FROM THE ARCHIVES
In the 2013 Human Development Report, The Rise of the South: Human Progress in a Diverse World, Michael Bloomberg, New York City’s former billionaire mayor, writes:
“New York is fortunate to have some of the world’s brightest minds working in our businesses and universities, but we recognize there is much to learn from programmes developed elsewhere. That is why the centre [Center for Economic Opportunity] began its work by conducting an international survey of promising antipoverty strategies.”
Mayor Bloomberg was referring to the 2007 launch of Opportunity NYC Family Rewards by the Center for Economic Opportunity, a conditional cash transfer programme in the US. Family Rewards reduces poverty by providing households with incentives for preventive healthcare, education and job-training. The development of the program grew out of Bloomberg and colleagues' on the ground investigations of Mexico's highly successful federal conditional cash transfer program, Oportunidades. Other conditional cash transfer programs as well as an examination of innovative initiatives in education and urban transportation among other areas in Latin America, Indonesia, Turkey and South Africa were also scrutinized by Bloomberg and his team. “No one has a monopoly on good ideas," says Bloomberg, "which is why New York will continue to learn from the best practices of other cities and countries."
The fact that a vibrant western metropolis like New York City is learning from developing world anti-poverty initiatives speaks volumes about the success of some programs that hitherto were exclusive to impoverished regions such as sub-Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia.
Successful anti-poverty projects in the developing world have resulted in, among other things, a decline in global poverty, greater access to safe drinking water, higher primary and secondary school enrollment, lower rates of maternal and infant mortality, better nutrition and food security, and millions of African lives have been saved because of targeted investments in fighting malaria, AIDS and tuberculosis.
This has led many African countries towards achieving the UN’s Millennium Development Goals, eight internationally sanctioned objectives to reduce extreme poverty, hunger, and disease by the year 2015.
The world’s foremost proponent of the MDGs over the years has been Dr. Jeffrey David Sachs, the controversial author of the 2005 New York Times bestseller THE END OF POVERTY and named one of Time magazine’s 100 Most Influential People in the World twice, in 2004 and 2005. Sachs is currently the Quetelet Professor of Sustainable Development at Columbia's School of International and Public Affairs and a Professor of Health Policy and Management at Columbia's School of Public Health. He is also the Director of The Earth Institute at Columbia University. But perhaps his most influential role was as a Special Adviser to former United Nations Secretary-GeneralBan Ki-Moon on the Millennium Development Goals, having held the same position under former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan.
HAVE THE MILLENNIUM DEVELOPMENT GOALS BEEN A SUCCESS?
Yes, I think to everybody’s surprise the announcement of the MDGs in 2000 captured the attention of governments and civil society. I was asked by then United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan in 2001 to help advise him and the UN, and when I took the job as UN Special Advisor to the Secretary General on the MDGs many Non-Governmental Organizations approached me saying: ‘why are you doing this?’ Or, ‘these goals are stupid’ or ‘useless’ or ‘ill-formed’. There were a lot of cynics and a lot of skeptics. But I think the idea that the world, with some energy and some diplomacy, should turn its attention to the world’s poorest people was rather heartening, and it turned out to be some kind of lever to promote change in some very important areas.
In my own experience I had been chairman of a commission for the World Health Organization on microeconomics and health and this commission was advocating a major scale-up of disease control in poor countries. The MDGs played a huge role in propelling that idea forward; giving birth to the Global Fund for Fighting AIDS, TB and Malaria and a very successful US program called PEPFAR for fighting HIV/AIDS. The MDGs turned out to be a kind of effective rallying cry. Most UN goals aren’t remembered a decade later but the MDGs almost 14 years on are certainly remembered. There’s even a meaningful push right now in several directions to speed up delivery and performance up to the end of 2015 to get as close to the goals, or over the goal line as is possible and in many places as possible.
HOW HAS THE MDGs HELPED ORDINARY AFRICANS?
In general, across Africa there has been significant though not uniform advances in reducing infant and maternal mortality; saving people with HIV/AIDS; reducing mother to child transmission of HIV/AIDS; getting more children to school; controlling malaria infections and improving access to clean drinking water and so forth. Most of the indicators have improved and even the poverty indicator, which remained constant in Africa for decades, started to improved significantly after the year 2000 though we don’t have good up to date data. Unfortunately, the World Bank only provides this data with significant lags, but between 2000 and 2010 the poverty rate in Africa fell by about ten percentage points from about 58% of the households to about 48% and my guess is that trend has continued judging from many different kinds of factors but perhaps most importantly by the rather good overall economic growth in Africa, which should be better but it’s still better than it has been in the past. It’s now reaching around 6% annually. I believe it should be 10% per year higher but this growth has been faster in the past. It’s one of the reasons why poverty is coming down.
WHAT HAS BEEN RESPONSIBLE FOR THIS SUCCESS?
There are two other huge factors that have caused this success. The advances of mobile technology have made a big difference for Africa in my opinion because it has opened up the villages and rural areas to information, business, finance and general connectivity. The second issue is that Africa’s commodities prices, on the whole, have been pretty good for the past decade partly because of demand from China for the continent’s commodities. But this performance has depended on what commodities these countries have to sell and this is another reason for the differences. Take places like Central African Republic or Niger or Mali-these countries are landlocked, very arid, very far from international trade and are lacking in primary commodities that are easily marketed internationally. You end up with very weak results. Compared to places that are closer to trade and better commodity based and have effective political leadership.
WHY HAVE SOME AFRICAN COUNTRIES FAILED TO MAKE PROGRESS ON THE MDG’S
In some places there is, or has been, war or armed violence in other places there has been despotic rule like, in my opinion, Mr. Mugabe’s Zimbabwe- these places don’t make progress, they fall backward. The chaos in Somalia, Sudan and South Sudan as well as in parts of the Sahel are places where progress has been slow or nonexistent. Countries that have been more stable better governed and have received financial help from abroad have done better. Rwanda is an example of this- where President Kagame has been strong and effective in promoting economic development in a very difficult setting such as being post genocide nation, being a landlocked country and with lots of challenges. But there has been ample financial support from abroad; strong domestic leadership and a developed infrastructure, so the results there have been pretty good, quite good. In fact, Rwanda may actually achieve all of the MDGs by the end of next year.
One can look across the African continent and see quite a lot of variation depending on governance, access to finance, geography, etc. Some places are much harder than others. Places like the Sahel, the Horn o f Africa, Northern/Northeastern Uganda and other drought-prone areas are really tough because they are dry so agricultural activity is very difficult because farming there is rain-fed. There a lots of factors which have caused some countries to miss the MDG targets so the record is mixed, but the positive signs are really encouraging.
CONNECTED TO THESE ISSUES OF THE SAHARA AND THE SAHEL, HAS TERRORISM PLAYED ANY ROLE IN SOME AFRICAN COUNTRIES NOT ACHIEVEING THE MDGs?
Well of course it does in the sense that if there is a lot of violence this becomes a huge barrier to socio-economic development. Part of the problem can be internal violence or violence that has spilled over from the outside, or even provoked from the outside. These are complicated circumstances. Mali fell prey to the blowback of events in Libya. After the fall of Colonel Gaddafi armed groups invaded northern Mali and completely disrupted politics and everyday life there. The Horn of Africa, especially Somalia, has been in disastrous shape and this is affecting northeast Kenya and even life in Nairobi. So peace is a prerequisite for socio-economic development. Outside meddling can also cause tremendous amount of disarray. I’m not too happy with how the outside world has often engaged in these circumstances because I think this has also stirred up more trouble than it has solved the problems.
ARE YOU CONCERNED ABOUT INCREASING AMERICAN MILITALIZATION OF SOME PARTS OF AFRICA BECAUSE OF TERRORISM?
In general, America takes a military approach to these problems. My own view, which is definitely a minority view in the United States, is that these are developmental problems, by-in-large, and if there was more focus on building infrastructure, education, helping farmers to meet their basic needs for seeds, fertilizer and irrigation equipment and so forth we actually would reach a much faster degree of stability. Drone warfare only stirs up more trouble. In general, the American military and its foreign policy establishment have no particular knowledge of local conditions and actually don’t care very much about local conditions. They are mainly interested in fighting what they see as terrorists but in the process they disrupt the national economies of these countries. This kind of American meddling has created massive destruction. It’s not just Africa but mainly in the Middle East, Syria is another case in point.
Sachs with former Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki and opposition politician Raila Odinga
HOW HAS CHINA HELPED AFRICA IN ACHIEVING THE MDG TARGETS?
At the most fundamental level China and African countries are complementary economies. Africa is largely natural resource rich and China is natural resource scarce. China’s economic rise, which has been the single most important economic event on the planet in the past generation, has meant a great increase in demand for Africa’s primary commodities or semi-processed commodities. This in turn has led to a lot of investments in mining, infrastructure, road building, transport, and ports. China is not only a buyer but also a major financer of this infrastructure development. On the whole, I think this is a salutatory process. Of course, Africa has to be smart, make good deals and not succumb to short term enticements. But my view is that China is in for the long term picture: good diplomatic relations, good commercial relations, long term access to Africa’s primary commodities and that it’s willing to play a constructive role in financing infrastructure and in building markets together with Africa.
ISN’T CHINA IS ALSO ESTABLISHING MANUFACTURING CENTERS IN AFRICA?
There is even another stage taking place right now that is potentially very interesting. China is helping Ethiopia, for example, to develop some manufacturing centers and China has the idea of doing this in several places in Africa. This could be a significant contribution to Africa’s growth because it builds on China’s own experience of building special economic zones where manufacturing production can take hold, and if that happens in Africa it could be really important as a source of jobs and as a source of economic growth that goes beyond the primary commodities, for example. And with wages in China raising very rapidly right now, actually putting some Chinese firms out of global competitiveness, you have a number of Chinese companies that are now relocating to these African manufacturing hubs. This is already starting in Ethiopia in textiles and footwear and in some other labor intensive industries. This could be another big wave of contributing to Africa’s economic growth.
ANY OTHER COUNTRIES CONTRIBUTING TO AFRICAN GROWTH?
Brazil has had some role but not at the same scale as China because of its connections to the Luso-phone or Portuguese-speaking African countries like Mozambique. India, of course, when it was growing faster than it is right now was also starting to make some important economic connections with Africa. And India has potentially an important role to play especially in ICT and farming technology sectors such as small scale farm equipment and solar powered irrigation and other technologies that they have done well in but .Unfortunately, India’s growth has faltered over the past couple years, so I think India’s presence in Africa has also slowed down, at least the feel of it. But maybe if India picks up economic speed shortly then that will play an important role as well. More recently, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan took a tour of Africa signaling his recognition that Africa is important for Japan and that Japan could be potentially important for Africa. South Korea, which has become an important world economy, has also started to take a greater interest in investing in Africa. So, I think, generally the Asian connections are quite important and I’m hoping that Asia will continue to develop quickly and the whole Indian Ocean trade will be an important boost for Africa’s overall development.
HAS THE BILLIONS OF DOLLARS IN FOREIGN AID HELPED TO REDUCE POVERTY AND FOSTER ECONOMIC GROWTH IN AFRICA? YOUR FELLOW ECONOMISTS, DAMBISA MOYO AND WILLIAM EASTERLY, DON’T THINK SO.
Some of the aid has worked and some of it has not. [Therefore], it’s been a mixed picture. But the real question is to understand what works and how to promote that, and also understanding what does not work and stopping that. l [have a tendency]to draw attention to the parts that work because they are vital for human well-being and important for helping many places to overcome extreme poverty, and I’m especially interested in helping to understand and also to design programs that succeed and I think this is where some of the complexity comes in. It’s easy to point out the development programs that have failed, but it’s also very straight-forward to point out the successes.
WHAT HAS GONE WRONG?
There’s a lot that has gone wrong. Sometimes foreign aid has been used for political manipulation. At other times it’s been used [by the West] to buy allies [in Africa and elsewhere] rather than for serious economic development. On other occasions it’s been driven by ideology rather than good evidence or logic. There are a lot of reasons why aid can be bad and ineffective. But there are also reasons why aid can be [beneficial to developing countries. For example, when science leads to new breakthroughs like anti-retroviral medicines, or a new generation of anti-malaria drugs. Then aid can be a major way to enable the poor to gain access to those life-saving medicines or other new technologies. So the crucial question for me is therefore one of design and politics. How to get the very best out of something that can be very beneficial to the world’s most vulnerable peoples.
HOW DO WE GET THE RICH COUNTRIES TO KEEP THEIR PROMISES OF AID TO AFRICA?
It’s complicated, of course, but one of the things I try to do is to emphasize what is working because a lot of the excuses is that the promises are not helpful because things aren’t working in Africa. This is simply false in many areas. I know that disease control could be dramatically improved and that major improvements of infrastructure could also occur with well-designed aid programs, and so I try to strip away the excuses. But right now, the EU and the US are at the moment are increasingly inward looking they are not the main focus and probably the more interesting money is coming from China and the Middle East rather than the traditional donors. But I don’t want to let the traditional donors off the hook because there is still work to do [particularly] to help the poorest places in Africa and the poorest people to at least get a foothold in development.
WHERE ARE WE IN TERMS OF GETTING THE NEW UN SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT GOALS, WHICH WILLTAKE THE PLACE OF THE MDGs IN 2015, UP AND RUNNING?
The SDGs will be adopted in Sept 2015, so there is a rather elaborate negotiating process that’s underway that was initiated at the Rio +20 Summit in 2012 in Rio de Janeiro and that summit says that there should be SDGs and the summit set in motion the intergovernmental negotiations. Last 25th Sept the UN General Assembly voted on a timetable to reach the SDG by September 2015. I think this process is more or less on track. It’s complicated because you have 194 governments negotiating right now and there are different points of view by different regions. It’s also caught up in highly complicated and unsettled negotiations over climate change and world energy so there is no guarantee that this process is going to converge to a set of goals, but I would say that it’s likely to given the dynamics that’s underway right now.
HOW ARE YOU INVOLVED WITH THE SDGs?
I’m leading a project under the auspice of Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon called the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network. The SDSN aims to create a network of think tanks, universities, businesses and NGOs to share knowledge and ideas about how to achieve sustainable development. In the first year of this project, we produced a document recommending ten SDGs and this paper had some constructive impact on the ongoing discussions. Now we are about to release a second document on a recommendation on targets and indicators for Sustainable development. This document can also add to the debate. And then we are trying to sponsor online learning and awareness. My personal role in this is that I am teaching a free online course globally about sustainable development. It has an enrollment of 35,000 people around the world. I’m also making available a free online text and free videos and lots of live interaction online. So we are trying to promote this kind of massive online accessible information, which we want to establish in the post 2015 period. We also are considering a kind of free online university of sustainable development. This is a part of the work I’m engaged in right now.
AFRICAN COUNTRIES NEED NOT SIMPLY LOOK AT GNP TO GUAGE THEIR SOCIO-ECONOMIC GROWTH, BUT WHAT IS CALLED “THE TRIPLE BOTTOM LINE” APPROACH.WHAT IS IT?
The idea of the Triple Bottom Line is really at the core of sustainable development. It means society must have economic, social and environmental objectives. The idea is that instead of just looking at GNP, which have been the main indicator countries have used up until now to gauge a country’s economic growth], we have to look at these three aims. The economic side deals with continued economic growth and continued reduction of poverty. The second focuses on the social aspect, which is complicated but mainly deals with the health of our communities, including social trust, equality and breaking down barriers of discrimination to create a more vibrant and more equal communities. The third is environmental; recognizing that the pattern of economic growth the world has been on for almost two centuries, has for the past two centuries created by now an absolutely unprecedented threat to the future especially because of human induced climate change and also the human induced destruction of habitats and biodiversity through pollution, deforestation, the building of new cities and infrastructure in natural areas, the depletion of ground water and the fact that our nitrogen fertilizer use is causing a lot of damage around the world. The point is that on the environmental side the world economy has become so big and the world’s population so large that the human damage to the environment cannot be overlooked or just regarded as a side effect of economic development. It’s too big, to threatening to be ignored.
So we have to put the environmental concerns on to the forefront of policy and that what sustainable development aims to do, it aims to makes all three pillars of society high priority objectives.
WHAT WILL BE SOME OF THE MAJOR CHALLENGES OF THE SDGs IN AFRICA?
Of course, each region has its challenges but I would like to see the period of 2015 to 2030 be a period for Africa to achieve real broad-based economic take off and nearly the end of poverty on the continent. That’s a huge challenge, but it’s the kind of challenge we should subscribe to. It would mean for Africa basically two decades of massive infrastructure investment in energy, transport, education, health facilities. I believe in investment-led growth and it’s my belief that this is what has enabled China to achieve double digit economic growth and this is what I’d like to see Africa achieve. I would like to see four-fold economic growth in the Africa economy. If African economies grew at 10% per year over a fifteen-year period you increase by four times. I think it’s possible but it’s obviously a big stretch that would require focus and leadership.
If Africa can do this and really achieve the demographic transition of getting the demographic dividends by making sure the between 2015-2030 that all girls stay in school; that all young people get at least a secondary education; that there is more urbanization, decline of high fertility rates through more education and urbanization, all this could come together to achieve a period of a great breakthrough for Africa that China has achieve in the past generation.
At the same time this has to be done in a very difficult global context; a time of global climate change, which will attack Africa heavily. But by Africa using available information technologies is rapid economic growth is possible: online education, online healthcare and, of course, online finance are all things that could propel growth right now. Africa also has potentially vast renewable energy resources that it could combine with recent oil and gas discoveries. Therefore, the energy mix could be very interesting: with big hydrocarbon gas finds in east Africa, big geothermal potential along the Rift Valley, huge hydropower in central Africa and huge solar power potential in particular West Africa could really make a base of electrification for Africa that would large scale, a big breakthrough and consistent with global environmental needs.