Parfait Onanga-Anyanga considers that the challenges of governance and the establishment of States governed by the rule of law, as promoted by Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 16, are a prerequisite for attaining all the other goals.
Drawing on his extensive experience at the service of international institutions and governments, he analyzes the conditions for implementing the Sustainable Development Goals, particularly in the most unstable regions, such as the Horn of Africa.
Why is SDG 16 – Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions – central to Agenda 2030?
The answer is relatively simple, even if the solutions are complicated. There can be no development, let alone sustainable development, in a context of instability, violence and conflict, with the suffering this causes for populations and the extremely negative impacts on the economy. Without achieving the targets set out in SDG 16, it will be very difficult to make any progress in any area.
How can we speed up the transition toward peaceful and inclusive societies?
Whenever there is a clear and stated desire to govern for the greatest number of people, to submit both the political project and political action to civic control by striving for transparency, whenever efforts have been made to provide communities with the services to which they legitimately aspire, there are better social relationships, less tension and more opportunities to engage in the construction of a peaceful and inclusive nation.
The improvement in many situations over the past 30 years, including the reduction of inter-State conflicts, is heartening. However, there is still so much to be done. We must continue with even greater determination to do everything possible to achieve this 16th Goal.
Fundamental freedoms are not explicitly mentioned in the final text of the SDGs. What do you think of this?
When the emphasis is placed on the need for participatory and transparent institutions in which the people in charge are accountable, at all levels, the aim is clearly to establish the rule of law.
The fact that fundamental freedoms are not mentioned is not an oversight, but rather the result of arduous negotiations between the member States. Constructive ambiguities may exist. The compromise reached does not reflect a perfect consensus and you have to read between the lines. What is important here is to consider that all 17 SDGs together form a coherent whole. I believe that if there were a willingness to implement them, and, above all, if communities were to take ownership of them, they would provide responses to all aspects of people’s lives.
Is the urgency and complexity of Agenda 2030 compatible with the social inclusion requirement enshrined in the SDGs?
Communities are intelligent, resilient and capable. When they are given opportunities to flourish through education, good health, decent housing, citizens’ rights and educational opportunities, the entire national community benefits. This is a real investment, which applies to all societies worldwide. Today, even in the “old democracies”, populations aspire very strongly to be no longer treated as subjects but rather as stakeholders. Unfortunately, in certain countries, they are still chasing rainbows.
Sometimes the constraints are overwhelming. When resources are extremely limited and the needs are enormous, the management of equally urgent priorities is negotiated on an almost daily basis. Each choice is painful and can impact other priorities. For many nations, meeting all these requirements is beyond their means.
That is why Agenda 2030 must mark the triumph of multilateralism over parochialism. Seen in this light, international solidarity is far from an act of charity. Unless they are addressed in a comprehensive and collective manner, cross-border challenges will continue to make the world an unstable place.
Are the depletion of resources and global warming factors of geopolitical destabilization?
Undoubtedly. In the Horn of Africa, cross-border tensions can be observed between Kenya and Somalia, between Ethiopia and Kenya, and even sometimes within nation States themselves. In the Central African Republic, which has a weak central State, armed groups are seizing easily exploitable natural resources and throwing people out of their homes and jobs.
The majority of conflicts arise from problems of governance, and in around 10% of cases, the causes are the depletion of natural resources and competition. If there is no urgent response designed to stem the degradation of natural resources, it is clear that we will continue to face these tensions.
Regional and international solidarity is absolutely essential if we are to have a chance of putting an end to these extremely negative trends.
How are the monitoring and evaluation of the SDGs carried out?
Today, the greatest need for all SDGs related to the fight against hunger, and to health, education, and climate change, is found mainly in Africa. Let us remember that these countries were thrust into the community of nations barely sixty years ago, and that many are still struggling to break free from a past that has not enabled them to make the most successful transitions.
There are some very good governance indicators – tools enabling a clear assessment of transformations: the number of people considered to be very poor, the number of children who have enough to eat, the malaria rate, access to healthcare, etc. The measurements are based on reports submitted by the countries themselves. However, having a plan does not mean having the means to implement it, and unfortunately, human resources are lacking in many countries. This makes it difficult to write Agenda 2030 monitoring reports. The United Nations supports countries facing the greatest difficulties via its Department of Economic and Social Affairs and the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), but there is a pressing need for governance and expertise to ensure the successful implementation of the SDGs.
The SDGs are not accompanied by a user manual. What do you see as the key to their success?
The people in power have a huge responsibility to address these enormous challenges and to involve society as a whole in the most transparent manner possible. It is impossible to attain all these goals in a completely centralized system of governance: communities must be empowered, with access to adequate resources and recognized responsibilities.
Then there needs to be a common response – a product of multilateralism and pooled resources. No-one can live in complete isolation anymore. Today, more than ever before, the world has no choice but to pull together.
The forecasts frighten me. The awareness, or at least the current response, is not commensurate with the dangers we face. It falls short of the needs in all areas. Ten years is a very short time considering the immensity of the challenges. And doing nothing means sitting back and waiting for the situation to get even worse. A very long road lies ahead of us.
The opinions expressed on this blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official position of their institutions or of AFD.