Printer-friendly versionSend by emailPDF version
Africa’s development agenda in post-MDGs

In view of the under-achievement record of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), global policy makers have set out on a search for a more veritable replacement ahead of its 2015 expiration date

Designed in 2000 by developed countries on behalf of developing countries, the MDGs were collectively promoted as a near-final solution to the development quagmire that drowns a section of the globe. With most African countries at the bottom of the development ranking, the region’s leaders were all too eager to sign on to the MDGs. Across Africa, government representatives were quick to utter the initially unfamiliar acronym, especially in the hearing of donors. After all, the donors were the ones who set the MDGs, the ones who wanted to spend their money on accomplishing these goals, and the ones who sent their monitoring and implementation team to Africa for follow-up. And in that mindset lay perhaps the greatest criticisms of the MDGs; that although the MDGs are what every human being should aspire towards, the manner of achievement of these goals invariably dehumanizes its recipients.

Vaguely defined in terms of operational strategy, the MDGs did not set out to empower citizens in the targeted areas to strengthen their communities. The burden of the achievement of the MDGs lay on wealthy nations; it was a plan drafted upon the benevolence of the rich towards the poor. The MDGs are not human development goals, they are philanthropic goals. So far as poor countries depended on rich countries for sustenance, they stood a chance of reaching the goals. Should the developing countries of the world decide to become entirely independent in thinking, idea generation and implementation, then the need would definitely arise for the crafting of fresh goals.

Essentially, the MDGs were established on presumptions of expertise of the intimate developmental complexities of developing countries on the part of developed countries,; a we-know-what-you-need-and-how-you-need-it-fixed paradigm. The MDGs were founded on a disguised superiority complex that held citizens of developing countries as people unable to understand the intricacies of their own existence, and therefore incapable of formulating workable, homegrown solutions.


Not surprisingly and despite its stellar intentions, the MDGs are today associated with gross underperformance. The reality is that no matter how well intentioned or how infused with 'expert' knowledge, development conversations, which do not focus on empowering citizens to discover and utilize creative, innovative, indigenous and homegrown approaches to solving their own peculiar problems, are at best peripheral. Regrettably, this has been the paradigm that has defined many of the development pathways charted for Africa by the West. The Lagos Plan of Action remains the last well-known development plan authentically prepared by Africans for Africa. The New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD), a plan copied from the West but touted as authentically African, has since inception struggled to find its place outside of the development dictionary. Rootless, lacking in widespread support from the masses for whom it was conceived, and heavy in jargons, semantics and technical terms alien to most of its African executioners, NEPAD hangs like a paralyzed limb, and remains mentally detached for the most part from the realities of the average African’s dilemma.


For Africa, there is the urgent and desperate need for a radically different approach to understanding and tackling regional challenges post-2015. At a meeting organized by the UNDP to discuss the post-2015 development agenda for Africa, Professor Aliounne Sall of the African Future Institute rightly said that there is need for a paradigm shift in discussing a post MDGs agenda for Africa. He called for Africans to 'think differently, to talk differently and to act differently'. How apt.

Africa’s greatest challenge is creativity, and innovation founded on indigenous knowledge and indigenous resources. The urgent need in Africa is for homegrown, creative solutions and breakthroughs in governance, science and technology, economic policies, curriculum, health and wellness, and just about any area of human existence covered and not covered by the MDGs.

For the past fifty years since most African countries became independent, the majority of the individuals who people the continent have held on to the notion that they are fundamentally lacking in the innate ability to generate ideas, mold them into reality and implement same for the development of the continent. Hugely absent in Africa are ideas rooted in Africa’s indigenous material and non-material resources, ranging from mineral, environmental, herbal and ecological resources to agricultural practices, social organization, political processes, medical knowledge, and numerous others. Africa’s own knowledge systems and ideas are the most valid, inexpensive and easily accessible resources that will bring about advancement for the continent. The formulators of the numerous development plans superimposed on Africa have had little or no regard for the continent’s indigenous knowledge, and because of that Africans themselves hold their knowledge and abilities in contempt.

Unlocking the latent creative and innovate potentials of Africans is heavily dependent on the formal, non-formal and informal education obtainable across the continent. The foundations of Africa’s education was built on the search by missionaries and colonial masters for interpreters, translators, clerks, messengers, typists, secretaries and other auxiliary staff; it was and— unbelievably, 50 years later—remains the sort of education that falls just a little bit short of outright discouragement of creativity and innovation.

Many years after Independence, not much has changed for the continent of Africa in terms of ensuring critical consciousness in all areas of human existence. The consistent 'cut and paste' approach towards other continents' models of governance, economic strategies, science, technology and other spheres has failed to set Africa on the path to advancement; the prognosis remains grim.

Africa’s future lies in the hands of authentic African thoughts, processes, and actions. The question of a 2015 agenda for Africa should be that of how and not what. The MDGs tried to address the question of what, that is, 'hunger, poor health, poverty, environmental degradation, etc'. A post-MDGs agenda should focus on how to build Africans up in order for them to understand their unique challenges and address the same with indigenous resources and easily accessible homegrown tools. A post-2015 agenda ought not to warrant the flying– business-class of thousands of consultants from the Western world for stays in expensive hotels in order to write reports that often recommend for further studies to be conducted by their counterparts from the west. And the cycle continues.

The current effort by the UN to generate grassroots ideas for the post-2015 agenda is highly commendable if only the suggestions made by Africans are adhered to. In this instance, the stand of Africans is that any form of support for the continent must be centered around encouraging Africans themselves to explore indigenous and homegrown strategies for advancement in all sectors of human development.

* Dr. Chika A. Ezeanya was an invited participant to the post-2015 Development Agenda for Africa meeting organized by the UNDP in Johannesburg, South Africa in February, 2013. More of Chika’s article can be found on her blog Facebook: Twitter