As we look around Africa, we have plenty of reason for pride – but there's still a lot to do

Thanks to the progress of the last 15 years, the geography of poverty has changed.

THIS is a critical week for Africa and all who demand a more prosperous and fairer world.

Discussions at the Financing for Development Conference in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, will help decide whether the remarkable improvements we have seen in recent years reach all countries and communities across Africa.

This progress has, of course, rightly changed the global view of the continent from pessimism to one of optimism. But just as it was wrong in the past for international observers to overlook our continent’s successes, it would be equally wrong now to ignore or minimise the challenges ahead.

The fact is that too many of our fellow citizens still have no reason to be confident about their future. Putting this right by ending extreme poverty and delivering inclusive growth is the central aim of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) on which agreement must be reached later this year at the United Nations. But without sufficient funding, the goals will remain little more than good intentions.

Achieving such ambitions will be costly and way beyond the funding pledges made so far.

But the prize is also great. If the vision and courage is found to make this investment, a more prosperous, stable and fairer world in which everyone has a stake and all countries are on the path to self-reliance, will be the outcome.  We must not waste this chance.

It is why this week’s conference in Addis is so important. It is a unique opportunity for finance ministers from rich and poor countries to come together and draw up a detailed plan how and from whom the next set of development goals will be funded.

Closing the funding shortfall will not be easy. It will require a new social compact - a fresh vision of 21st century development finance that brings together aid, domestic resources and private sector tightly focused on delivering the right outcomes. It will need continued investment in critical areas like maternal and child health, family planning, nutrition, infectious diseases control, agricultural development and sanitation.  

Wealthier countries must meet their commitments to development aid. But developing nations, including those in Africa, must also increase the amount they spend on critical areas such as health, education and agriculture. We must own our future development.

Future financing must also recognise that, thanks to the progress of the last 15 years, the geography of poverty has changed. It means efforts must be focused most on the poorest people in the poorest countries while guarding against the vulnerable being hit because support has been withdrawn too quickly from those countries climbing out of poverty.

This also requires, more controversially, greater contributions from African countries and companies that have seen the greatest economic success. Those further down the path to prosperity to be ready to help fund progress in their neighbours in the coming years.

As we look around Africa, we have plenty of reason for pride.  Strong and resilient growth has been delivered. Health initiatives have saved millions of lives. Children once denied education are now in school. While support from outside donors has been important, it is African governments and civil society that have transformed lives and opportunities on the ground. 

It is now up to our continent to ensure that this progress can be shared by all our fellow citizens. How we are going to help achieve this goal is one of the critical decisions for Addis Ababa and the next few months.

-The author is the Director of the Africa team at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and works on policy, advocacy and government relations across the continent.

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