Helen Clark: Speech at the Annual Meeting of UNDP Africa on “Towards an Emerging Africa: From MDGs to the SDGs”

| June 30, 2015
22 Jun 2015

It is a great pleasure to join the President of Madagascar, H.E. Hery Rajaonarimampianina, in welcoming you to the 2015 UNDP Regional Bureau for Africa Cluster Meeting.

I thank the President and the Government of Madagascar for hosting this meeting of the leaders of UNDP’s work in Africa. We also welcome our key partners from the African Union, the NEPAD Secretariat, academia, and the Governments of Madagascar and Mauritius.

UNDP enjoys a strong partnership with Madagascar. We applaud the country’s recent prioritisation of human and sustainable development in its new medium-term strategy. The track record of human development suggests that healthy, empowered, and educated people drive their economies and strengthen their societies. By investing in people and in the capacity of the country to sustain that investment, Madagascar will lay the foundations for inclusive and sustainable development.

An Emergent Africa

At this meeting of UNDP’s regional and country leaders in Africa, we focus on how the UN development system can contribute to the continent’s progress.

Last year, the African Union adopted its visionary Agenda 2063 which sets out a pathway to emergence. It has also adopted the African Common Position on the Post-2015 Global Development Strategy. This too is forward looking in calling for “an integrated, prosperous, and peaceful Africa, driven and managed by its own citizens.”

Both these documents provide all partners, including the UN, with clear guidance on the future Africa wants.

UNDP’s Regional Bureau for Africa is our largest. This reflects the number of countries covered by the Bureau, the scale of the opportunities and challenges for Sub-Saharan Africa, and the importance of progress in the region for achieving global goals for inclusive and sustainable development.

By the end of this year, there are expected to be new global agreements on financing for development, sustainable development goals, and climate change. Agreement on the new global framework for disaster risk reduction has already been reached. All these agreements will guide global development priorities for a generation. That is why I see 2015 as providing a once in a generation opportunity to set a clear global direction and priorities for the future we want.

The sustainable development agenda which UN Member States are now negotiating is universal in its scope – all countries are covered. But in its implementation, very high priority must be given to backing Africa’s quest for inclusive, sustainable and resilient development.

The challenges are great:

•    I’ve just come from participating in the launch of the Post-Disaster Needs Assessment for Malawi which is endeavoring to recover from the massive floods of earlier this year. Malawi experiences recurrent cycles of flood and drought, which are exacerbated by climate change. Finding the resources to “build back better” and reduce disaster risk for the future is an imperative.

Here in Madagascar, cyclones, floods, and droughts have taken their toll on development too. Already in 2015, twenty African countries have experienced serious flooding. Protracted drought is also a huge problem for many. While low income countries are the least responsible for climate change, they are bearing the greatest cost in terms of lives lost, livelihoods damaged, and housing and other infrastructure destroyed.

•    In February I visited Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone which are all endeavouring to recover from another kind of shock – the deadly outbreak of Ebola. The economies of these three countries were among the fastest growing in Africa. They were knocked sideways not by commodity price shocks or global recession, but by the failure of health and other systems to contain the outbreak at the earliest stage.

•    South Sudan and Central African Republic have also experienced very serious shocks – the kind which comes from the failure of political systems to mediate differences and practise inclusion not exclusion. Protracted conflict has badly destabilised both countries – with no end to that in sight for South Sudan right now. Elsewhere, radical insurgents from Boko Haram to Al Shabaab are destroying lives and prospects across national boundaries.

Yet, amidst all the challenges, we also see progress and grounds for optimism. African solidarity is playing an important role. Take, for example:

•    The response to Ebola by countries and institutions on the continent. Many provided humanitarian, health worker, and/or financial support. The African Union, the African Development Bank, ECOWAS, and the Manu River Union have been key players.

•    The role of African institutions and eminent persons in mediating disputes which threaten peace and stability; and the large numbers of African defence personnel deployed to peacekeeping forces. SADC’s support for Madagascar’s route back to constitutional government is a good example of how a sub-regional institution can help.

•    The impetus for regional and sub-regional integration which expands domestic markets and creates opportunities for growth and jobs. SADC, the East African Community, and ECOWAS are among those pursuing pathways to integration.

As well, we see:

•    Many peaceful and credible national and local elections. That in Nigeria, the most populous nation on the continent, was groundbreaking; for the first time, Nigeria experienced a peaceful transition of power to an opposition candidate.

•    Relatively high rates of economic growth. Since 2005, Africa’s annual GDP growth has averaged around five per cent, notwithstanding the pressures caused by the global financial crises and its aftermath. Favourable commodity prices, investments in extractive industries, improved political stability, stronger institutions, greater security for many, and stable macroeconomic conditions have all been contributing factors.

•    Extreme poverty reducing and services improving in many countries. Many countries have rapidly reduced their under-five mortality rates. Many more children are in school. There are lower rates of HIV prevalence, and many more people living with HIV have access to life-saving antiretroviral drugs.

Overall, the outlook for Africa is very different from when the MDGs were launched at the beginning of this century. Many African countries have momentum and a solid track record of progress on which to build. This bodes well for efforts to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals which world leaders are expected to adopt at the UN in New York in September.

UNDP’s support for the SDG agenda in Africa

UNDP worked alongside the countries of this continent as they integrated the MDGs into their national agendas. We have worked to strengthen capacities, transfer knowledge, and support access to finance. Over the past five years, we have worked with our partners in UN Country Teams, including the World Bank, to accelerate progress on key MDG targets. We can apply all our experience and lessons learned in support of SDG achievement. With our strengthened Regional Service Centre in Addis Ababa we are well placed to do so

Many Country Offices and UN Country Teams in Africa are already working with their national and local partners to lay the ground for implementation of the SDGs. This is the case in the two countries I have visited just before coming here - Botswana and Malawi – where new national plans are being prepared. The earliest opportunity should be taken to support incorporation of the SDGs into national development agendas.

A number of countries have low institutional capacity – yet pursuing sustainable development requires joined up government which can pursue integrated strategies. It will be important to build and support “whole of government” approaches across the economic, social, and environmental strands of sustainable development.

MDG acceleration focused on removing bottlenecks and other obstacles to achieving targets – that must continue with the SDGs, and not least on the significant unfinished business of the MDGs. I am convinced that all efforts to achieve the SDGs will be consistent with achieving the vision of the African Union’s Agenda 2063 for African emergence.

Emergence requires structural transformation to make economies more inclusive and diverse. It requires the investments in people, services, and infrastructure and the strengthening of institutions which will help lift countries out of low income status to middle income status, and then to avoid the middle income trap.

In achieving both emergence and the SDGs, special focus must go on:

-    Addressing inequalities.  This is vital. By reducing inequalities, African countries will lift human development, and will harness the full potential of women and marginalized groups to contribute to development. UNDP’s next African Regional Development Report will provide recommendations on overcoming gender inequality.
-    Harnessing the potential of youth.  Africa’s large youth population offers the potential for a big demographic dividend, if there is investment in youth potential. The converse is also true – alienated and angry youth can’t make the positive contribution societies need.  
-    Improving jobs and livelihoods. More than four in ten people on the continent live in extreme poverty. Eighty per cent of Africa’s workers are in low productivity work in agriculture or in low value service sector livelihoods which generate little income. More decent work and livelihoods need to be generated through inclusive and sustainable growth.
-    Maintaining ecosystem integrity. The SDGs will encourage all countries to promote economic and social progress with a light environmental footprint. This is essential if we are to preserve the global commons which secure our common future.
-    Addressing the drivers of conflict and stability. This can include strengthening social cohesion, establishing the rule of law and the capacity for peaceful dispute resolution, and making governance more inclusive and effective.


UNDP’s Strategic Plan for 2014-2017 and the structural transformation we have been undergoing is designed to help us to be the very best we possibly can be in supporting programme countries to achieve national and global development goals.

These are not easy times for many development agencies. A number of traditional funders are cutting their development assistance budgets, and more and more of those budgets are being diverted to meet the humanitarian needs of catastrophic and protracted emergencies. It is hard to recall a time when so many crises were creating needs on such a scale.

But the need for UNDP’s work is as great as ever – arguably greater than ever before both in those countries needing to recover from crisis and disaster and in those wanting to accelerate their emergence. So we must be proactive, responsive, and entrepreneurial in meeting their needs, and in raising the funding and adapting our business models to ensure that we can do so. Many of you are leading Country Offices to do just that, and I appreciate that you, like senior managers at the global level are prepared to take the difficult decisions which are making our organization fit for purpose in a challenging environment.

Under Mar’s leadership, and with the commitment of all our leaders at country level and in the regional service centre, I am confident that the Regional Bureau for Africa and its Country Offices will continue to be regarded as indispensable partners in Africa’s emergence. I hope that this cluster meeting will succeed in bringing everyone up to speed with developments on the global and regional agendas and within UNDP and the broader development system, so that you can each return to your duty stations well equipped to lead relevant and responsive programming for Africa’s emergence.

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