Are the MDGs Useful for Africa?

August 05, 2010
Good question as the world prepares for the September summit to assess progress. But this is a slightly odd debate here at The Africa Report. The UN Millennium Promise’s Charles Abugre Akelyira seems to think the MDGs are a rejection of economic policy reform:
The MDGs came from the reactions to structural adjustment programmes which dominated the continent’s policies for two decades… the MDGs halted the worst effect of liberalisation and structural adjustment programmes.
Hmmm.  I suppose he means that the MDGs helped to catalyze increased social sector spending, which is probably true. What’s not true is the assumption that the IFIs are really about constraining social spending. Isn’t the World Bank the biggest single donor for anti-poverty spending? (And see here on why the belief by some NGOs that the IMF caps health spending isn’t right either). I sure hope the MDG advocates have better arguments for the goals than stale complaints from the 1980s about structural adjustment. For what it’s worth, here is a quick summary of my very modest contribution to the online debate whether the MDGs are useful to Africa or not. My sense is that the MDGs are:
  1. Great at raising money.
  2. Inappropriate as national goals (India and Mauritania with the same objectives and targets?)
  3. Mislabeling many high-performers as losers (Burkina Faso, Mozambique, Liberia, and others are improving strongly, but are still considered way “off track”). This only feeds aid skeptics and undermines reformers.
  4. Wrong to claim collective accountability; when everyone is responsible then no one is.
My (skeptical but hopefully constructive) views are here and the full paper with colleagues Michael Clemens and Charles Kenny is here.


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