Recognising the key role played by the media in articulating and advancing dialogue on the national development agenda, the government, in partnership with the United Nations (UN) in Zimbabwe last week convened a media breakfast to share the country’s priorities and position paper on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
In September of this year, over 150 world leaders adopted 17 SDGs (also being referred to as the Global Goals) with 169 targets. These will, as of January 2016, replace what were previously known as the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) – the eight anti-poverty targets that the world committed to achieving by 2015 and which expire on December 31st.
The new agenda for sustainable development will, for the next 15 years until 2030, guide the quest to improve human material development and dignity.
Out of the 17 Global Goals, Zimbabwe has identified 10 as specific priorities for the country over the next 15 years, and will undertake a ‘phased’ approach in their implementation as a mechanism to deal with current and anticipated resource constraints in the country.
The 10 SDGs, which are deemed to be essential for furthering socio-economic development progress, are as follows in order of importance: Goals 8; 7; 2; 9; 6; 13; 17; 3; 4; 5. Ministry of Economic Planning and Investment Promotion Permanent Secretary, Dr D. Sibanda, explained that all 17 goals would be implemented over the entire 15-year period, however in the face of limited fiscal space, specific priority goals will be given greater resource focus in the short term.
The top five of the 10 prioritised goals will address economic growth, energy, agriculture and food security, infrastructure, and water and sanitation respectively.
In his presentation of the country’s position on the SDGs, Sibanda explained the rationale behind the phased approach to SDG implementation, highlighting that this did not necessarily reflect the importance of the goals in relation to each other.
Sibanda also highlighted that the SDGs had been aligned to the country’s socio-economic blueprint, ZIMASSET (add link), as a way to ensure coherence and sustainable implementation.
It is not unusual for countries to place a premium on some goals over others; in fact, Zimbabwe prioritised three MDGs out of eight in a process that then allowed for the ‘ring-fencing’ of resources for key areas such as universal primary education.
Will anyone be left behind?
A popular point of emphasis at the meeting was that implementation of the SDGs would endeavour to “not leave anyone behind” with not much having been achieved by way of the MDGs. For example, while the national maternal mortality ratio (MMR) fell significantly from 960 per 100,000 live births to 614, this is still far from the target of 174, with far too many women still dying in childbirth.
The goal to eradicate extreme poverty recorded the least progress in Zimbabwe, with the population in poverty as measured by the Total Consumption Poverty Line (TCPL) remaining above 72% from 1995 to 2012. This basically means that most Zimbabweans can barely feed themselves.
These failed targets were described in the SDGs position paper presentation as the country’s ‘unfinished agenda’ that partially informed and set the basis for how the new priorities were arrived at.
Because the SDGs are coming at a time when the MDGs were not fully achieved, this means that there are several issues that the government and other stakeholders responsible for implementing them will either need to address or seriously consider in order to ensure that indeed, this time no one is left behind.
For starters, with economic challenges, sanctions, corruption, limited official development assistance (ODA) and the country’s debt overhang touted as primary obstacles to achieving the MDGs, there is an even more urgent need for increased political will and commitment to address these challenges.
Sibanda also spoke at length about the importance of collaborative efforts between the government and multiple stakeholders including civil society and development partners, to ensure the effective implementation of the SDGs. Yet there was no mention of, for instance, the local online initiative that is actively popularising the SDGs in Zimbabwe, or the people behind it. This initiative is a one-stop shop for the SDGs, which also runs online courses and a data curation centre that enables interested people to keep track of progress on the goals. The people behind it even developed a localised mobile app.
Collaboration and alignment of activities key
Noting the general outcry over resource limitations, it would probably be cheaper and more cost effective to popularise such alternative SDG sharing platforms versus concentrating all energies on just holding public awareness meetings. Apart from this, there will be need for alignment between government processes and work being done by civil society organisations such as NANGO, SNV and the Development Reality Institute (DRI) by way of SDGs public awareness.
The point is that gains will only be achieved through strong and meaningful partnerships, which would lead to more integrated approaches and less fragmented, inefficient implementation.
Talking about strengthening public knowledge of SDGs, it will also be imperative to find ways of mainstreaming the Global Goals into tertiary learning curricula, particularly that of students studying development. It will also be essential to avail opportunities for mid-career professionals and ordinary citizens to easily learn about and keep track of the SDGs and their progress.
One of the lessons learnt from the MDGs was that lack of, or limited baseline data led to difficulties in the monitoring of achievements. The question of what is being done this time around to ensure that relevant critical baseline data is established ahead of the SDGs implementation was not, howeverm satisfactorily answered. It will be important for the statistical office to be more involved and vigilant in the collection of timely and relevant data, so that we are not singing the same song in 2030.
Lastly, the Zimbabwe position on the SDGs helpfully admits that the national prioritisation of MDGs initially did not include infrastructure and utilities. As a result of this, important ground was lost. Another key lesson learnt from the MDGs implementation was that the adoption of science and technology for industrialisation is key to transforming the economy.
It is therefore refreshing to see that the country’s SDG priorities, this time, includes Goal 9, with a focus on infrastructure and targets to significantly increase access to information and communications technology (ICTs) and provision of universal and affordable Internet access.
Main Image by Natasha Msonza