In 2015, world leaders adopted the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as a successor to the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), and as a blueprint to transform our world. The SDGs, with its 17 goals, is an ambitious, but much needed agenda. Amid daunting development challenges, the task of meeting these goals is without doubt greatest in Africa.
Tackling the SDGs calls for a bold vision and ambitious actions. So, over the next 13 years to the endpoint of the SDGs, Africa must be bold and ambitious in her actions, and she must seek to achieve the SDGs primarily in the context of her resources – both human, physical and financial.
Unlike the modest achievements registered during the MDGs era, which were underpinned by a heavy reliance on overseas development assistance, Africa cannot transform her destiny on the back of hand-outs and charity.
From the day I was sworn into the high office of President of the Republic of Ghana, I have committed my country and myself to embrace the SDGs as an organising framework for our development.
Under my leadership, Ghana has chosen a development path that is fully anchored on the principles of the SDGs, and provides a solid platform for a Ghana Beyond Aid.
I do not assert this as a mere slogan. It is a deeply held conviction and a commitment to build a Ghana that thrives on its own resources, sacrifices, creativity and ingenuity, as opposed to a Ghana that relies on the benevolence of others to transform its economic and human development fortunes.
In Ghana, we have collectively taken up the challenge of the SDGs, and are working hard to lead the way in their implementation.
And by fully integrating the SDGs into the overarching national development framework – the Coordinated Programme of Economic and Social Policies – the SDGs are helping to promote policy coherence and strengthening inter-sectoral coordination.
And in our unflinching commitment to leave no one behind, we have ensured that our flagship programmes: the Free Senior High School education; the One District One Factory initiative; the Planting for Food and Jobs; the Water for All Programme; and the establishment of an integrated alumina industry are fundamentally about achieving the SDGs.
As we embark on the twin objectives of achieving the noble SDG goals and a Ghana, and indeed Africa, beyond aid, six important things must happen:
First: We need to ensure that the enablers and policy imperatives are in place. This is a fundamental requirement. We must address macroeconomic imbalances, pursue fiscal prudence, ensure that the necessary incentive frameworks are in place to support accelerated growth and enhanced social provision.
We must adopt smart policies that move our economies beyond stabilisation to inclusive growth and transformational development. And to achieve this, we must reform the structure of our economies, add value to our primary commodities, and aggressively pursue industrialisation, driven, in the first instance, by the modernisation of agriculture and small and medium enterprises.
We cannot continue to be doing the same things that we have done over the past 100 years by exporting our raw materials that earn us only a pitiful proportion of the huge returns within entire value chains. More pressingly, we must scale up investments in infrastructure to support robust growth and our industrial strategy.
Second: there is no doubt in my mind that a key accelerator to achieving the SDGs is a strong and vibrant private sector, which has the space to grow and flourish. The private sector has a central role to play in achieving the goals.
We must connect the energies of the private sector to the SDGs agenda, by leveraging the private sector’s knowledge, its best practices, its smart delivery mechanisms, the abundance of innovation that sits within the sector, and, of course, its pecuniary resources.
Third: With the huge deficit in development that Africa suffers, achieving the SDGs will require all the resources that we can muster. Africa has the means to finance the implementation of the SDGs, but success will depend on how we innovatively mobilise resources to finance the agenda.
Undoubtedly, financing the bold ambition that underpins the SDGs would require a blend of resources, including ODA. But ODA should merely be catalytic resources that help to crowd in private investments. I am resolute in my conviction that the primary source for financing the goals should be domestic resources, buoyed by enhanced domestic resource mobilisation, and the smart utilisation of domestic revenues.
And we must be efficient and effective in not only mobilising resources, but importantly, we must eliminate pervasive leakages, address misallocation and misuse of resources, and, critically, eliminate corruption in public life.
Fourth: To achieve the SDGs and help propel Africa beyond aid, we must as a matter of urgency scale up our investments in, and the application of science and technology, but, above all, leverage innovation to turn around our economies. Leveraging technology and innovation will help us leapfrog into the brave new digital age, which would form the backbone for much-needed development solutions on the African continent.
Fifth: The bane of Africa’s development has been her poor governance, and in many instances, mis-governance. Whilst some modest gains have been made in improved governance in the recent past, this is far from sufficient.
We must continue to seek to re-invent governance and make our governance systems work for poverty eradication and development. This, crucially, includes building robust governance systems, and strengthening accountabilities at all levels.
Sixth: For our continent to achieve the SDGs and propel Africa beyond aid, we must succeed in fully unleashing the potential of our women. This is a fundamental prerequisite. Women must have the policy space in the national agenda-setting processes and, importantly, the labyrinth of political and social constraints that disempower women and lead to their exclusion must expressly be dismantled. Africa needs the creativity, enterprise, innovation and resilience of its women to achieve the SDGs, and grow out of aid.
No matter the scale of the challenge, as a continent, we cannot waver in our commitment to achieve the SDGs. We must pursue the SDGs agenda with the utmost vigour. As we confront the SDGs, each country must choose its own path to reach the goals it sets for itself.
In making these choices, we must ensure that growth and development deliver prosperity, peace and security to our people. We should make the SDGs work for us. The SDGs should propel us toward the bright future that we envision: A future where Africa stands tall and proud; a future of Africa beyond aid.
• This article was first published by the New African Magazine May 2018
• The writer is the President of the Republic of Ghana and Co-Chair of the UN Secretary General’s Eminent Group of Advocates for the SDGs.