer any useful lessons.
Exploiting the situation, the Ethiopian regime elaborated its anti-terrorism and anti civil society laws. In its hands, they proved potent weapons, with the law as cover to unlawful acts. That enabled the regime to close newspapers, imprison independent journalists and silence members of the legally constituted domestic opposition. It enabled it to unleash a reign of terror on the nation. This has met huge international disapproval.
Every time delegations from the major donor countries visit Ethiopia, this blot has become a point of unproductive conversations, which could not find definitive conclusion. In the meantime, those imprisoned under these laws continue to suffer, as the nation is also continually subjected to the one truth only – the regime’s wishes and its propaganda.
In other words, the international community’s interest in fighting terrorism and extremism could be open for abuses by such regimes. In the end, such an approach that lacks adequate safeguards would once again dampen popular aspirations for equality, freedom, respect for fundamental human rights, with the prospects of democratic governance and the rule of law in those countries becoming increasingly remote.
In its report to the Secretary-General, the UN System Task Team on the Post-2015 UN Development Agenda has made reference to human rights 25 times. Nowhere in this report has it provided the safeguards, the relevance of present experiences. The question, with this linkages to human rights, what is to be done when the next dictator(s) hijack the development processes, reducing them to top down, instead of bottom up this new agenda should envision.