\”A Threat to One Is a Threat to All\”

Nov 26 2007

Interview with Tajudeen Abdul-Raheem

KAMPALA, Nov 25 (IPS) – The past year has marked the half-way point for realisation of the United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). The eight goals were agreed on by global leaders at the United Nations Millennium Summit in 2000, with 2015 set as the deadline for achieving the MDGs.

The goals focus on halving extreme hunger and poverty, achieving universal primary education, promoting gender equality and women’s empowerment, and reducing child and maternal mortality. They are also aimed at fighting HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases, ensuring environmental sustainability — and creating a “global partnership for development” that will address several key issues, including barriers to trade and country debt.

As the U.N’s ‘Millennium Development Goals Report 2007’ indicates, progress towards the MDGs has undoubtedly been made overall. However, “…only one of the eight regional groups cited in this report is on track to achieve all the Millennium Development Goals. In contrast, the projected shortfalls are most severe in sub-Saharan Africa.”

The U.N. Millennium Campaign was launched in 2002 to help citizens lobby their governments to achieve the goals. The campaign’s deputy director for Africa, Tajudeen Abdul-Raheem, spoke to IPS writer Joyce Mulama in the Ugandan capital, Kampala, about Africa’s prospects concerning the MDGs — this on the sidelines of the Nov. 23-25 Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting.

IPS: Where has there been progress in Africa with the MDGs?

Tajudeen Abdul-Raheem (TA): When you look at specific countries there has been some progress, especially on education, child mortality and also HIV/AIDS. A country like Uganda now has free primary and secondary education, where millions of children who were not able to go school are now going to school. Malawi, Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa and Ghana have also made tremendous progress in providing free primary education, even though there are still many challenges.

A country like Malawi, which used to be among the poorest countries in the world, has dropped infant mortality by 30 percent; it is only second to Peru globally. Rwanda, which has just come out of genocide…is actually doing pretty well on a lot of these issues — including education, technology and women’s empowerment. It has more women’s representation in parliament than most Western countries. This shows (that) if priorities are set well and there is political will, it is possible to achieve MDGs.

IPS: Which MDGs are you most concerned about?

TA: One of the biggest scandals in the implementation of MDGs, and one that civil societies and the media really need to focus on, are the MDGs in relation to women. Indeed, all MDGs are about women because they are the majority, and therefore real development cannot take place without full participation and empowerment of women.

If you look at many countries, because of providing vaccinations in time, mosquito nets and other interventions, there is a decrease in child mortality — like in the case of Malawi. But across Africa, the maternal mortality rate is scandalously high, and you ask yourself: if our children are living longer, why are our mothers dying?

MDGs need to be seen as an integrated platform to address maternal health. Many women die due to complications at child birth. Many more die as a result of lack of transport to access health centres. If you have to transport a woman in labour on a bicycle or carry her — literally — by the time you reach the centre she will have died.

Some of these centres do not have doctors, nurses or midwives, because we are losing a lot of trained medical staff to better pay and better working conditions abroad. To achieve MDGs effectively, we have to look at all these aspects.

IPS: To what extent have wealthy nations met their part of their bargain with helping achieve the goals?

TA: They have written off debts of some countries. Studies have shown that where debt has been written off, and when you have a responsible government, debt relief can work. Malawi, Uganda, and Ghana are good examples where money that should have been used to service debt has been transferred into social and economic programmes.

But the biggest threat by the rich countries is the unjust nature of international trade. Africa loses as a result of tariff barriers, the dumping of cheap goods from the industrialised world and denial of access to its markets. Our farmers are using hoes to farm, they are not subsidised — while the European farmers are subsidised, yet they are the ones with tractors, and employ all sorts of modern farming methods. This is killing the capacity of our farmers to compete even locally.

It is important that the rich nations address this matter. If Africa does not achieve the MDGs, the reason will not only be internal but also external dimensions, because the rich countries are not collaborating, especially on goal eight (to “Develop a global partnership for development”).

IPS: Is there enough pressure to compel rich countries to honour their commitments regarding the MDGs?

TA: Civil society has been active in holding international campaigns against the selfish interests of the West. It is critical for the world to realise that a threat to one is a threat to all, that the prosperity of the West is structurally linked to the extreme poverty of the South. It is in their own interest to make sure that we create a better world for all. (END/2007)

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