Foreign Policy Blogs

What a Model of Success Looks Like in Africa: Lessons from the Millennium Development Goals.

In the Pambazuka 2010-09-22, issue 497, Charles Abugre writes a beautiful piece about the Millennium Development Goals’ (MDGs) success and challenges ahead. His article comes at a time when world leaders are gathering in the Big Apple to review progress towards achieving the Millennium Development Goals.

What I like about Charles’ article is that it is reminding African citizens, African leaders, Non-Governmental Organizations and donor nations that the solutions to Africa’s problems are in fact cheap and simple. He writes, “Donor nations: Fulfill your side of the bargain and deliver on your promises. Stop tying humanitarian aid to political and macroeconomic conditions that do not favour growth and pro-poor human development. Prudent economic management fosters development. But tying aid to unfair conditions is effectively a death sentence on millions of mothers and children and the poorest. Reducing poverty must be aid’s only purpose. If you want to promote democracy, realise that elections alone, important as they are, can’t alone constitute a functioning democracy. We need jobs, the taxes they generate and a clampdown on tax havens sheltering illicit capital flight to sustain our democratic institutions. These all – and building our jobs base so we’re not dependent on commodities – are inseparable from the democratic process.”

Charles and those of us who are advocating for focusing efforts on bread and butter issues are not suggesting that good governance is not a priority for Africa, but merely stating that more of the same is not enough to address Africa’s challenges. In fact “good governance” and “bread and butter” issue are not in opposition, but complementary.  All what I and others are saying is that Africa needs fresh solutions instead of the same old regurgitated failed ideas. The truth is that when it comes to Africa, too much emphasis has been placed on the abstract notion of democracy instead of substantive democracy.

Therefore instead of grandiose and abstract, ours is a different kind model of good governance, a model that starts with the people on the ground by focusing on specifics, and day to day issues affecting them, call it“issue-based governance.” It starts from the concrete to the abstract of governance. For example (here is Charles again), from the MDGs, we are learning some of the specifics and concrete solutions that can work. They include:

* Increasing health budgets, so maternal and prenatal care are free (And so more birth attendants can be trained).

* Publicly-funded discounts on fertiliser, to lessen hunger. In Nigeria, when some farmers got fertiliser and simple technology, credit and marketing help, their income rose 50 per cent – for just $80 a year. Help with warehousing the harvest in eight other nations led yields to rise as much as four-fold.

* Low-cost childhood preventive care, which could save six million of the 11 million children who die each year. That includes breastfeeding for six months, nutritional supplementation up to two years, vaccines, bed nets, antibiotics for respiratory infections and oral rehydration for diarrhea.

* Cash grants to the most destitute, like teenage orphans, the elderly, and families without a breadwinner, to reduce poverty. Kenya, South Africa, Mauritius, Namibia, and Lesotho, among other countries, funded them with taxes. Cash transfers are quite small: $3 a month lifted the health, education and nutrition of Kenyan orphans. A $2 per month payment to Malawian families without a breadwinner decreased child labour.

These are clear, simple and concrete lessons suggesting that if we frame democracy in terms of programs and strategies that target specific challenges facing ordinary people the return is huge. According to him, here’s how a model of success in Africa looks like: “Take the baby girl when she reaches school age. Education will be free if she’s in Burundi or Tanzania, where school fees were abolished in pursuit of the MDGs. Now enrollment is nearly universal. (Zambia is close, and in Mauritania, which doubled its budget allocation to education, girls’ enrollment surged.) Ethiopia raised its education budget, funded textbooks in local languages and built rural schools. Tanzania recruited teachers and added second shifts to meet overflowing demand. Gambia invested in teacher training.

Once she’s in a clean school, she may be immunised there, and get a nutritious free meal, kicking off a virtuous circle. Being healthier, she’ll be absent less often. Attending regularly, she’ll likely finish. Being better educated, she’ll make healthier decisions when she grows up. And so on. If her government school purchases the free meals from an area farmer or community garden, local income rises. More community children can eat. They’re healthier and miss less school. Commitment will allow these children, upon graduating, to find decent employment, thanks to fair, efficient economic and tax policies. With jobs, they’ll pay taxes. That will fund more schools and clinics. And so on.”

I don’t know about you, but these look like good governance to me!



Ndumba J. Kamwanyah

Ndumba Jonnah Kamwanyah, a native of Namibia in Southern Africa, is an independent consultant providing trusted advice and capacity building through training, research, and social impact analysis to customers around the world. Mos recently Ndumba returned from a consulting assignment in Liberia in support of the UN Mission in Liberia (UNMIL).
In his recent previous life Ndumba taught (as an Adjunct Professor) traditional justice and indigenous African political institutions in sub-Saharan Africa at the Rhode Island College-Anthropology Department.

He is very passionate about democracy development and peace-building, and considers himself as a street researcher interested in the politics of everyday life.
Twitter: NdumbaKamwanyah