Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Are the Millennium Development Goals Unfair to Africa?

William Easterly, an economic professor at New York University, presented a provocative discussion concerning the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and how they affect perception concerning developmental progress in Africa. During the event, he presented his findings in the report “How the Millennium Development Goals Are Unfair to Africa.” In the report, he examined the indicators used to measure national progress in relation to the established MDG aims.

To assess what he deemed “arbitrary” indicators, he examined each of the goals, their measurement indicators, and alternative indicators. This course of action fostered the ongoing theme presented by Easterly which claimed that the MDGs created a negative view of Africa and perpetuated stereotypes concerning African dependence on the West. This negative view of Africa was built on a foundation of indicators, which Easterly believed undermined progress in Africa as they, unlike the alternative indicators he presented, made Africa seem like a failed continent in regards to the MDGs.

Easterly urged the audience to realize that the progress made in Africa concerning the percentage of people living on less than $1 a day, the part of the populations without clean water access, the proportion of people who complete formal primary education, and other factors of development have all been improving since before the creation of the MDGs. This argument, coupled by what he saw to be ill-founded approaches to measuring goal successes and failures, made the MDGs seem arbitrary as he challenged their legitimacy.

But many, including the Vice President of Poverty Reduction and Economic Management at the World Bank, Danny Leipziger, believed that Easterly’s claims were unproductive and failed to recognize the value of internationally established goals. He mentioned how the goals were created with the input of a wide range of nations that hoped to challenge the status quo by making great strides in living condition standards.

The majority of researchers and policy makers in the development community realize that widespread collaboration between international development agencies is both necessary and crucial for improving living standards worldwide. As the first and only internationally recognized set of goals that places diverse elements effecting developmental progress under the same framework, the MDGs are laden with significant factors that Easterly did not address. While realizing that the point of his work was to focus on the how the MDGs have created an unjust perception concerning African development, on must consider that they have also helped African development rise to the fore of minds who may not have otherwise considered this subject matter without the well established MDGs.

The MDGs have galvanized worldwide support on the ground and in governmental/non-governmental offices. The have created a field where Africans and non-Africans can approach regional development projects from a common starting point, where human progress is the focus.

Easterly, is one of many, who rightfully noted the need to reform or rethink the MDGs and their structure. However, this criticism should not, for the sake of raising living standards worldwide, encourage the devaluing such an important element of developmental thought and policy. The development community should not discredit the MDGs. It is a useful, altruistic model for approaching development with an interdisciplinary lens and is a starting point where all nations can work toward a common good.

Sponsor: The Brookings Institution and the Center for Global Development
Location: Brookings
Date: February 6, 2008
Time: 11:30 am-1:30pm
Approximate Number of Attendees: 350
Representative Attending: Saphonia Foster

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