Meeting (or not) the Millenium Development Goals

I’ve heard that self-help books offering recipes for success tend to highlight the importance of setting goals. (Not that I’ve ready any, of course — this is purely second hand information.) Anyway, I believe it. But does setting goals for reducing poverty for the whole world have any impact on that outcome? Hard to know. We can’t exactly re-run the history of the past decade without the millennium development goals in place. But I suppose one could experiment with invoking the goals and reporting progress on them for some campaigns and not others and see where more is accomplished? Or look at similar instances retrospectively? Perhaps donors would donate more? Or policy-makers would allocate more resources knowing they were being judged?

At the very least, setting goals and measuring progress holds actors to account. Though if the whole world is accountable… and there are no direct consequences for leadership failure, I’m not sure that we can expect too much.  Anyway, I don’t want to be too much of a skeptic, because I really sympathize with the effort, especially with the notion that goal-setting and measurement are likely to positively affect accomplishment. If the choice is between goals and no goals, I say, let them have goals.

Along those lines, I must admit I was happily surprised to read a few stories that some of the targets are actually being met! Most important, the goal to halve the number of people in extreme poverty seems to have been reached. However, given that this figure is driven mostly by China, I’m not sure that the global community can take much credit. Moreover, the goal on access to safe drinking water was actually met five years early! (See articles in the Chicago Tribune and UK Guardian) Progress on sanitation is less advanced.

Wind and water energy project in Lesotho

Quite the week for alternative energy stories in Africa, just as the Republican candidates in the U.S. bash President Obama for (admittedly unsuccessful) efforts to advance green energy here…

Lesotho, the landlocked kingdom in the belly of South Africa, is reportedly slated to go forward with a $15 billion project to develop wind- and water-harnessing infrastructure — approximately 80% of which will be financed by China. This forward-looking plan should create thousands of jobs, and will allow the country to export clean energy to South Africa.

Maybe the Chinese have ulterior motives on this deal. But again, one wonders why the U.S. isn’t getting more involved in similar projects there, or here? Africa could turn out to be a very interesting destination for advancing the production of energy through alternative sources.

China’s growing influence in South Africa may displace the U.S.

China’s huge investments in Africa are a source of concern for many observers. On the optimistic side, at least some of the resulting infrastructure, growth, and investment, will benefit at least some African citizens. But the pessimistic story is also pretty compelling — the Chinese government has been using its economic clout to push its strategic and normative agendas, both of which are at odds with democratic and human rights principles. In some countries, citizens are standing up to what they perceive as negative influence – the recent Zambian election was won by an adamantly “anti-China” candidate. But in other countries, China’s influence is growing, and with some alarming consequences.

Of particular note, to me at least, is the growing influence in South Africa – the continent’s political and economic juggernaut. The most recent example of China’s influence is the SA state’s delay/potential refusal of a visa to the Dalai Lama, who was planning to come celebrate Desmond Tutu’s birthday with him. That the ANC government would so insult a man who was a beacon of solidarity during the anti-apartheid days has left the former Archbishop is piping mad.

Meanwhile, South Africa’s Deputy President, Kgalema Motlanthe, has been in China, meeting with their top leadership, and negotiating huge trade and infrastructure deals.  The Chinese have agreed to $2.5 billion in infrastructure investments, and Motlanthe did not respond to questions about the Dalai Lama.

And back in November, when the Chinese government agreed to extend a $20bn line of credit to SA for nuclear and renewable energy, it did so alongside heavy pressure on SA to join its stance on climate change – in other words, to go easy on the emissions standards for rapidly growing, developing countries.

So what’s abundantly clear is that the Chinese have clear interests, and they are using their economic power to gain allies. Frankly, who can blame them? The better question is why the U.S. isn’t doing more of the same? While I certainly support our country’s unprecedented commitments to global public health and HIV/AIDS in particular, as Princeton Lyman has argued, this strategy has the potential to leave the U.S. vulnerable to high criticism if we fail to keep people on treatment, and may lead to the aphorism, “no good deed goes unpunished.” Why is the U.S. not doing more to promote trade and investment — the types of things that win the hearts and minds of citizens and leaders alike — in South Africa? South Africa has already joined Russia and China in the BRICS (also India and Brazil) group, and the fast growing developing economies are finding that they don’t need us very much any more. Given the billions and billions we are spending on military missions in other countries, where we have no clear strategic allies or well developed end games, I can’t believe that some of those dollars wouldn’t be better spent promoting investment in South Africa.