If anyone knows very well what time it is, Africans do, particularly with the devastating effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, slowing down economic growth, rising debt levels and rising inflation. It is time for the continent with a market of 1.2 billion people and a combined Gross Domestic Product of $2.5 trillion to look at harnessing its full potential for a new era of development shaping up a green, inclusive and resilient continent aiming to achieve the 2030 Agenda and Agenda 2063.
Gathered at the heart of the Rwandan capital, Kigali, delegates from all over Africa are meeting at the Africa Regional Forum on Sustainable Development (ARFSD)- an annual multi-stakeholder platform organized jointly by the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) and the host Government in collaboration with the African Union Commission, the African Development Bank and other entities of the United Nations system.
The Forum brings together ministers, senior officials, experts and practitioners from United Nations Member States, the private sector, civil society, academia and United Nations organizations.
Mandated by the General Assembly, like all the other regional forums on sustainable development, the Africa Regional Forum is one of the three mechanisms mandated to follow-up, review and catalyse actions to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development adopted by United Nations Member States in September 2015, the organisers say.
The other mechanisms are the voluntary national reviews and, at the global level, the high-level political forum on sustainable development, it added.
In the concept note, the organisers indicate that in an arrangement unique to Africa, the Africa Regional Forum on Sustainable Development undertakes integrated follow-up and review of the Sustainable Development Goals and the goals of Agenda 2063: The Africa We Want, of the African Union. This is because, for Africa, the two agendas provide a synergistic framework for achieving inclusive and people-centred sustainable development in the region.
“The Forum also provides a platform for peer learning, including on voluntary national reviews and voluntary local reviews by subnational entities,” it added.
The eighth session being held under the theme “Building forward better: a green, inclusive and resilient Africa poised to achieve the 2030 Agenda and Agenda 2063”, aligns with that of the 2022 meeting of the high- level political forum, namely “Building back better from the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) while advancing the full implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development”.
While taking note of what ought to be done in response of the ripples of the still raging COVID-19 pandemic, the Forum is also taking note of the global extreme poverty rate which rose for the first time in over 20 years.
The organizers note that in 2020, some 120 million people were pushed back into extreme poverty, and an additional 101 million children have fallen below the minimum reading proficiency level, potentially wiping out 20 years of education gains and heightening the risk of a generational catastrophe in terms of schooling.
“In addition, women have experienced rising levels of domestic violence. Child marriage is projected to rise, after a decline in recent years, and unpaid and underpaid care work is increasingly and disproportionately falling on the shoulders of women and girls, with impacts on their educational and income opportunities and health,” the note said.
The Forum therefore is seeking to discuss tackling inequality which will be crucial for reducing vulnerabilities and enhancing the resilience of societies.
The Forum further notes that notwithstanding the global economic slowdown, concentrations of major greenhouse gases continue to rise.
“With the global average temperature reaching approximately 1.2°C above pre-industrial levels, the climate crisis continues to wreak havoc across the globe with far-reaching adverse impacts. Biodiversity is declining and terrestrial ecosystems are being degraded at alarming rates. Evidence shows that 1 million plastic drinking bottles are purchased every minute and 5 trillion single-use plastic bags are thrown away each year.”
Citing the three principal crises of climate change, and noting that biodiversity loss and rampant pollution persist concomitantly with the pandemic, the Forum acknowledges that the world remains woefully off track in meeting the targets of the Paris Agreement on climate change.
It also states that crucially, the pandemic has brought about colossal financial challenges, particularly hitting developing countries remorselessly, with a significant rise in debt distress and dramatic decreases in foreign direct investment and trade.
“In the African region, notwithstanding progress in the implementation of the 2030 Agenda and Agenda 2063, available assessments show that countries are similarly off track, with the acute curtailment of gains achieved through years of progress in reducing poverty and improving socioeconomic outcomes,” the note says.
It acknowledges that COVID-19 continues to severely test countries’ social, economic, political and environmental resilience.
Citing the African Development Bank, it says the shock of COVID-19 has meant that Africa will not be able to bridge the large financing gap to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, estimated at $200 billion per year, with existing government revenues and development assistance, placing countries in a vicious cycle of liquidity challenges, reduced fiscal space and debt distress.
Stating that where education is concerned, the disruption caused by the pandemic has significantly widened the already extensive gaps in access to inclusive quality education and training and, by so doing, constrained the implementation of efforts and achievement of the targets of Goal 4. In or around March 2020, almost all African governments closed schools and training institutions, leaving millions of pre-primary, primary and secondary children and learners following training and vocational courses out of school for an extended period, in some cases for over two years, it added among other things.
According to the organisers, the overall objective of the Forum is to conduct a regional follow-up and review of progress made, facilitate peer learning, and advance transformative solutions and actions to accelerate implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals and aspirations, goals and targets of Agenda 2063.
The organisers say the activities of the Forum will be conducted on the basis of the following sub-themes, which have been crafted around the five Sustainable Development Goals to be considered at the 2022 meeting of the high-level political forum: Quality education; Gender equality; Life below water; Life on land; Partnerships.
Hopefully, the conversations at this Forum would not only remain talking points, but doing points that would truly reflect in the transformation of the continent.
By Emmanuel K. Dogbevi, in Kigali, Rwanda
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