are the MDGs credible?

The ‘bright idea’ of the West very often comes under scrutiny from the rest of the world. In Tanzania the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) are seen as the ‘hidden agenda’ of the West that is impossible for African countries to achieve. Many see South Africa’s ability to achieve the MDGs as an obvious reference to the Western powers’ foreign policy towards ‘developing states.’ Is it because South Africa is most Western and developed that it has achieved so much?

The MDGs can certainly be seen as worrisome, however I would not go so far to state that they are a tool for Western powers to control African countries or ‘underdeveloped’ countries. The ‘developed’ and Western powers do hold the power in the UN, but I know a good number of people who work for the UN and are dedicated to reducing poverty and providing access to the necessities that all people need to survive. I am not a proponent of big plans, such as the MDGs. As I have come to understand and know by way of William Easterly – big plans do not work, big plans do not succeed and there is a large cynical backlash when the big plans fail.

Many professionals say that the MDGs are unachieveable by African countries but the institutions say otherwise and claims that African countries are actually achieveing the goals. The UN newsletter on Africa, African Renewal, has facts and figures from the 2005 MDG report that outline how Africa is doing at achieveing the MDGs. Many of the goals are very far off track from the actual goal, but in the area of access to a clean water source and primary school education there is improvement.

Since the 1960s numerous, ambitious development goals have been set for the world to achieve. Every time that goals are set their deadlines for achievement are passed and new goals are drafted. Most recently we reached the new millennium and the most ambitious goals were set.

They are the most broadly supported, comprehensive, and specific reduction objectives the world has ever established. (UN Millennium Project)

The deadline is fast approaching and achievement is far off for many ‘developing’ countries. The first ‘decades of development’ (1960, 1970, 1980, 1990) focused on economic growth. Beginning in the 1990s, development started to focus on the need to create “macroeconomic stability, strong institutions and governance, enforce the rule of law, control corruption, and provide greater social justice.” From those aspects, the new MDGs reflected the emerging role of human rights in the international community, focusing on the economic, social and cultural rights enumerated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (rights to food, education, health care, and decent standard of living). Throughout the ‘decades of development,’ conferences upon conferences, meetings and more meetings were held to build the best plan for development in our world. Yet as this happened goals failed, new goals were created, and millions lost their lives. This is where I will end with a very important quote:

“Meetings are indispensable when you don’t want to do anything.” – John Kenneth Galbraith

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