The world’s foremost proponent of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) over the years has been Professor Jeffrey David Sachs, the controversial author of the 2005 New York Times bestseller The End of Poverty, twice named one of Time magazine’s 100 Most Influential People in the World. He spoke to New African’s Curtis Abrahams. Here are excerpts of the conversation.
Have the MDGs been a success?
Yes, I think to everybody’s surprise the announcement of the MDGs in 2000 captured the attention of governments and civil society. When I took the job as UN special advisor on the MDGs, many NGOs approached me saying: “Why are you doing this?” Or, “These goals are stupid” or “useless” or “ill-informed”.
There were a lot of cynics and a lot of sceptics. But I think the idea that the world should turn its attention to the world’s poorest people was rather heartening, and it turned out to be a kind of lever to promote change in some very important areas.
The MDGs played a huge role in propelling that idea forward; giving birth to the Global Fund for Fighting Aids, TB and Malaria and a very successful US programme called PEPFAR for fighting HIV/Aids.
How have the MDGs helped ordinary Africans?
In general, across Africa there has been a significant though not uniform advance in reducing infant and maternal mortality; saving people with HIV/Aids; reducing mother to child transmission of HIV/Aids; getting more children to school; controlling malaria infections and improving access to clean drinking water and so forth.
Most of the indicators have improved and even the poverty indicator, which remained constant in Africa for decades, started to improve significantly after the year 2000, though we don’t have good up to date data.
What has been responsible for this success? There are two huge factors that, in my opinion, have caused this success. The advances of mobile technology have made a big difference for Africa in opening up rural areas to information, business, finance and general connectivity. The second issue is that Africa’s commodities prices, on the whole, have been pretty good for the past decade, partly because of Chinese demand.
Why have some African countries failed to make progress on the MDGs?
In some places there is, or has been, war or armed conflict. In other places there has been bad governance, and these places don’t make progress, they fall backward. The chaos in Somalia, Sudan and South Sudan as well as in parts of the Sahel are places where progress has been slow or nonexistent.
One can look across the African continent and see quite a lot of variation depending on governance, access to finance, geography, etc. Some places are much harder than others.
Places like the Sahel, the Horn of Africa, North and North- Eastern Uganda and other drought-prone areas are really tough because they are dry, so agricultural activity is very difficult because farming there is rain-fed. There are many factors that have caused some countries to miss the MDG targets, so the record is mixed, but the positive signs are really encouraging.