SDGs in Africa Within Reach If the Continent Pulls Together

Published on 30th September 2021

“22 of the richest men in the world have more wealth than all of the women in Africa” and “if all the money that North Americans spend on pizza was given to the poor in Africa, poverty on the continent would disappear.” These are just a few interesting stats that came out from the International Summit on the SDG’s in Africa.

The recent SDGs Africa Summit 2021 hosted by UCT sought to define an African-centric approach to sustainable development and establish a platform for launching action-oriented collaboration towards achieving the SDGs by 2030. One of the central key points raised focused on the structuring of cities on the continent which underpinned several of the interconnected goals of the Summit. Professor Edgar Pieterse, Director of the African Centre for Cities (UCT) highlighted the importance of growing economies through increasing the scale and access to infrastructure; that policy makers and researchers need to place more emphasis on the efficiency of infrastructure choices to advance more circular economies of valued use. 

The SDGs in Africa are within reach if the continent can pull together  

UCT’s Vice Chancellor, Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng, closed the recent SDGs Africa Summit – aimed at understanding and providing solutions for the UN’s sustainable development goals in Africa – with a powerful question:

 “How do we see the enormity of the challenge before us with cold-eyed clarity, yet remain energised to meet that challenge head on with dynamism and resilience?” 

This was a central test for the participants at the Summit – a diverse range of leading thinkers and doers throughout Africa, and across the world – who sought to define an African-centric approach to sustainable development and establish a platform for launching action-oriented collaboration towards achieving the SDGs by 2030. 

Meeting Professor Phakeng’s challenge would undoubtedly be difficult, according to Advocate Louisa Zondo (Oxfam SA), who spoke on a powerful panel on day 2 of the Summit. Talking on the role of justice in development, she said: “we have many mechanisms for masking depressing facts, allowing ourselves to live illusory lives.” For example, she added that people laud the wealth and influence of the world’s richest people, yet don’t confront the fact that 22 of the richest men have more wealth than all of the women in Africa. However, by removing the mask hiding the depressing facts, one can clearly see what to do about them.  

David Gordon, Professor of Social Justice from the University of Bristol and guest speaker at the Summit, pointed to how shiny new technologies are not needed to address this inequality. It is not the product of an act of God, nor is it a matter of bad luck; inequality is a political choice. He backed this up with a statistic that shocked the 1,486 registered participants at the Summit: the cost of eradicating poverty is said to be huge, but in reality, the cost of providing every individual on the planet with basic healthcare and adequate nutrition is equivalent to European spend on dog and cat food; and, if all the money that North Americans spend on pizza was given to the poor in Africa, poverty on the continent would disappear. 

The Summit cut across the 17 sustainable development goal areas and prompted various provocative questions on a wide range of issues. How cities are structured proved to be a central point underpinning a number of the interconnected goals. Professor Edgar Pieterse – Director of the African Centre for Cities (UCT) – highlighted the disconnect between the often-quoted importance of growing economies through increasing the scale and access to infrastructure, and the little parallel talk discussing the efficiency of the infrastructure choices we make, and their carbon footprint. Each time a new bridge is built or more sanitation pipelines tunnelled, policy makers and researchers should choose to see it as an opportunity to advance a more circular economy – smart and efficient systems, with minimal waste that is fed back into valued use, rather than discarded. 

The scale of the challenge Africa faces was clear throughout the three days of the Summit; yet so too was the substantive capacity of the individuals fighting to meet it head on. Ms. Aya Chebbi – the first appointed African Union Envoy on Youth – emphatically summed up the sentiment which guided the perspective of all involved: “Pan-African solidarity is about recognising that my struggle is your struggle; my liberation is your liberation; it’s the spirit of Ubuntu – I am because you are.” 

Professor Phakeng concluded that without minimalising the enormity of the challenges facing the continent and its academic institutions, if Africa can take that spirit of solidarity forward, drawing on the depth and breadth of brilliant insights from thoughtful researchers, and proactive practitioners and activists across the continent, the SDGs in Africa could be within reach.  This may well prove to be the defining decade for Africa. 

Courtesy: African Centre for Cities (UCT)


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