Millennium Development Goals and Africa

Tony Blair's passionate denunciation of impoverishment in Africa as "a scar on the conscience of the world" convinced many that the west would propel the issue of mass poverty and injustice to the top of the international agenda in the cause of a more stable world.

A misplaced hope? Not a single country in sub-Saharan Africa has met the criteria set by the UN's millennium development goals on poverty alleviation, the centrepiece of the project. Some observers believe the number of poor, and the intensity of the poverty, has actually risen in almost all countries.

In truth there was never any real prospect that western governments, which have gleefully presided over the creation of new classes of the super-super-rich, would use their considerable influence to push African leaders to pursue policies which would shift resources away from the rapacious national elites towards the poor.

Nor was it likely the west would permit Africa to stray from the neoliberal orthodoxies prescribed for the continent by the World Bank and the IMF. These policies have generated wealth for elites and created economic growth in a few countries, but have proved over two
decades singularly unable to reduce the human misery afflicting hundreds of millions.

After many false starts, the millennium project, launched with huge fanfare in 2000, was meant to be the definitive development compact, a blueprint to substantially reduce the extreme ravages of poverty by 2015. But now it is sputtering. People are being lifted out of extreme poverty at less than 1% a year, which makes even Bono's 2003 warning that Africa would take 100 years to meet these goals seem optimistic.

Abutting virtually every African slum are the castles of the unimaginably rich. There is little incentive for those who hold the reins of power to redirect investments away from themselves to the very poor, given the abiding conviction on the continent that they have an unlimited capacity to weather their punishing adversities - with the help of repressive security systems, of course.

[Excerpt of an article by Salim Lone, a columnist for the Daily Nation in Kenya, writing in The Guardian]

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