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The Millennium Development Goals and the courage to go further

President Paul Kagame argues for a post-2015 Millennium Development Goal agenda that goes beyond poverty reduction.

Last Modified: 24 Sep 2013 14:09
Paul Kagame

Paul Kagame is President of the Republic of Rwanda.
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"The MDGs are about more than just development; in many cases, they have helped spur vital, and often long overdue, good governance reforms," writes President Kagame [AFP]

More than a decade ago, the Millennium Development Goals established humanitarian principles for the 21st century: that those from the poorest nations should not have to survive day-by-day on less than $1, die from preventable or treatable diseases, or be unable to access basic education. It was an agreement to cut the global opportunity deficit. 

Progress has been mixed, but remarkable in places. Bound by common goals, public, private and non-profit organisations worked together to tackle some of the world's gravest ills. They should take satisfaction in what has been achieved.

But as the UN General Assembly convenes to discuss the post-2015 agenda, we must not underestimate the task ahead. One billion people live in poverty. One in eight people go hungry each day. One in four children who enter primary school is likely to drop out before completion.

Widespread corruption undermines development efforts and poor governance squanders resources. A recent report showed that Africa loses twice as much through tax avoidance, secret mining deals and fraud as it receives in foreign aid.

This isn't just a matter of statistics; there is human cost of collective political failure. Every human deserves a right to fulfil their potential - and when this opportunity is denied or suppressed, and poverty and deprivation allowed to degrade communities, the conditions for injustice, conflict and war will flourish.

The MDGs are about more than just development; in many cases, they have helped spur vital, and often long overdue, good governance reforms. As we look to define our future vision, a universal belief in governance must be at the centre. It is only with open and accountable institutions that we can deliver inclusive and sustainable development.

The promise to lift humanity by eradicating extreme poverty must remain at the heart of the development agenda.  But there must be a far greater focus on the role of the private sector and its power to create prosperity. A great entrepreneurial spirit exists in the developing world, but we need to muster the collective means to turn ideas into a living.

In defining the post-2015 agenda, we must also show courage to go beyond the MDGs. For Rwanda, the MDGs are a floor, not a ceiling.

This will require us to build financial institutions that can provide capital at non-exorbitant rates. It will also require us to take down impediments to investment and create a more open and competitive trade environment.

Far more emphasis needs to be placed on developing infrastructure.  As it stands, Africa needs $93bn in investment every year to meet demand. Yet we are spending only $45bn - two-thirds of which is domestically sourced from the public sector.

Roads, railways, airports are all part of this picture, so that we can better link regional markets with each other and the global economy. But we must also increase efforts to reduce the global energy gap. Access to electricity is essential for improving standards of living and powering businesses.

We should embrace the opportunities the green economy presents. As the world's greatest consumers a huge responsibility falls on the developed nations, but this doesn't negate the need for developing nations to promote sustainable growth. By not doing so, there might be a few short-lived successes, but the long-term consequences will hurt us.

The post-2015 agenda also demands developing nations take greater ownership of their destiny. For too long Africa has been a silent continent; now, buoyed by economic and political progress, we are beginning to show our true potential. And much of this has been achieved through home-grown solutions.

Throughout Rwanda, citizens meet to agree on key development priorities for their village – a new road or classroom, a bridge or a well. We have found that empowering local leaders, while demanding accountability, is an effective catalyst for development.  As well as helping ensure development meets the needs of the population, it builds capacity at a local level and gives citizens a meaningful stake in their future.

It is simply not enough to focus on poverty reduction. This is why whenever we talk about development we talk about wealth creation and growth. It is why we continue to invest heavily in education and new technology. For many African nations, the youth is our greatest resource. And by investing in their success - giving them access to learning, laptops, fibre-optic broadband 4G networks - we can lay the foundations for future defined by possibilities, not despondency and desperation.

As we direct global attention to the post-2015 world, together we must redouble our commitment to further reduce the global opportunity deficit. Only then, can we begin to build a modern global economy grounded in the development of people, and founded on mutual responsibility. And only then, can we turn the progress of the MDGs into a lasting success.

You can follow Paul Kagame on Twitter @paulkagame

Paul Kagame is the President of the Republic of Rwanda. 

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The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera's editorial policy.

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