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‘Global rescue plan’ remedy for local threats

Tuesday, September 19th, 2023 03:40 | By
‘Global rescue plan’ remedy for local threats
Heads of State and Government are at the United Nations General Assembly Hall for the UN Sustainable Development Goal Summit. PHOTO/(@PresidencyZA)/X

As Kenyans reel from the shock of yet another fuel price hike and a heavy burden of taxation, world leaders yesterday started their annual pilgrimage to the United Nations General Assembly.

Faced with looming global challenges, African leaders attending UNGA should be wary of the citizen discontent breeding in their countries, fueled by harsh economic conditions and social distress.

The troubled continent has witnessed the return of military coups and civil unrest caught in the intriguing web of geopolitics, bad governance and socio-economic deprivation. Political intolerance, conflict, corruption and “state capture” have triumphed over development, leaving millions of African citizens languishing in extreme poverty and food and malnutrition insecurity.

African governments are very, very far from attaining the UN’s primary goal in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) contained in Agenda 2030 of eliminating extreme poverty by 2030. Combined with a crushing public debt burden, the “development disaster” is a matter of grave concern as the leaders meet in New York. Ahead of the opening of the SDG Summit, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres issued a grim warning: As things stand, the SDGs and UN member countries promise when they adopted Agenda 2030 to ’leave no one behind’ are in serious trouble.

Midway between their 2015 launch and their 2030 deadline, the 2030 goals are off-track. Only 15 per cent of the targets are on track. Governments must come to the UNGA table with concrete plans and proposals to accelerate progress on the SDGs.

Despite some progress, over the years widespread implementation gaps have emerged across all 17 goals, which aim to tackle everything from poverty, hunger and gender equality to access to education and clean energy.

The UN chief rallied civil society to use their passionate voices and energetic grassroots networks to “help rescue the SDGs and fight for the better future every person deserves”.

It has been established that half of humanity lives in countries that are forced to spend more on servicing their debt than on health and education, hence the development disaster. A situation compounded by the coronavirus pandemic, public apathy in governments and the SDGs and geopolitical friction, in particular the Russian invasion of Ukraine war that has disrupted global grain supply chains.

That is the grim reality facing African leaders and the more reason they should heed the UN chief’s passionate plea for a “global rescue plan” to save the SDGs.

The catastrophic levels of public debt in developing countries are attributed to a “systemic failure of an outdated financial system”.

It has not fulfilled its mandate as a safety net to help all countries manage today’s cascade of unforeseen shocks – the pandemic, the devastating impact of the climate crisis and the war in Ukraine. Urgent remedies and reforms include an effective debt workout mechanism, including for vulnerable middle-income countries, massive scale-up of affordable long-term financing and transforming the way multilateral development banks function.

When President William Ruto returns from the Assembly to face a political storm and public uproar over the fuel price hike and heavy taxation, unfulfilled SDGs targets will be weighing in his mind.

UNGA provides useful lessons. Although the UN is constrained by major-power divisions and is less influential in managing international peace and security crises, it still holds great value. It is the best platform for countries to debate and find solutions for local and emerging global challenges such as multilateralism, peacekeeping, climate change, cybersecurity and artificial intelligence.

—The writer comments on governance and development. [email protected]

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