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Fragile states and MDGs: the case of Africa

20 Jun 2012
Alfred G. Nhema, Pan African Development Center,

Fragile states are generally viewed as countries that are characterized by an enduring legacy of conflict. Sustainable development in such countries is hindered by weak state institutional and governance frameworks that are not conducive to the creation of an environment which promotes the political legitimacy and sustainable economic development essential for the fulfillment of MDGs. According to the World Bank, over half of the population in fragile countries live in poverty and will not be able to attain most of the MDGs by the year 2015.

From a regional perspective, the continent of Africa hosts the largest number of fragile states. Only a few countries, including Cape Verde, Ethiopia , Ghana and Malawi, have been cited by the World Bank as being on their way to achieving most of the MDGs by the set deadline or shortly thereafter. The majority of the countries are therefore still well down the MDG implementation ladder.

Africa's commitment to MDGs and challenges faced

The current eight MDG goals have given weight and positive responses to poverty reduction and eradication strategies in Africa. They have made governments more focused and targeted in their quest to meet the MDG objectives at the continental and international levels. At the continental level, African leaders adopted a common position on the Review of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and Millennium Declaration at the fifth ordinary session of the Assembly of the African Union in Sirte, Libya in 2005. Two years later, at the G8 Summit on 11 September 2007, the UN Secretary General established the MDG Africa Steering and Working Groups comprising the African Development Bank, the African Union Commission, the European Union Commission, the International Monetary Fund, the Islamic Development Bank, the UN development group and the World Bank to support the implementation of commitments toward achieving the MDGs.

At the global level, the fact that close to 190 countries have ratified the MDGs is a clear indication that the goals have given an impetus to an acceptable definition of development that has universal appeal. It is now widely accepted that in order for fragile African states to implement the MDGs, they need durable peace and stability. This requires that the root causes of conflict are addressed in a holistic manner. Conflicts are minimized in an environment that promotes inclusive participation in the economic, political and social arenas. Experience shows that such environments are less likely to be prone to debilitating conflicts. In those countries where good governance and inclusive political systems have failed to take root, citizens feel alienated and have had to take up arms thereby generating conflicts that have retarded the socio-economic development so essential for the attainment of MDGs. Without political stability and durable peace, the continent will continue to lag behind other regions of the world with regards to implementation of the MDGs.

What Africa needs are open inclusive political systems that can deliver on the economic front; the creation of legal safeguards and economic systems that are predictable and inclusionary; accelerated regional integration mechanisms focusing on intra-regional trade; infrastructural development initiatives; and the building of human capacity, buttressed by efficient and effective economies that create employment and eradicate poverty. There is therefore a need for the international community to assist Africa in sustaining such a momentum.

The entry point for the international community is through the various African Union ratifications and conventions such as the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance adopted in 2007 which only came into force in the first quarter of 2012, and the African Peer Review Mechanism (APRM) adopted in 2003. As of early 2012, 33 countries had formally signed the Memorandum of Understanding of the APRM while 15 states had ratified the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance. These ratifications are important in that they give legitimacy to interventions that the leaders of Africa and the international community may take in their bid to maintain peace and stability.

The recent interventions in Mali and Guinea Bissau are cases in point. Supported by the various African Union statutes that commit African states to good governance, recent military coups in Mali and Guinea Bissau were roundly condemned and various regional bodies in Africa are currently pursuing intense negotiations to return these countries to constitutionalism and democratic rule. Initiatives are also currently under way in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya to create political systems that are responsive to the needs of citizens after the recent popular revolts in the three countries.

Future MDGs Scenarios: post -2015

The international development community must take into account that any future post- 2015 MDG plans will require a special focus on fragile countries. This leads us to the next key question: what should future MDGs look like?

After 2015, a combination of the current MDGs and more locally defined specific measures and indicators would be ideal. New timelines will be critical and should be maintained and supported by concrete monitoring and evaluation measures. Universal indicators will continue to be important, but should be based on inputs and specific experiences from the fragile states. There will be a need to explore the appropriate policy environment and conditions conducive to democratic governance and sustainable development at the economic, social and cultural levels based on the realities of the continent. Such frameworks should also provide policy makers and development practitioners with options for enhancing policy measures aimed at tackling the development challenges that face fragile states from a bottom -up approach. The focus should be on creating conditions in which people are protagonists of their own future. While the aid policies of international agencies will continue to be dominant, more public involvement from the target populations must be sought and encouraged.

All in all, a post-2015 MDGs scenario requires that a systematic evaluation of how the various efforts aimed at meeting the development agenda holistically address issues relating to the root causes of conflict, fundamental freedoms, eradication of poverty, and the well-being of citizens. A new praxis must be allowed to evolve with the objective of promoting inclusionary political systems that avoid the atomization and exclusion of people from the development process.


Nhema, Alfred G. (2012), Millennium Development Goals and the development agenda in Africa, in UNCTAD XIII: Development-centred globalization: Towards inclusive and sustainable growth and development. UNCTAD Publications, Geneva.

Nhema, Alfred G. (2010), 'An MDG-Plus Agenda for Africa', IDS Bulletin 41 (1): 127-128, Institute of Development Studies, Brighton.

Nhema, Alfred. G and Paul Tiyambe Zeleza (eds.) (2008), The Resolution of African Conflicts: the Management of Conflict Resolution and Post-Conflict Reconstruction. James Currey, Oxford, Ohio University, Athens.