The MDGs have not helped the poor the way they should have; what’s next?

Tuesday March 5 2013


A few weeks ago, the UN High Level Panel (HLP), a group of 26 members, met in Monrovia, Liberia, with the purpose of preparing recommendations on a new set of development goals to replace the current Millennium Development Goals which expire in 2015.

Their key question: What should be the global blueprint for tackling extreme poverty and other development challenges over the next 15 to 20 years?

The HLP is co-chaired by British Prime Minister David Cameron, Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono. Their last meeting will take place in Bali later this month. Their report will be submitted in May to the UN Secretary-General.

This meeting brings to my memory a report by the ONE campaign titled, “What Does the World Really Want?” released last September.
Astonishingly, at the time the report was written, it showed that the world’s poor were not included in the process of determining the global development agenda. They have had no prior opportunity to articulate their interests and needs.

The other main finding in this report was that Household Income is the number one concern for people in the developing world. Families are most worried about income stability and having enough money to put food on the table, pay for their children’s education, cover health clinic visits, and to start a small business.

I live in sub-Saharan Africa where, according to the United Nations, you will find more than 40 per cent of the world’s poorest people. Quite frankly, I think that the best way to find out what the poor really want is to ask them.

By bringing the very people who stand to benefit the most from international development into the conversation, they will be in a position to own, champion, and dictate their own development priorities. By bringing the poor to the centre of the table, the solutions we find will motivate them and will be sustainable, for the long term.

I am hoping to see a HLP report that involves the poor, is by the poor and for the poor. If this doesn’t happen, there is a real danger of having a report void of any credibility.

On the other hand, the challenge for Africans as a whole is to psychologically get rid of physical borders, which separate us from freely helping each other. We need to go back to the good old days when borders were not strong enough to prevent us helping a brother in need.
Sadly, conflict, greed, bureaucracies and war separate us today. But, hunger and poverty, know no borders. Africans need to rise up and speak as one, if we want to see an end to poverty.

Here in South Africa, the ONE Campaign, has initiated an SMS platform that is collecting views from the poor. By texting 30667, your voice will be heard on what the next phase of MDGs will look like.

What’s wonderful about this platform is that, not only is the SMS free, but in this day and age, Africa is at the forefront of technology that is turbo-charging our drive for socio-economic growth.

Only 16.5 million Africans had mobile phones when the original MDGs were designed in 2000. Now, there are over 650 million mobiles in use. This campaign offers Africans from all walks of life the chance of a life time . . . literally.

Global discussions on a post-2015 development framework will help set the development agenda for a generation and determine how hundreds of billions of dollars will be spent.

This process, especially at national levels, needs to be transparent. Citizens need to demand an open development agenda: openness in terms of the design of the post-2015 framework, openness in the monitoring of investments and outcomes, and openness in terms of making sure that monitoring information is widely available and accessible.

Along with civil society organisations across Africa, I am asking for the following: First, that the post-2015 goals reflect people’s needs and priorities; second, that governments collect information about what they spend and what they achieve in pursuit of the goals; and third, that such information is made available so that citizens, parliaments and the media can use it to hold governments to account for the use of public resources.

The MDGs have contributed significantly to the global fight against poverty in the last 10 years. Africa has made tremendous progress in the battle against HIV/Aids, there has been an increase in child enrolment to school, and hunger, while still prevalent, has been significantly reduced.

As we celebrate these achievements, let us not lose sight of the challenges ahead.

Mr Masekela is a humanitarian, musician and a ONE member. Visit for more on this campaign.