THE year 2015 marked the end of the era for the eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) adopted in 2000 and a transition to the 2030, 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The MDGs had marked a huge promise in global poverty reduction as the world concluded the 15 years of implementing the goals. The results have somewhat remained the same as the previous global policies.
However, the transitioning was marked by a certain hyped rhetoric, one which sought to highlight the positive side of poverty reduction story, while annihilating the other. The speaking voices of the global governance institutions awarded themselves accolades, while those languishing in poverty every day continue to bear the excruciating pain of failed promises.
These disparities are characteristically nuanced in the key messages emerging from the end of the 2015 MDGs assessment, that at global level poverty has been reduced and that despite the global financial crisis, economic growth was achieved, which combine to lift an estimated one billion people out of extreme poverty. Despite that, these two points are unrelated and have no causal relationship, the assessment proceeds to note that most developing countries witnessed solid income growth for the bottom 40% of their income distribution.
For anyone sitting in a position of global power, certainly this fits for a perfect resume because it highlights only positive selling points even though these points are remote from the actual reality. And this reality is submerged in the subtexts of the Global Monitoring report of 2015. Certainly, this is in stark contrast to the narratives of this egalitarian era, which has occupied global discourse for some decades now. Where are the voices of the poor in constructing such self-serving narratives?
The report acknowledges that the world faces urgent and complex challenges to sustainably end extreme poverty and share prosperity as the latest data shows that extreme poverty continues and the rich-poor divide is widening because the rich continue to flagitiously exploit the poor. It also acknowledges that poverty remains unacceptably high, deep, and concentrated in some regions, with the poor experiencing not only income shortfalls but also deprivations in multiple non-income dimensions. There are no compendious reasons given for this despite that the voiceless continue to be exploited and dominant by the powerful under the guise of “we will help you develop just remain calm and open up space for our multinational corporations to develop you”.
This is the point that needs to be examined further and closely. What does it mean when the World Bank says global poverty has reduced, while acknowledging that poverty has deepened? Their report answers this question perfectly by indicating that the reduction in poverty is due to rapid economic growth in China and India. The one billion people who have been unleashed out of poverty are from these countries. This observation is adequately captured by the conclusion that progress continues to be uneven characterised by disparities in non-income indicators between the developed and the developing countries.
Typical of the World Bank, it makes theoretically generalised and yet less practically insightful recommendations that to sustainably end extreme poverty and share prosperity, additional policy efforts are needed to cope with uncertainties about the pace of economic growth and its incidence, as well as contextual factors such as the difficulties of reaching the remaining poor. To address this, the bank also highlights that key priorities will be to deliver sustainable broad-based economic growth, invest in the human development potential of people, and insure the poor and vulnerable against evolving risks.
There are interesting acknowledgements and omissions in this analysis. Firstly, is that aid does not develop countries even though the World Bank has continued to churn out development aid funding to developing countries.
This is why despite nearly seven decades of receiving billions of dollars in aid, Africa as a continent, has remained poor with the majority of its people living below the poverty datum line. Secondly, is that countries that have made huge progress such as China and India have adopted bold locally-driven policies, which have inspired local economic growth, which has unleashed their people out of poverty. The World Bank has not been very relevant or inspiring in these two contexts. Thirdly, these two points highlight that the World Bank’s policies in Africa either do not favour the African continent or they are just deliberately irrelevantly designed to cow the power poor into believing that their poverty will be addressed by some external magic.
And the fourth point is linked to the above that it also highlights the lack of character among Africans and their leadership to craft policies that are suitable for their context, which is why they operate on prescribed policies from the same bank. As a result, the share of Sub-Saharan Africa in global poverty has risen to 43% alongside a slower pace of poverty reduction in this region amid rapid population growth. It is that boldness that is lacking in Africa. African countries need to decide their course of action to achieving complete sovereignty by promoting economic growth instead of expecting international aid and its policies to dictate on them.
Tapiwa Gomo is a development consultant based in Pretoria, South Africa