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The author’s essay seeks to bridge the gap between the concept of God and the worldly concepts of political economy by using a pan-African framework to conceptualise God as a global public good. 


I recently had an animated conversation with a junior economics research fellow on whether the concept of God has any place in the field of economics.  The answer I got was that God is considered a public good! I was thrilled by the astute answer.  From this answer an acronym emerged: God of Development (GOD).    

Since I have passionate interest in globalisation and its discontents as well as political economy, I felt it was necessary to bridge the gap between the concept of God and the worldly concepts of political economy.  I take a cue from John Mbiti, one of the leading African philosophers who claimed that, “Africans are notoriously religious.”  The practical conclusion from this assertion is that we cannot separate God from political economy, since in the African world-view, the sacred and the secular are intimately intertwined—religion is not opium or false consciousness as Karl Marx said, but rather dynamite.  Conceptualising God as a global public good is what I came up with for the moment.   

The other issue in the conversation was whether resources are limited, as positivist economists want us to believe.  The basic assertion that economics is about the proper and efficient allocation of scarce resources will get into trouble if it can be established that God has provided abundant unlimited resources, except that we humans are very greedy or we lack creativity and imagination to utilise these resources properly. Marxist scholars would agree that the issue is exploitation and unequal development accompanied by capitalist exploitation of cheap labour to maximise profit [and not the scarcity of resources]. 

The immediate context of this brief piece is the current anxiety about the global economy, the trade war between China and the United States of America, and the looming debt crisis for Africa once again.  The main argument I want to make is that it is time we rethought the dominant economic theory premised on scarcity of resources, to a new political economy of a global public good, that takes seriously abundance of natural, human, spiritual and intellectual resources that divine providence has given to humanity as a whole.  From a global policy perspective, the point of departure for this new thinking is the Agenda 2063 of the African Union [[i]] (AU) and the United Nations (UN)’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).  The underlying theoretical framework for this discussion is cosmopolis from a pan-African perspective that has vitalogy as a key conceptual pillar.

To put the discourse of the political economy of global public good into a broader perspective, some provocative questions are in order: First, regardless of what one perceives God to be, if God were to put a price-tag on rain, sunshine, air, earth, planets, stars, space, oceans, lakes, rivers, forests, minerals, who could afford them? Second, what in fact have human beings brought into the universe by their own ability? Third, are there any original inventions that humans have brought about without using the existing ideas and materials? Fourth, what human inventions will still be around in the next five thousand years? The answer to the fourth question can be discerned by answering the question of what human invention today is five thousand years old? These philosophical questions are meant to instil some spirit of intellectual humility among those who get too excited and fascinated by human innovation.       

Pan-African vitalistic cosmopolis

African philosophy contends that all reality is comprised of forces that are hierarchically organised.  The other fundamental tenet in African philosophy is that life is at the centre of everything—God the Supreme Being is a source of all life and sustains all life by a complex web of processes.  Whatever undermines life in all its manifestations contravenes this cosmic order and offends the Supreme Being or God.  From this basic understanding, any form of economic or political organisation that undermines life is morally unacceptable.  Extreme poverty, hunger, homelessness, displacement and refugees crises that mark our present world are an embarrassment to the African philosophical system of vitalism.

Mbiti’s often-quoted phrase: “I am because we are, and since we are, therefore I am”, sums up this kind of thinking.  It is an expression of the Ubuntuphilosophy of being—that all people are caught up in a web of relationships and that a person is a person because of others.  This is the same philosophy that underlies Pan-Africanism and cosmopolis.  Essentially we are one human race even though the historical contradictions have generated nation-states separated artificially by boundaries that have caused so much suffering and anguish, as human beings constantly move to look for a better life across the globe.

Source: Afrispectives

The current quest for an African Continental Free Trade Area, the Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa initiative commonly known as BRICS (with all its criticism as a sub-imperial system), China’s Road and Belt Initiative, UN’s SDGs, Global Compact on Migration initiative, all point to the right direction of building bridges and solving issues of underdevelopment.  From an African philosophical perspective, one would argue that all these initiatives are a response to the promptings of vital force longing to unite the human race that has been divided by race, ethnicity, nationalism, ideologies, and beliefs.

Currently there is a lot of courtship of the African continent.  This takes the form of numerous cooperation models including the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation that takes place every three years—it took place this year in August; Tokyo International Conference on African Development; United States-Africa Business Summit; and India-Africa Forum among others. These are elements of pan-African vitalistic cosmopolis in its infancy—Africa reaching out in ways that are different from the past exploitative colonial framework.  Whether African partners have the same philosophy of Ubuntuand vitalistic cosmopolis, it is their responsibility.  

No initiative captures best Africa’s aspirations as AU’s Agenda 2063—a 50-year continental plan that spells out the “African We Want.”  This strategic framework that aims at the socio-economic transformation of Africa, has some very ambitious flagship projects such as an integrated high-speed railway network; an African virtual and e-university; African commodity strategy; Continental Free Trade Area; Grand Inga Dam in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC); continental financial institutions and a single air transport network.  Notice how some of these flagship projects of AU’s Agenda 2063 are not difficult to realise if there is political will! A single air transport network that would considerably reduce the cost of air travel only requires respective African governments to open the God-given airspace; virtual and e-learning only requires regulatory framework and Internet connectivity; and the Continental Free Trade Area only requires current political leaders to sign and ratify the treaty.

From IMF to AMF: The role of the African Development Bank and the rise of Africapitalism

Someone referred to IMF (International Monetary Fund) as International Mother and Father! We need an African Monitory Fund (AMF) that would help coordinate Africa’s financial system for Agenda 2063.  The African Development Bank is trying, but it still gets loans from the IMF and the World Bank.  Keen observers of the global economy have noted that the IMF can no longer enjoy the prestige it used to enjoy way back in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s, when it would dictate policies such as Structural Adjustment Programmes (SAPs). Cutting of public spending, deregulation, privatisation of public enterprises, were [IMF’s] mantras of the 1980s and 1990s.  

These measures were partly responsible for political instability in poor countries, as the poor who were told to tighten their belts could not endure the austerity measures any longer.  The IMF’s global role is on the line since international financial markets are currently weakly regulated and China is not the leading provider of development aid to developing countries.  The rapid rise of China as an emerging global economic power is good news for Africa, on condition that Africa avoids the past mistakes of wasteful spending, financial illicit flows, debt trap, misusing development loans and crony capitalism.  

Given that a good number of experts at the World Bank and IMF are from Africa, one wonders why Africa still relies on a financial institution that it criticises for having prescribed flowed economic policies.  I suggest that the African Development Bank plays a more crucial role in policy formulation for Africa and come up with Africa-centred economic solutions. There are some institutions in the continent such as the African Capacity Building Foundation that conduct solid research that can be used to guide the entire [economic policies of the] African continent.  Such research can develop what some have been hinting at: Africapitalism, an African political economic theory that blends Ubuntu, socialism and capitalism.  

Some of the leading business innovators like Aliko Dangote (Nigeria), Tony Elumelu (Nigeria) Charles Mbire (Uganda) and Cyril Ramaphosa (South Africa’s current president), Peter Munga founder and Chairman of Equity Bank (Kenya) represent Africapitalism at work.  But their practical business skills need to be well studied and documented for others to learn from them.  If these individuals can succeed, and there are many more, why can’t African governments borrow a leaf from such entrepreneurs?

Nowhere in Africa has a mobile money transfer ecosystem been so developed as in Kenya. Mpesa started off as a simple money-transfer service and has now evolved into a complex ecosystem and home to a whole range of fintech products that avail easy services for borrowers who do not need to go to traditional banks.  Mpesa has now two mobile credit products: M-Shwari and Kenya Commercial Bank Mpesa.  Airtel Kenya has also launched M-Fanisi.  Other lenders include: Eazzy Loan, Tala, Branch, Saida, Haraka, Zidisha, Timiza, Kopa Chapaa and Shika Loan.  Again this goes to show that innovation is key and not so much limited resources.  

The other trending financial innovation in Africa is cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin, and Ethereum.  Not surprisingly, Nigeria leads in this digital money transaction.  By January 2018, Nigerians were the third largest holders of Bitcoin.  One Bitcoin is valued at seven million Naira (about US $ 19,260).  How do blockchain and cryptocurrencies work? Simple. For instance if person X wants to send money to person Y, the intended transaction is represented online as a “block”.  Second, the block is then broadcast to all parties concerned in the network.  Third, those concerned with the transaction then will approve the transaction as valid.  Fourth, the block will then be added to the chain that will provide an indelible and transparent record of the concerned transaction. Finally, the money moves from X to Y.  

This is not magic but innovation at its best.  This is an improvement on money transfer methods like Moneygram and Western Union that are quite costly in terms of transfer charges.  Many people are still sceptical of cryptocurrencies with regard to safety. The other challenge is that cryptocurrencies are not protected by law, and hence they are not considered to be legal tender.  Scamming is common in such transactions—so customers beware.  But like in any lucrative business, risks are worth taking, as scamming happens even with formal banking.  You just cannot beat scammers since they are always a step ahead in these things—first-rate innovators.  

Will the African Development Bank address such innovations and help provide guidance to avoid the risks involved? Africa is rising through such innovative financial architectural designs.  Important to add that innovation is God-given and has no limit.                 

Political economy of a global public good: Are resources unlimited?

One of the earliest political philosophers to address the issue of property is John Locke. In his Second Treatises on Government,he boldly asserted that land is a gift God gave to human beings to use for their livelihood.  Then he developed a fantastic theory of how private property comes about: simply put—what you put your labour on belongs to you! Take the example of land.  Before you work on it, it belongs to nobody. What you clear, grow some crops or build a house, belongs to you since you have invested your labour into it. John Locke then gives two conditions or provisos—take enough for yourself as long as you leave some for others and as long as you do not spoil or waste.  John Locke did not envision the conversion of land and property into money—money does not spoil once in a bank.  It is also hard to measure what exactly is enough for oneself with the onset of capitalist accumulation.  Greed for wealth is unlimited.  Locke’s intuition of  “leave some for others and do not waste” was on target. 

We have unlimited policy blunders at the level of international financial institutions such as the World Bank and the IMF with the prescriptions of industrialisation, aid, Structural Adjustment Programmes, then Poverty Reduction Strategies, economic growth, sustainable and inclusive growth, [[ii]] infrastructural development, and the list continues. And whenever these policies fail, new ones are quickly introduced, without even first evaluating why the past ones failed.  

We shall use some few illustrations to demonstrate how the existing resources just in Africa alone, would be sufficient to lift people out of poverty in a sustainable and inclusive way.  We start with the pre-colonial epoch.  The first resources that providence gave to the earliest humans who roamed the African continent and later migrated to other parts of the world, if we are to believe archaeological and paleontological evidence, are land, forests, minerals, good climate, rivers and lakes, mountains, and people of course.  The basic economic argument that resources are scarce relative to the population does not apply when we know that the African continent landmass is constant but the population started off very small. Plenty of minerals, wild animals for hunter-gatherers, forests, fruits, wild vegetables, plenty of fish, etc. While there was no advanced technology to increase production in pre-colonial Africa, the rudimentary iron tools, fishing hooks, arrows and spears, oxen and natural medicines, all played a crucial role in providing for a relatively comfortable life and sustainable use of the abundant resources.    

Africa has had some of the most amazing natural wonders from time immemorial: Virunga National Park (Africa’s oldest national park) in South Western Uganda, Rwanda and DRC, that is home to mountain gorillas and has active volcanoes (none of these wonders are man-made and they have been providing millions of dollars as tourist attractions); Simien Mountains in Ethiopian Highlands that rise up to 3500 metres above sea level and are home to rare plant and animal species; Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, Mount Rwenzori in Uganda, and Mount Kenya in Kenya, that were once snow capped (global warming has reduced the snow on these mountains); Rivers Nile, Zambezi, Limpopo, Niger and Congo—that are a natural means of travel but also source of hydro-electric power; Lakes Victoria, Chad, Malawi, Tanganyika, Tana, Turkana, that also provide both natural means of transport and fish.  For instance in Ethiopia alone, tourist visitors rose to 681,000 in 2013, bringing in the much needed foreign currency and employment opportunities.  Some countries like Uganda earn more foreign currencies from tourism (US $ 1.4 billion per year) than from any other commodity.  

Africa’s numerous high mountains can also be used for space science technology.  Some countries have ventured into space science technology like Ethiopia with its US $ 3.4 million Entoto Observatory—the first space observatory opened in June 2015.  Some might question the economic wisdom of investing in space science technology for a developing country such as Ethiopia.  Space science technology can be used for developing satellites that will in turn help with telecommunication and geo-informatics. The sky as a resource has no limit.      

What are considered as extreme harsh weather conditions across Africa such as the Equator (Uganda, Kenya, and DRC), Danakil Depression in North-Eastern Ethiopia, and Kalahari Desert, are also special tourist destinations that provide hot springs, as well as geothermal power.  If it were not due to poor resource management these natural water bodies would keep their water levels intact, as the rainy season would continue to fill them with water.  With more use of hydro-electricity, biogas, geothermal, solar and wind energy, forests can be well preserved for eternity.  

With the advance of science and technology, even in their rudimentary forms, Africa started to transform nature and harness natural resources.  This era coincided with colonialism unfortunately, when Western industrial powers needed natural resources to fuel their agricultural and industrial revolution.  Wanton exploitation of natural resources is the problem.  Extraction of minerals, growing of cash crops across Africa did not grow side by side with urbanisation and industrialisation across Africa, instead, Africa’s natural resources and labour only served the imperial powers of Europe and North America.  African cities became centres for collecting raw materials for global capitalist expansion, and have remained so up to today. 

Old African cities as well as ancient churches such as those in Lalibela (Ethiopia), Great Zimbabwe (Zimbabwe), Gondar (Ethiopia), Timbuktu, Axum (Ethiopia), Harar (Ethiopia), Malindi (Kenya), as long as they are well preserved, will continue to provide income from tourists.  Even if they get destroyed due to natural disasters, movies can be made from them for posterity.  Not only that, some creative architects can reconstruct them.

Theory of balance of resources: Resources like energy are neither created nor destroyed

One of the fascinating laws in physics is the law of the conservation of energy, which states that: “energy is neither created nor destroyed.” Energy only gets transferred or changed—from heat to light, from force to heat, then to light, etc. Matter or resources follow the same law. If a tree is cut, it is used to provide fuel (heat for cooking food), it also produces smoke that is carbon dioxide that plants use to manufacture their food through complex process called photosynthesis.  

Plants in turn produce food, and the food is consumed to give energy to humans, humans produce other goods and services (technology, education, agriculture, tourism) and even ideas (economic theories, philosophy, theology, law, mathematics, management, political science, astronomy, medicine, etc.). When humans die they decompose and provide nutrients for plants and the cycle continues ad infinitum. It is that basic. So when economists talk of scarce resources they are in fact talking of resources being misplaced somewhere or being kept by selfish consumers or capitalists.  

We can borrow the concept from physics of the three states of matter: solid, liquid and gas. There are four states of resources: solid, liquid, gas, and ideas.  Resources can be stored and utilised in all four states.  Let us give an example: Trees (solid); when they are burnt they produce carbon dioxide (gas); carbon dioxide in the air through precipitation and condensation becomes water or rain (liquid); a scholar of environmental sciences and plant physiology studies these processes and gets a PhD in ecology and climate change (ideas).  Each state of resources can generate money and wealth: gas for cooking or pressure in tires or footballs; water for drinking, hydro-electricity, sanitation, manufacturing; trees for timber, paper, furniture, construction, food, fuel, etc.; knowledge for learning in schools and universities and innovation. 

The issue of resources is innovation, management and allocation—we cannot blame the gods. The issue is not about scarcity but rather where resources are being invested, with whom and for what purpose.  The capitalist myth of scarce resources should be laid to rest. It was created to lay a foundation for promoting competition, greed and exploitation of labour, through fanciful laws of supply, demand, price mechanism, negative externalities, invisible hand, division of labour, monopoly, oligopoly, opportunity cost, diminishing returns, etc.  These laws are all part of the same flowed premise and logic of scarce resources that have Adam Smith as the High Priest.  Karl Marx was the lone prophet who saw through the flowed theory, but global capitalism offered a more seductive theory and practice, that rhymed with human greed. And now we are trapped in the crisis of global capitalism.  What were called “negative externalities” have now become a major headache for humanity in form of climate change, abject poverty, armed conflict, high infant and maternal mortality, gender inequality, inflation, heavy debt burden, and state failure.   

Transformation of resources is what technology and industrialisation are all about.  This requires imagination and creativity. Just as an illustration from food production. When the population is small, as it once was in Africa (a few millions and now more than one billion), people can survive on a small-scale food production relying on hoes, pangasand oxen. As soon as the population grows bigger, then machinery is introduced to increase food production, and also processing food so that they can be stored for much longer.  The same applies to housing and transport.  With a small population, simple houses suffice but once the population has reached millions in a city, then skyscrapers are constructed—unlimited skies. With some innovation, some houses can even be constructed below the surface of the earth.  And if the population increases more, policies can be devised to limit population growth.  Lessons from industrialised countries show that population in fact decreases with better economic conditions and not the other way round.  Note that solutions are unlimited—there is always a solution since necessity is the mother of invention. 

Talk of industrialisation brings to mind the apt remark by former UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon: “Africa needs a green, clean industrialisation that leapfrogs out-dated, polluting processes and platforms and benefits from new technologies.” What are some of these new technologies that help Africa leapfrog out-dated, polluting processes and platforms? Mobile phones have long replaced land lines whereby copper wires are no longer needed; solar energy is slowly replacing national grids thus saving electric poles and copper cables; electric and gas-powered cars produced by Kiira Motor Corp in Uganda, will help reduce reliance on imports; better transport such as the Addis-Djibouti US $ 4 billion 750-kilometre railway project, boosts manufacturing, trade and regional integration; Mpesa money transfer revolution by which customers pay bills and make transactions without having to waste time travelling to banks or offices. 

God-talk and money-talk: What are the figures in Africa?

One fascinating teachings from Jesus, the greatest teacher who-ever lived and is up to now followed by over two billion people, was about the necessity of paying taxes.  When he was asked whether it was right for his disciples to pay tax he said: “Give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.”  On another occasion he praised an astute manager who, on the verge of being fired, he manipulated accounts and made friends by reducing debts.  Then Jesus concluded: “Children of darkness are more astute in dealing with their own than children of light.”  He was essentially teasing his disciples why they were not as shrewd as the astute manager when dealing with affairs of the kingdom of heaven.

Is Africa getting astute in money matters? There are some signs of a rising Africa judging from Agenda 2063 and the mushrooming of projects and innovation across the continent. Take for instance the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam estimated to cost US $7.5 billion—power from this massive dam will be sold to Rwanda, Sudan, South Sudan and Kenya.  BRICS countries have also set up a New Development Bank—South Africa is expected to get some US $ 600 million funding for projects in 2018. China is now the single largest lender to Africa competing with the Paris Club, World Bank and IMF.  China’s AVIC International is building a new airport in Lusaka that will cost US $ 370 million.  China seems to have enormous resources to splash around for whoever cares to extend the bowl.  Some fear this will bring about heavy indebtedness to Africa.  Back to where Africa was in the 1990s?

The financial sector across Africa is also booming. Financial institutions are on the rise—again thanks to innovation.  The most recent is Fintech (a fancy name indeed).  Fintech firms are companies that focus on subsectors such as micro-lending and payments.  It is estimated that African Fintech sector will grow form a US $ 200 million market currently to US $ 3 billion in 2020.   African start-up funding was US $ 560 million in 2017, while funding for fintech and insurance tech start-ups was US $ 133 million.     

    What about banking in Africa? Africa’s banking sector has been steadily growing.  A close look at the top 200 banks in Africa shows that there is a bit of money making rounds in the continent. Whether this money is strategically and equitably invested is another question. Just for illustration look at a few of those banks and their total assets: [[iii]]

Rank in 2018

Bank Name


Total Assets in US $ in 2017/2018


Standard Bank Group

South Africa

163 775 465 000


Standard Bank of South Africa

South Africa

105 698 688 000

FirstRand Banking Group

South Africa

98 345 086


Ecobank Transnational Inc.


22 431 604 000


Bank Name


Total Assets in US $ in 2017/2018


Commercial Bank of Ethiopia


17 072 394 000


Zenith Bank of Nigeria


15 386 946 000


Kenya Commercial Bank Group


  6 208 022 000




  5 264 699 000


Equity Bank Group


  5 034 871 000


First National Bank of Botswana


  2 357 830 000


Commercial Bank of Zimbabwe


  2 192 655 000


Stanbic Bank of Uganda


  1 459 123 000 


Stanbic Bank Zimbabwe


  1 403 113 000


Dashen Bank


  1 254 449 000

The challenge facing Africa just like other parts of the world, is unequal distribution of resources.  The percentage of the population across Africa that has bank accounts is estimated at 30 percent on average.  If this is the case, then most probably the money in the above banks is owned by about 20 percent of the population.  When addressing development challenges in Africa, it is important to squarely look at the income inequality issue.

Conclusion: An integrated and coherent approach to sustainable and inclusive development

Challenges of global poverty, insecurity, climate change, limited access to healthcare and unequal development, have forced the international community to rethink development and policy frameworks.  Fortunately, all governments and policy makers are now in agreement that there is need for a paradigm shift in how the above challenges are to be tackled. It is therefore refreshing that regardless of ideological persuasion, the UN (UN Economic Commission for Africa, UN Development Programme), AU and African Development Bank, have agreed that an integrated and coherent approach to sustainable development is the answer to Africa’s development challenges in particular, and the world in general.  

When the UN came up with the eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) that were to be met by 2015, [[iv]] there was scepticism from several quarters.  2015 came and a few countries had met the deadline. Eradicating extreme hunger and poverty, achieving universal primary education, promoting gender equality and empowering women, reducing child mortality, improving maternal health, combating HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases, ensuring environmental sustainability, and developing a global partnership for development, were noble goals. These can be considered global goods that even God would be very happy to see achieved.  Were there resources to achieve these MDGs? Yes. Then why were they not all met? It is lack of political commitment. 

A look at MDG 2: Achieving universal primary education, where tremendous achievement has been made in most African countries illustrates how concerted efforts and serious commitment can go a long way in bringing about positive change in social conditions of people.  How was success achieved in this area? The following strategic measures brought about the desired success for those countries that have met MDG 2: unprecedented investment in primary education; development and implementation of national policy frameworks conducive to the expansion of access to education opportunities, especially for girls and children living in poor communities; and mobilisation of the civil society and the international donor community. [[v]]

Some of the policy imperatives for meeting MDGs do not require too much extra funding but rather education policy reform as the following reforms indicate:

  • Increase public investment in early childhood especially in the field of quality service delivery and reaching out to vulnerable groups;
  • Increase and strengthen the coordination of policies among sectors at the country level to maximise the impact of government efforts to close the education gap while addressing equity issues (emphasis mine);
  • Harness the adoption of policy frameworks towards improving teacher’s professional skills and accelerate curriculum and pedagogic reforms while supporting national assessment of pupils’ learning outcomes and providing technical assistance to international bodies in charge of regional assessments to promote quality and equity in learning;
  • Promote the development of mathematics, sciences and technology at early age to enhance critical thinking and further assure a balanced distribution of students among courses;
  • Improve the approaches to literacy to demonstrate results and efficiency;
  • Provide additional efforts and more support to ensure a regular provision of quality education and skills development opportunities to children in emergencies or within marginalised groups, through increased political commitment (emphasis added) and adequate allocation of public resources.

One major barrier to Africa’s development amidst innovation brought by information communication technologies is limited Internet access. Recently some African governments have introduced taxes on social media, thus making it more difficult for ordinary people to access this cheap means of communication. Some of these governments are afraid that the unemployed youth will use the affordable social media for agitate for political change.  High cost of Internet use is a major challenge—for instance the price of 100 kilobytes per second in Africa is the highest in the world.  

One crucial recommendation in achieving universal primary education that deserves special mention is improving the provision of textbooks and other learning materials.  Three key recommendations that stand out are: [[vi]] first, setting up appropriate and effective policy frameworks for sustainable textbook provision; second, promoting sustainable economic models for textbook provision through the development of innovative funding, including the cost-recovery model; third, enabling access to quality low-cost content by: (i) promoting the use of e-library resources; (iii) involving universities and academies to customise and develop author content; (iii) showcasing best practices for using affordable instruction materials, including low-cost digital materials; and fourth, developing regional capacity-building activities to support countries in setting up the appropriate mechanisms and expertise needed to reduce the unit costs of textbooks and enhance sustainable provision.

The other MDG that I single out for illustration is MDG 7—Ensure environmental sustainability. MDG 7 “is central to achieving the other MDGs owing to its strong linkage with them.  The burden of poverty, hunger and disease coincides with acute deterioration of services such as supply of fresh water and availability of natural resources.”[[vii]] While some progress has been made on this goal 7, no country has met the goal fully.  Target indicators for this MDG 7 are worth looking at: Target 7 b: reduce biodiversity loss, achieving by 2010, a significant reduction in the rate of loss (terrestrial and marine areas); Target 7 c: halve, by 2015, the proportion of people without sustainable access to safe drinking water (Africa missed this target); Target 7 d: by 2020, to have achieved a significant improvement in the lives of at least 100 million slum dwellers (some countries reduced slum dwellers significantly—Rwanda by 42.8 percent, Mali by 39 percent, while others—Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Malawi, Kenya, Comoros and Central African Republic increased— by 25 percent.  This is a case of one step forward and two backwards.

What are the development fundamentals that will help Africa transition from MDGs to SDGs? Eunice Kamwendo, Strategic Advisor to UNDP Africa captured these so accurately: economic structural transformation, macroeconomic and political stability, human development, infrastructure development, resilience building and domestic resource mobilisation. [[viii]] The way to withstand shocks such as natural disasters, domestic conflicts, climate change and violent extremism, there is need for “…strong socioeconomic, governance and environmental systems…in addition to implementation of effective social protection policies and programmes…”[[ix]].  

Credit should be given where it is due.  The UN has come up with a broader list of development goals in its SDGs with targets and indicators. [[x]] What are they and how do we classify them? The first category of SDGs cover social and economic development or social and economic rights: SDG 1—end poverty in all its forms everywhere by 2030; SDG 2—end hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture by 2030; SDG 3—ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages by 2030; SDG 4—ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all by 2030; SDG 5—achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls; SDG 6—ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all by 2030; SDG 7—ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all by 2030; SDG 8—promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all.  

The second category falls into goals that are linked to infrastructure, industrialisation, equality, urbanisation and climate change: SDG 9—build resilient inclusive infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialisation and foster innovation; SDG 10—reduce inequality within and among countries by 2030; SDG 11—make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable by 2030 (including strengthening efforts to protect and safeguard the world’s cultural and natural heritage); SDG 12—ensure sustainable and consumption and production patterns; SDG 13—take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts (including integrating climate change measures into national policies, strategies and planning, and improving education, awareness-raising and human and institutional capacity on climate change mitigation, adaptation and early warning); SDG 14—conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development by 2030; SDG 15—protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, and halt and reserve land degradation and halt biodiversity loss by 2020.  

The third category of SDGs deal with peace, justice, accountability and implementation: SDG 16—promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels; SDG 17—strengthen the means of implementation and revitalise the Global Partnership for Sustainable development. Notice how SDG 16 brings new issues that were not covered in MDGs, namely governance, rule of law, violence, corruption and bribery, participation of developing countries in global governance, peace and security.  Instead of coming up with complex lists of development goals a shorter list of global public goods would include: health, education, sustainable living environment, peace and security.  The means to attain these would include: infrastructure, agriculture, innovative technologies, and democratic institutions that include role of law.

Why this plethora cocktail of SDGs? Some of them are mere expansion from the MDGs with slight modification and some details on targets and indicators.  At least we have something with which to hold the UN and our respective countries accountable.  What we need next is the rethinking of the dominant economic theory that has led to the current development impasse.  Some of the leading world economists like Jeffrey Sachs and Joseph Stiglitz have raised alarm about the global economic inequality and have made calls to deaf ears about the need for development and aid assistance to distressed economies. But they have not yet challenged the economic theories that gave rise to the current global inequality—these are theories upon which they were nurtured and raised, and a bit shy to demolish them.  

We cannot rely on the same old economic theories and expect different results.  If there were intellectual humility, scholars would eat a humble pie and go to the rural parts of Africa and ask the ordinary peasants how they have been surviving all these millennia without policy prescriptions from the World Bank and IMF and without any knowledge of Adam’s Smith’s The Wealth of Nations.  Incidentally the World Bank has an indigenous knowledge system repository, but little effort has been made to distil the underlying theories that guide all indigenous knowledge systems in Asia, Africa and Latin America.   

This week the UN is having its General Assembly in New York.  It would help if the respective heads of state would take stalk and revisit the dominant economic paradigm of scarce resources and get real.  I understand they chose as their theme “global leadership” (short version of the complex and longer title).  The world leaders need to start by taking leadership in envisioning a new political economic theory of global public goods.  They should come clear and affirm that environmental sustainability is the cornerstone of sustainable development and poverty eradication.  The UN has no luxury to keep shifting from one priority to another—shifting goal posts and explanations when polices fail.  There are enough resources in the world today to benefit all seven billion people on the planet earth if we shared these resources equitably. 

Development agendas such as SDGs and Agenda 2063 need to be approached in an integrated way. One cannot mitigate climate change without food security, employment and good governance.  One cannot have security without sustainable development and gender equality. And none of these will happen if there is no inclusive industrial development incorporating indigenous knowledge systems.


*Doctor Odomaro Mubangizi teaches social and political philosophy at the Institute of Philosophy and Theology in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia where he is also Dean of the Department of Philosophy.  He edits the Justice, Peace and EnvironmentBulletin.


[i]See African Union Commission (AUC), Agenda 2063: The Africa We Want: First Ten-Year Implementation Plan 2013-2023 (Addis Ababa: AUC, 2015).

[ii]For what some governments have envisioned in terms of integrating Agenda 2030 for Sustainable Development (SDGs) and Agenda 2063, see Government of Tanzania, Ministry of Finance and Planning, Integrating Agenda 2030 for Sustainable Development (SDGs) and Agenda 2063 into National Development Plans and Strategies in East and Southern Africa, Presentation, Sandton, Johannesburg, 15-16 June, 2016 (2016); Government of Uganda, Uganda’s readiness to implement Agenda 2030, Office of the Prime Minister, Integrating Agenda 2030 for Sustainable Development (SDGs) and Agenda 2063 into National Development Plans and Strategies in East and Southern Africa Presentation, Sandton, Johannesburg, 15-16 June, 2016 (2016). 

[iii]Data from The Africa Report N0 103 September 2018, pp. 74-78

[iv]See MDGS to Agenda 2063/SDGs Transition Report 2016: Towards an integrated and coherent approach to sustainable development in Africa (Addis Ababa: ECA, African Union, African Development Bank), 2016.

[v]Ibid., p. 102

[vi]Ibid., p. 25.

[vii]Ibid. p. 67.

[viii]Ibid., pp. 13-14.

[ix]Ibid., p. 14.

[x]Ibid., pp. 114-134.