14 September 2007 United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon today convened international development leaders for the inaugural session of a new steering group to boost Africa’s as yet failing efforts to meet the ambitious goals the world has set itself to slash poverty, hunger, maternal and infant mortality, and other social ills, all by 2015.
This was an “unprecedented gathering,” Mr. Ban told reporters after chairing the meeting of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) Africa Steering Group, bringing together top officials from the African Union, European Union, African Development Bank, Islamic Development Bank, International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank.
“We are concerned that many African countries are off track, particularly for the countries in sub-Saharan regions. That is the only region in the world where not even a single country is on the track. We must help those countries so that they can join on the track,” he added, noting that the Group had agreed to strengthen their collaboration to expedite the achievement of the MDGs adopted by the UN Millennium Summit of 2000.
The first of three challenges the Group resolved to address is to identify effective mechanisms for implementing the MDGs for health, education, agriculture and food security, infrastructure and statistical systems.
Five of the eight goals seek to cut by half the proportion of people living on less than a dollar a day and suffering from hunger; ensure that all boys and girls complete a full course of primary schooling; cut the mortality rate among children under five by two thirds; reduce the maternal mortality ratio by three quarters; and halt and begin to reverse the spread of HIV/AIDS and the incidence of malaria and other major diseases.
“Our organizations will work together to review international implementation mechanisms and support Governments in making the investments needed to achieve the MDGs,” the leaders said in a joint statement. “We will determine how these mechanisms can be strengthened where they are falling short, and where new ones need to be added.”
The second challenge they set themselves is to improve aid predictability. “Our organizations will make our own aid more predictable,” they said. “We will also work with other donors to help establish country-by-country schedules for official development assistance to rise to meet existing commitments, so that African Governments can plan effectively for the practical investments needed to achieve the MDGs.”
Thirdly they pledged to strengthen joint efforts at the country level. “Starting in a sub-set of African countries, we will launch an intensive collaboration among our organizations to support Governments in preparing and implementing strategies that are ambitious enough to achieve the MDGs,” they declared.
“Just past the midpoint to the target date of 2015, it is of paramount importance that we focus on practical steps to implement existing pledges,” they added. “With the launch of the MDG Africa Steering Group, we reaffirm our commitment to spare no effort in reaching the MDGs in Africa.”
The leaders pledged to mobilize their institutions in cooperation and partnership. “We know that rapid progress is possible, and will work with other world leaders to use all the tools, resources and commitments available to support African countries in halving extreme poverty by 2015, and in charting a path towards sustained economic growth.”
A MDG Africa Working Group, led by the Deputy Secretary-General Asha-Rose Migiro, who was also present during today’s discussions, will meet on 20 September to launch operational work, brining together top leaders of the Group’s organizations plus other bodies such as the 30-member Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) of industrialized, market-economy countries.
All those attending praised Mr. Ban’s move. “This is an excellent initiative,” World Bank President Robert Zoellick told reporters afterwards. “It is certainly a timely one.”
African Union Commissioner for Economic Affairs Maxwell Mkwezalamba noted that international support had not been forthcoming as promised. “This has been one of our major concerns. You look at the commitments made since Monterrey in 2002, the Gleneagles summit in 2005, we find that there is not much that has come to Africa,” he said, referring to major international economic conferences.
“And this indeed is something that needs to be addressed if Africa will attain the MDGs by the target date of 2015.”
European Union Commissioner for Development and Humanitarian Aid Louis Michel stressed that not only would the donors have to fulfil their promised but the African countries also had to make every effort to reach the targets. Toward this end, he stressed the importance of trade.
“We have a special focus for aid for trade,” he said. “There cannot be a sustainable development in the developing countries without very strong support on trade, because trade can of course bring prosperity and jobs and also can give to the states the means they need in order to bring the basic services to the people.”