By Fredrick Mugisha, SDG Integration Advisor, UNDP Africa
As noted in a recent article in the Africa Renewal Magazine, Africa’s development trajectory remains uncertain. The continent has witnessed remarkable progress in economic growth and human development. Prior to the pandemic, Africa was well represented among the top 20 countries with the fastest growing economies.
However, as highlighted by UNDP’s Regional Bureau for Africa (RBA), inequality gaps are subsiding and the COVID-19 pandemic has reversed many development gains.
In this opinion piece, I’m sharing my thoughts on the value-add of integrating the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in Development Plans, Budgets and Statistics. We recently explored these aspects across seven countries: Benin, Equatorial Guinea, Liberia, Ghana, Malawi, Mali and South Sudan, using five criteria to enable comparability and aggregation across countries.
The criteria were:
- Intent – whether the National Development Plan mentions the SDGs or the 2030 Agenda in the overall framing;
- ‘The five Ps’ – whether the high-level outcomes (or pillars) explicitly indicate which of the 5Ps, (People, Peace, Planet, Prosperity and Partnership) they aligned with;
- Goals – whether sector priorities (or lower-level outcomes) explicitly indicate which of the 17 SDGs they align with;
- Targets – whether national development targets (or outputs) explicitly indicate which of the 169 SDG targets they contribute to;
- Indicators – whether the indicators in the National Development Plan explicitly indicate which of the 2030 SDG indicators they feed into or track at national level.
Solar village in Mali, 2020. Photo: UNDP Mali/Aurélia Rusek
Based on this, we assessed whether countries had fully, partially, or not integrated the SDGs. The results were mixed. We found that all seven countries have fully integrated the SDGs in their Development Plans but only Ghana has done so for budgets.
The level of granularity with which the SDGs are integrated (fully, partially, or not at all) differs between Development Plans, Budgets or Statistics. For instance, in Development Plans, Member States ensured that every indicator is matched to a corresponding SDG indicator. In the Budget, Member States matched each policy objective to a corresponding SDG target. And finally, in Statistics, Member States established a mechanism to monitor and analyze the change they want (through indicators) and the investments (through the budget) in a manner that allows learning and corrective action. Some Member States did the same for the Africa Union’s Agenda 2063.
WHY THIS ANALYSIS?
I believe that assessing the level of integration is essential because it enables aggregation at the level of the 169 targets, 17 Goals and 5 Pillars - and comparison across countries. Aggregation, in my view, is the real value of SDG integration in Africa, because the continent is able to show its collective priorities and its investment, which is important to identify gaps and negotiate trade-offs within and with partners. It goes without saying then, if only a handful of countries in Africa integrate the SDGs, its value is greatly diminished.
Going forward, we can make this type of hands-on expertise and exchange easily available – especially to the countries that need it the most. It is conceivable that within the next four years, all countries on the continent and beyond who need such hands-on experience could get it.
Desertification in Lake Chad, 2019. Photo: UNDP Chad/Aurélia Rusek/PNUDCh
In addition, my sense is that the COVID-19 pandemic has made integrated approaches even more central, and essential to the recovery process. It is likely that Africa will experience a slower recovery, in part due to the challenges of vaccine equity: as of 9 February 2022, only 13 percent of the population in Sub-Saharan Africa had received at least one dose of vaccine and as we have previously shown on the Global Dashboard for Vaccine Equity – vaccination rates affect countries’ possibilities to recover economically. Absence of social protection systems as well as the size and structure of the economies are other related challenges. Understanding our collective priorities, gaps and negotiating trade-offs within and with partners can only make Africa’s recovery process more informed.
On a positive note: the cost of fully integrating the SDGs is quite small. Every country has a Development Plan or will be articulating one in the near future. Every Development Plan has indicators that could, through the process of consultation, be mapped against SDG indicators systematically. In addition, Member States articulate annual budgets, and policy objectives could therefore be mapped to the SDG targets and inform subsequent budgets. Finally, Statistical systems exist in all Member States and could be tweaked to integrate the data on Development Plan indicators and on Budget policy objectives. Finally, mechanisms for oversight exists within the Presidency or Chief Minister or Prime Minister that could leverage this data for decision making. These could then be aggregated at continental level.
If a similar mechanism exists across continents, then the global conversation would be significantly enhanced on global priorities and trade-offs. Who knows, the experiences in Africa could be leveraged by other regions and help inform a global development conversation.