Why SDGs provide a historical opportunity for African countries

The role of Human Rights Institutions is particularly urgent for Africa. Many of our people are, needlessly, still in poverty, yet they can be pulled of it if the will to act is there.

Our Governments have to embed good governance and inclusion in policy execution and implementation if we have to deliver on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

As in the case of the MDGs, Rwanda seeks to be both an active agent and beneficiary of the implementation of this global compact. Most of the things that Rwanda has consistently advocated for over the past few years as key requirements for pushing Africa to where it should be are also contained in the SDGs.

Notable among them are inclusive and people-centered development, economic transformation, self-reliance, stability and dignity for all Rwandans and Africans. MDGs to us in Rwanda are not a “ceiling”, because, as important as they are, they do fall short of our transformational aspirations. We seek to achieve some more.

Rwanda strives to adhere to, and implement, international conventions it has appended its signature to. These include the Millennium Declaration and the MDGs agenda.

Apart from the privilege and honour of being a Global Advocate for the MDGs, we ensured that our Government integrated the MDGs and their targets and indicators in the various national development strategies that were launched following the September 2000 Millennium Declaration.

There are results to show for this. The modest progress Rwanda has made towards attaining all the MDGs humbles us into training our sights on the achievement of all of them.  The international community encouraged our Government to play an activist role in the adoption and implementation of SDGs. We happily did.

Africa in general and Rwanda in particular has made significant progress towards MDGs. It is therefore fitting that as we move to the Agenda 2030 we should acknowledge the achievement made as a solid foundation. We should, however, pay more attention to what remains to be done especially what is in our means to deliver.

The new global development agenda that we have signed up for will be much more challenging.

We will have to seriously reflect on our collective aspirations and the way we implement our development plan for a better standard of living, while preserving our environment for future generations.

That said, this is what Africa needs, so whether challenging or not it seems to be the only option if the African people are to be pulled out of poverty. That Africans still live in thatched houses, suffer malnutrition, die from immunisable and preventable diseases, have no universal health care, grapple with maternal and child mortality, don’t have universal access to clean water, still litter the streets with plastic and other environmentally harmful material, is inexcusable.

That we have no universal access to education, electricity and ICT’s, that comprehensive women empowerment is still not achieved, that we do not tell our story, in our interest, and we instead outsource it to someone else with other interests, are also inexcusable. Put together they should constitute grave violations of human rights.

Africa is richer in resources but billed as the poorest continent. Africa is still aid dependent, in the 21st century, and this seems to be accepted as a good thing, yet it robs us of our dignity.

Corruption still sucks more resources from our budgets than development.

Ethnic and tribal identity are still a cause of strife, conflict, violence and in Rwanda’s case, the 1994 Genocide. Life expectancy continues to be low because the quality of life continues to be poor.

We lose more under-5 children than other continents. The things we are talking about today are, therefore, directly connected to the most important right, the right to life. Permit me to qualify it to the right to a decent life.

Unless we change the way we do things, we’ll be talking about the same things in 2030, perhaps in better language, and, although 2063 is relatively far off, even then the story on the ground will not be much different if we don’t act or if we don’t act right.

We, therefore, need to act on the ideas contained in these agendas.

African Human Rights Institutions should, therefore, be resourced and empowered by respective Governments to be more independent active monitors and watchdogs of implementation.

Laws should empower the institutions to hold Governments accountable, to demand implementation and results. As charity begins at home, I am happy to commit that we will continue to do the same with our own human rights commission.

SDGs provide a historical opportunity for African countries. The cost of implementation will be high but the cost of failure to implement will be further condemning our people to doomed livelihoods.

Major challenges that need to be addressed for achieving the SDGs in Africa include governance financial, stability and peace, inclusion and accountability.

Apart from the UN that is now called to facilitate the tapestry of relationships, to strengthen the relationship between duty bearers and their people, and to help governments serve their people better; there is a Sustainable Development Goals Center for Africa that supports governments, civil society, businesses and academic institutions to accelerate progress towards the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals in Africa.

I commend the SDG Center for Africa for leading the way, in the search for innovative solutions to the development challenges we face. The SDG Centre for Africa serves as the focal point for coordination and advocacy and provides local and African solution.

This article was extracted from the remarks by Justice Minister and Attorney General Johnston Busingye at the 11th Biennial Conference of Network of African National Human Rights Institutions in Kigali this week.

The views expressed in this article are of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Times.