MWANGI: UN has blown the whistle, but is East Africa on the right footing?

Uhuru Kenyatta at the UN General Assembly
Uhuru Kenyatta at the UN General Assembly

By Isaac Mwangi; East African News Agency

Finally, the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) came and went, and with it the world’s Heads of States approved the global blueprint that will guide development efforts all the way up to 2030.

There are many skeptics who think of such conferences as a waste of time and money. There are lots and lots of national development plans, regional and continental blueprints, programmes engineered by Bretton Woods institutions and the so-called development partners, and of course the United Nations itself.

All these have achieved relatively little. Poverty, disease, insecurity, and other ills continue ravaging huge populations around the world, including in East Africa. Desperation is written on the faces of millions of people who no longer take the promises of politicians and the hopes enshrined in official documents of intent with any seriousness.

But we can break free from that past and embrace a culture that takes seriously the ills afflicting our citizens. We can come up with tangible solutions to the problems we face, using the insights presented by international blueprints to come up with suitable strategies and focus our efforts on key areas.

In fact, the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that the UN has crafted cover key areas of concern for East Africans, even though some of them may appear extremely general. The first of these, “End poverty in all its forms everywhere,” is like a summary of all the others, which collectively should lead to less poverty and better livelihoods the world over.

Some of the other SDGs exhort world leaders to: End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture; Ensure healthy lives and promote wellbeing for all at all ages; Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all; and achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls.

Other SDGs touch on resources that we all use and often take for granted: Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all; and ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all.

One of the SDGs – promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all – will be particularly sweet to the ears of young people everywhere seeking productive employment.

The concern of this segment of our people is further addressed by the next SDG: Build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialization and foster innovation. If this can be done sustainably, it will of course help greatly in reducing unemployment rates.

But it is the tenth SDG that can cause fireworks and is unlikely to draw much attention beyond lip service: Reduce inequality within and among countries. Are our leaders truly ready to act on this? Are we prepared, for instance, to provide a reasonable ratio for salary differentials, say 1:15 for the highest and lowest paid public servants, and to encourage the private sector to similarly adopt such measures geared toward encouraging greater equality?

Other SDGs may appear more removed from the common man, but will require action by the government and international agencies handling such matters.

They include: Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable; Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns; Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impact; Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development; and protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification and halt and reverse land degradation and halt biodiversity loss.

With many of our countries fragmented along ethnic, religious and other lines, the 16th SDG could similarly prove to be a challenge: Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels.

How possible is it to provide justice for all when governments are manipulating courts of law? We have seen this problem in Burundi in the confrontation to do with President Pierre Nkurunziza’s bid for a third term. We have also seen it in Kenya, where the government of President Uhuru Kenyatta has brazenly ignored court orders in its battle with striking teachers, while expecting the latter to obey these same courts.

And so here comes the final SDG: Strengthen the means of implementation and revitalize the global partnership for sustainable development. In fact, this one perhaps holds the key to success or failure in developing countries. Beyond lip service, governments will be unlikely to deliver on their promises unless pushed by an active citizenry. That includes cultivating global partnerships that ensure governments are held to account.

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