African Union Summit January 2015 theme "Women's Empowerment Year and Africa Development for the concretisation of Agenda 2063" – a call for direction.

By Dr Matlotleng Matlou1

The year 2015 has just commenced and many Africans are ruminating on whether it will be better than the past. We will throw the bones and analyse the year through the January 2015 two-pronged theme for the AU Summit "Women's Empowerment Year and Africa Development for the concretisation of Agenda 2063". Quite a mouthful! Should the organisation not concentrate on one issue? This article will tackle the first one! The second one is an example of the continuing love in Africa develop very long term visions and over-generalised plans, whilst often falling short in implementation, not creating appropriate structures, training sufficient skilled personnel, investing necessary resources and, lack political will and stable environments? In 2011 the AU committed to African Economic Community by 2017 which the 1980 Lagos Plan of Action had originally envisaged for year 2000! Thirty-four years later insufficient progress has been achieved, how will three make a difference? Consequently, the African Economic Union planned for 2027 under the Abuja Treaty in 1991 is impossible. Well not to be outdone for wishful thinking, African leaders now pontificate on Agenda 2063 a hundred years after the formation of the OAU.

The 2010-2020 African Women’s Decade was initiated as a follow up to the First World conference on Women of 1975 and subsequent meetings up to 1995 in Beijing with the aim of advancing gender equality and women’s empowerment. A review is due this year, simultaneously with the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). The UN General Assembly meeting of September 2000 adopted the Millennium Declaration recognising that apart from responsibilities to their own nations there is “a collective responsibility to uphold the principles of human dignity, equality and equity at the global level. As leaders we have a duty therefore to all the world’s people, especially the most vulnerable and, in particular, the children of the world, to whom the future belongs.” It also included “meeting the special needs of Africa” by supporting “the consolidation of democracy in Africa and assist Africans in their struggle for lasting peace, poverty eradication and sustainable development, thereby bringing Africa into the mainstream of the world economy.” From the declaration arose the following MDGs which by 2015, sought to: eradicate extreme poverty and hunger; achieve universal primary education; promote gender equality and women’s empowerment; reduce child mortality; improve maternal health; combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other communicable diseases; ensure environmental sustainability; and a global partnership for development.

It is essential to retrace history to understand where Africa stands today, to provide a context for its state of implementation of the MDGs. Most African countries won independence commencing in the 1950s after centuries of enslavement, colonisation and underdevelopment instigated by foreigners taking the continent of its autochthonous path of development. The next few decades were marred by numerous autocracies of life-long presidents, one party or military regimes. As Africa regressed, especially socioeconomically it became a target for various foreign interventions through overthrows of governments, tied aid and structural adjustment policies of international financial institutions. Nevertheless, there were various positives as some countries maintained stable political environments and, steadily made socioeconomic progress. It is only in the 1990s that the democratisation wave blew across Africa, coupled with the demise of the obnoxious Apartheid minority white rule in South Africa. Nevertheless, the Economist magazine in 2000 chose to label this vast land of over 50 countries the “hopeless continent”. Westerns have for long, especially its media over-generalised about other parts of the globe, in negative tones. The Economist ate humble pie in 2011 with the headline “rising continent”, followed by a bitter pill in 2013 with the “hopeful continent” tag in the face of an African renaissance and rapid economic growth, although from a low base and still many challenges to surmount.

MDGs performance across Africa2 has been varied considering the diversity of its 54 nations ranging from 34 least developed mainly locked nations; middle and speedily developing countries. Nevertheless progress has accelerated since 2003 especially in Central, East, Southern and West Africa. The Arab Spring commencing in 2011 in North Africa reversed numerous previous gains. Burkina Faso recorded the fastest acceleration, whilst overall LDCs out-performed non-LDCs. The proportion of Africans surviving on less than $1.25 decreased from 56.5% in 1990 to 38.5% in 2010 (declining fastest between 2005-2008, during a period of rapid economic growth), even though this is 20.25% off the 2015 target. Greater reduction in poverty should result with greater growth rates especially through value-addition to African commodities and exports, plus quicker creation of increased employment opportunities and labour productivity, especially for youth and people in vulnerable employment (in 2013 North Africa 35 and rest of Africa 77%, mostly women).

Income inequality is declining though still too high: between 1990 to 2009 Africa experienced the fastest rate globally of 4.1% followed by Asia at 3.1% whilst deteriorating in all other regions. The gini coefficient for Southern Africa 48.5%; Central Africa 45%; East Africa 41% and North Africa 37.5%. The continent faltered on the hunger reduction target partly driven by climate change (drought and locust infestation in the Sahel and Horn); soil erosion (Swaziland) and; conflicts (Central Africa Republic and Ivory Coast). Inequality, low nutrition, education and social status of women meant undernourished people in Africa reduced by 22.3 between 1990 to 2013 way off the target of 50%. Between 1990 to 2013 Africa, Sub-Saharan Africa only managed 14.3% instead of 50% for reducing number of underweight children below five years old. Africa is meeting the target for primary school enrolment, though challenged by low quality and retention: eleven and twenty-five countries achieving 75% and below; 80% and above respectively. Low retention of below 60% occurred in 28% of the countries providing data; and across Africa, 22% of children are out of school and 33% exit without achieving basic capabilities in mathematics and reading. There must be improvement in the quality and skills content of African educational systems. The ratio of gender inequality in enrolment continues to reduce: in 49 countries with data 18 achieved parity; unfortunately secondary and tertiary enrolment deteriorates requiring additional attention. Mortality for under-fives fell from 177 to 98 deaths per 100,000 from 1990 to 2012 (though deaths for children under four weeks was slow with Sub-Saharan Africa accounting for 38% of global figures); whilst mortality for all infants cropped from 90 to 54 deaths per 100,000 from 1990 to 2014. Early and Improved immunisation is required. The maternal mortality target will not be achieved, even with the reduction from 870 to 460 deaths per 100,000 from 1990 to 2013, requiring increased provision of contraceptives, improved health systems and fewer pregnancies of very young females. The spiralling HIV/AIDS incidence rate fell from 0.85% to 0.32% from 1995 to 2012 and the prevalence rate from 5.8% to 4.7% during 2000 to 2012. However, the present number of 25 million affected compared to 5.7 million in 1990 is disastrous. This has negatively impacted on tackling tuberculosis incidence and prevalence rates even with the decline in deaths by 23% between 1990 to 2011, necessitating extra resources and efforts. Improved provision of health opportunities has resulted in reduced malaria incidence and deaths with averages rates falling by 31% and 49% respectively in Sub-Saharan Africa where the disease occurs: accounting for 90% of the 627,000 global deaths, 77% of them children under five years old, in 2012. Africa has to do better to eliminate this scourge robbing it of the future.

Carbon dioxide emissions are low across most of Africa, but high in a number of middle income countries; whilst more than 27 countries reduced usage of ozone depleting substances by more than 50%. In 1990, only 19 countries had at least 10% of marine and terrestrial protected areas, growing to 32 by 2012.

By 2012, improved drinking water sources were available for 69% of Africa’s population; whilst 25% and 45% of Sub-Saharan Africans openly defecated and utilised shared or unimproved sanitation respectively.

Employment of women in sectors apart from agriculture rose modestly, between 1990 to 2011, from 35.3% to 36.6% though this was 30% below other developing countries. However, Africa achieved the fastest growth for representation by female parliamentarians especially from 2005 to 2012. Females should utilise these opportunities to transform legislation, government policies and their countries.

The impact of the global economic crises from 2008, led to overseas development aid to Africa declining to 5% between 2011 and 2012. Least developed countries and small island states were affected most, with no replacement for losses equivalent to over 25% of their gross national income. Meanwhile Sub-Sahara Africa’s external debt rose by 11% between 2006 to 2011 compounding the challenges. Fortunately average tariffs on African exports to developed nations are now significantly lower than in the early 2000s; mobile telephony grew by 2,500% from 2000 to 2012 creating various opportunities for greater economic and financial inclusion. Numerous African innovations especially in mobile banking are now being replicated globally. However, only 74 out of 100 people have access because of inadequate infrastructure, power, skilled personnel, high costs etc making Central, East and West Africa the most expensive regions globally.

Africa has internal resources to replace international aid, except poor governance and marginalisation of many; massive corruption and misuse of public resources all engender poverty, unemployment, inequality and the seeds for conflict. Corruption is a global challenge, but most pernicious in Africa compromising development and life. The 2014Transparency International Global Corruption Index3 has countries like Botswana, Cape Verde, Seychelles and Mauritius ranked amongst the 50 least corrupt ones; whilst 22 African countries rank in the top corrupt countries out of a total of 175.

Development delayed is development denied. Global Financial Integrity (2014) estimates that between 2003-2012 illicit financial outflow from developing countries was $6.6 trillion surpassing FDI ($5.7 billion) and ODI ($0.809 billion) at $6.5 trillion; trade mis-invoicing being responsible for 77.8%. In 2012, the outflow was $991.2 billion; FDI $789.4 billion and ODI $89.7 billion. Two African countries are numbers 10 and 12 in the top 20 developing countries, being Nigeria $157.46 billion and South Africa $122.14 billion. The cumulative total for Africa, South of the Sahara (north Africa is combined with Middle East at $727.4 billion) is $528.9122.4 billion.4 All these resources should have been harnessed to tackle Africa’s intractable development challenges. The AU estimates that corruption costs Africa $148 billion annually; unsurprising why the MDGs, amongst other commitments are unfulfilled. In societies where gender inequality persists, the addition of the huge waste of resources worsens the situation particularly for females.

The Mo Ibrahim Foundation (2014:3) index defines “governance as the provision of political, social and economic goods that a citizen has the right to expect from his or her state, and that a state has the responsibility to deliver to its citizens”5. The index measures governance in Africa utilising data from 34 external sources converted into 95 indicators; divided into 14 sub-categories under 4 categories of Safety and Rule of Law (rule of law, personal safety, accountability and national security); Participation and Human Rights (participation, gender and rights); Sustainable Economic Opportunity (public management, business environment, infrastructure and rural sector) and Human Development (welfare, education and health) derived from 14 sub-categories and 88 indicators. A scale of 0-100 is used for each sub-set above. The 2014 report notes that since 2000 progress has been registered in 11 out of 14 sub-categories; all for those under the latter 2 categories above, with the declines being in the 1st two – rule of law, personal safety and rights. Overall continental score from 2000-2011 improved by plus 4. Nevertheless, paucity of data and limited statistical capacity present challenges whilst conflicts mean some countries like Republics of Sudan and South Sudan not included in the study; covering only 52 countries. The results are unsurprising, since the most peaceful countries and regions register the highest scores. Sustainable economic opportunity is the lowest category reflecting development challenges, high levels of corruption, waste of resources, weak economic policies, over-reliance on few products which are exported in their raw form, low employment, high poverty and deep inequality. This is then followed by Participation and Human Rights; Safety and Rule and Law; and Human Development is highest. The average score of 51.5 for Overall Governance signifies the need for speedy and deep transformation across numerous countries. Twenty-size countries surpass or meet this score and a similar are below. Numerous countries have improved their scores in different categories and must be commended, even if from previously very low scores. They are playing catch up and still very fragile. The conflict-ridden Central Africa region and Somalia a failed state in gradual recovery, score lowest in all categories.

Millions have died in African conflicts over the past few decades, especially in Sudan prior to secession of South Sudan in July 2011 and the carnage continues in the civil war in the latter; most of west Africa; the Great Lakes; Horn of Africa; north Africa; Central Africa and Angola amongst others. These conflicts fuel proliferation of arms; increasing use of child soldiers; rape and violence against civilians; overall poor safety and security; destruction of infrastructure and a vicious cycle of violence and reversal of the human development; A lot of resources have been invested by Africa and the international community to stem these conflicts but they keep flaring up or new ones arising. Oxfam calculated that between 1960-2008 conflicts in Africa cost over $300 billion. Meanwhile, the AU has developed numerous early warning programmes, but national sovereignty seems to undermine these efforts. Not dealing with the root-causes or undertaking peace processes too late are the major challenges.

On the other hand Gurr (1970) explains relative deprivation or structural violence as significant discrepancy between what people think they deserve and what they think they will get, then rebellion is likely. There is no open conflict at macro-level (for example war, terrorism, colonialism) but rather at micro-level (domestic violence, robbery, unfulfilled basic human needs or poor quality of life).6 This situation is prevalent in numerous African countries. Over 18,000 deaths occur in South Africa annually, more than post-conflict Iraq; making it one of the most violent countries globally. Malaria kills over 800,000 people globally, most of them Africans. Millions of others are debilitated or killed by cholera; HIV/AIDS; hunger; industrial pollution; poverty; river blindness; tuberculosis etc.

Some criticism of the MDGs are: objectives lack of analytical power; inadequate indicators for within-country equality; bias towards outputs rather than outcomes; introduce local change through external innovations supported by external financing; lacking legitimacy by excluding voices of supposed beneficiaries; over-concentration on female issues; no specific mention of agriculture; and emphasis on primary education indicating World Bank influence. Nevertheless they have a lot of merit.

In conclusion, it is important to note the efforts and commitment of Africa toward the MDGs even if it does not meet numerous targets. Some reasons for the shortfall are Africa’s underdevelopment; the extra effort required to meet the closer to the target a country moves; an increasingly hostile international environment; constraints of nature; instability; and one size targets for low, middle and high-income countries. What is more important is how far countries have travelled since 2000; acceptance of non-linearity of the development process; ensuring that progress post-2015 is quicker and deeper; better commitment from the international community and; forestalling regression. The Common African Position adopted in January 2014, on the post 2015-development agenda seeks to deal with some the above challenges and rests on seven pillars: structural economic transformation and inclusive growth; science, technology and innovation; people centred development; environmental sustainability, natural resources management and disaster risk management; peace and security and finance and partnerships; plus a strong emphasis on implementation. However, it is rather lengthy: comprising twenty pages with 108 paragraphs and packs too many issues.

1 Director Excelsior Afrika Consulting, Tshwane and Fellow, Centre for Africa Studies, University of Free State, Bloemfontein, South Africa.

2 MDGs Report 2014: Assessing progress in Africa toward the Millennium Development Goals. Analysis of the Common African Position on the post-2015 Development Agenda. UNECA, African Union, African Development Bank Group and UNDP.


4 Dev Kar and Joseph. Spanjers. 2014. Illicit Financial Flows from Developing Countries: 2003-2012. Global Financil Integrtity, Washington DC.

5 Mo Ibrahim Foundation. 2014. The Mo Ibrahim Governance Index. The Mo Ibrahim Foundation, London.

6 T. Gurr. 1970. Why Men Rebel. Princeton University Press, New Jersey.