Editor’s Note: Much of the African Union’s Agenda 2063 vision is shaped by the achievement of goals we as a continent had failed to meet. While it is laudable that our governments continue to strive towards the Africa we Want, writer Bitange Ndemo cautions us that visions and goal setting can never be effective if practical steps are not taken. He reminds us that our failed goals, to date, have not come from an absence of opportunity, but rather an absence of communication, implementation, and a culture that encourages the acceptance of excuses for failures.


Two weeks ago, I participated in a conference titled “Starting Strong: The first 1000 days of the SDGs African regional Dialogue 4”.

The aim of the conference was to take stock of the regional implementation status of SDGs and set the momentum for greater measurable progress within 1000 days.

Participants came from across Africa. Listening to them, I got the sense that Africa may be drifting back to its past record of failing to achieve such important goals by simply piling up excuses, ranging from lack of funds to blaming the West’s growing neo-liberal agenda in the world.

I have since reflected and arrived at a conclusion that these goals are indeed what we were supposed to realise, with or without the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Some goals like poverty, education, hunger, clean water, health, and economic growth are what the founding fathers of many an African state sought to achieve at independence more than fifty years ago.


We perhaps need to ask the following questions: why have we failed to make progress in these goals? Why does Africa behave like these are exotic goals that would burst their budgets if there were no external support?

There is absolutely no reason why we cannot progress with the resources we have in Africa unless we want to establish a basis for failure and excuses that we have seen in past from the implementation of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

It is a shame that in the 21st century, we still cannot stop preventable deaths of mothers and children due to lack of infrastructure.

It is also inexcusable that we spend billions in curative measures on epidemics like typhoid that can be dealt with through clean water and vaccination.

It hurts me when Africans stands on the global stage to complain that the 17 goals are too many to achieve, when we have failed to take care of the basics like communication and making these goals resonate with ordinary citizens.

The discourse on these goals has remained at high-level meetings. Very little, if any, aspects of the debates have trickled to the bottom of the pyramid where the beneficiaries of progress are.

Structured communication will do the trick. More often than not, what is discussed in conferences never gets to the real people who need it most.


The mechanisms of passing that information to the grassroots is the role of state and other non-state actors involved in rural development.

In the past, the provincial administration, and chiefs in particular, played a key role in the dissemination of critical information to remote parts of the country.

All this has changed. The new system has not taken up its responsibility of providing regular information to the people, especially now that the airwaves have been liberalised to the extent that virtually every audience group in Kenya can have access to broadcasts that cater for its interests, interests which are not necessarily aligned to development goals.

Like national governments, sub-national leaders too are preoccupied with developing huge budgets and failing to tackle some of the issues that do not even require a budget.

Indeed the majority of what needs to be done to realise the SDGs is policy making, requiring virtually no funds.

To see the tangible measurements of progress, every citizen must play their role. Issues relating to the environment are not so much about state edicts but more about the people understanding what they need to do to make a change in their environment.

Those who profess Christianity know that our role on earth is to make this place like heaven for the second coming of Christ. This simple understanding has never been translated to what really happens on the ground.

Poverty is often blamed, but it is certainly not a license to live in filth and foster new diseases. It is a choice people make.

Many of those who grew up in rural mud houses know that poverty was never an excuse for being dirty. Most mud houses were spotless, despite the poverty that prevailed.

Even today, there are no garbage mounds in rural villages like the monstrosities that we see in urban areas.


The culture of cleanliness will see many diseases eliminated, including some like Hepatitis A whose outbreak has been reported in places with very poor sanitary conditions and hygienic practices.

Devolved governments have a greater responsibility to gather all sorts of data from the citizens as a strategy to measure progress.

There is no reason why the county government should not know the poor people in the county by name or devise strategies to deal with the problems.

Many from rural poverty suffer as a result of declining productivity, lack of markets for their produce, lack of infrastructure (roads, grain storage facilities), and exploitation from middlemen.

If these problems are systematically dealt with, poverty would be lessened, leading to ripple effect into other SDG goals like education, health, sanitation, water, amongst others.

The arguments here demonstrate that there is no conflict between what needs to be done to realise the SDGs and what both the national and devolved systems are supposed to do.

Africa’s problems emanate from often argumentative academics wishing to dispel such initiatives as SDGs on the basis that there is no budget to implement them, that their measurements are not aligned to the African situation.

They also invoke irrelevant arguments, saying that because Africa never polluted the world, emissions levels have nothing to do with Africa. In the long run these arguments do not add value to the future of Africa.


The priorities that Africa must set to achieve the SDGs are not any different from what the continent has sought to achieve in the different visions. In Kenya for example, there is Vision 2030. It seeks to achieve the very same objectives that SDGs are seeking to achieve.

Implementation of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) was delayed because Africa was waiting for budgetary support from advanced countries. SDGS should never be delayed in a similar manner.

Africa must get down to basics, set measurable targets for poverty reduction, improved healthcare, education, clean water, environment, elimination, hunger and economic growth. The other goals will fall in place. It is defeatist to ask from where to start, or which goals we must prioritise.

Ban Ki Moon perhaps summarised what we need to take as a priority:

At its essence, sustainability means ensuring prosperity and environmental protection without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs. A sustainable world is one where people can escape poverty and enjoy decent work without harming the earth’s essential ecosystems and resources; where people can stay healthy and get the food and water they need; where everyone can access clean energy that doesn’t contribute to climate change; where women and girls are afforded equal rights and equal opportunities.

Let’s get down to work and bring hope to the African People.

About the writer: Bitange Ndemo is an associate professor at University of Nairobi’s School of Business. Twitter: @bantigito

By Bitange Ndemo
Source: All Africa

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