At an event a few days ago at the Spring Meetings on Africa and the Millennium Development Goals—or MDGs for short—the speaker who left me with the strongest impression of hope for 2015 and beyond was Ted Sitima-Wina, Malawi’s Principal Secretary, Planning. Malawi, a small landlocked country with a per capita income of $280, is on track to meet five out of the eight goals, no small achievement in a region where most countries appear off-track on most goals, and many started from a very low base in 1990.
So what worked in Malawi? According to Sitima-Wina, it was aligning the Malawi National Development Strategy closely to the MDGs. “Papers signed in 2000 showed us goals and targets,” he said, “but what we did in Malawi was to contextualize them in our own poverty reduction strategy.”
Perhaps one of the most famous steps that Malawi took to cut poverty and hunger was a targeted subsidy which allowed poor farmers to afford fertilizer and hybrid seeds. With this, the country has moved from being a net importer to a net exporter of food. A recent survey showed that over the past few years, people in rural areas have reported that food is available, despite the crisis.
Malawi is also doing well with promoting child health, despite being a poor country. Pragmatic steps—introducing an essential health package to deal with common diseases, training and retaining medical staff, holding child heath days to take care of routine needs such as de-worming—have all gone a long way to keep more children alive and healthy.
Other speakers at the event emphasized that on current trends, Africa was unlikely to meet the MDGs, but that was no reason to either give up hope or forget promises made in 2000. “It is not rocket science to prevent women from dying in childbirth,” said Sering Falu Njie, Director Policy at the UN’s Millennium Campaign, “we need political commitment and we need resources.”
Shanta Devarajan, the World Bank’s chief economist for Africa, said it was important to surface the success stories, to understand what went right in places like Malawi, and to bring these to the table at the UN MDGs Summit in September.
What do you think about how Africa can reach the MDGs?