Achieving equity in the socioeconomic opportunities open to different geographies seems to be the dominant factor in the emphasis accorded poverty eradication in the sustainable development goals. In some sense, the goal lines of poverty eradication and hunger were to address the poverty concerns of parts of Asia and the entirety of the African continent. These two regions are still in the grips of poverty. At the same time, that prosperity, well-being, and friendly environment are consistent with the realities of the developed world. Again, meeting the future needs of environmental sustainability requires the elimination of poverty. The argument here is twofold. On the one hand, poverty is seemingly responsible for polluting the environment through such channels as the massing of slums and shantytowns, building on waterways, deforestation and all those activities that seem to provoke climate change issues. Similarly, poverty seemingly makes those in that state of economic deprivation more vulnerable to climate change which affects their capacity to adapt to those changes necessary to withstand its effects quickly.
To that extent, poverty alleviation is, therefore, central to meeting sustainable development goals. It is at the very heart of the new global development agenda encapsulated in the sustainability framework. Although the sustainable development goals revolve around six central themes, the elevation of hunger and poverty takes a pre-eminent stand. As previously explained, if poverty and hunger eradication are not stipulated are some goals, what then is there for Africa and some parts of Asia? And if poverty in these regions continues to thrive, they will work against the realization of environmental sustainability as the poor always pollute the environment. These six core elements that make up the entirety of the sustainable development goals are (a) dignity which refers to the ending of poverty and inequality, (b) all peoples universal access to health and education, (c) prosperity through inclusive economies, (d) the protection of the planet and ecological system, (e) justice for all and the protection of human rights and (f) finally the promotion of global unity and cooperation to accelerate sustainable development.
The eradication of poverty takes the first position of these goals and their underlying six elements, for the reasons already mentioned. And since poverty and hunger go together, the latter comes second. Hunger and poverty are more prominent in Africa than in any other part of the world. Consequently, eradicating poverty and hunger in Africa can, in some sense, be synonymous with its elimination globally. It also somewhat implies that by doing so, it resolves Africa’s most pressing problems. The question is whether what Africa needs is just the elimination of poverty. In other words, is the eradication of poverty synonymous with desirable levels of prosperity and well-being, which is sought by humanity and the rest of the world? Why should African countries be appeased by merely having more of its population be able to survive on more than $1.25 a day rather than attaining elevated levels of prosperity and well-being?
While it is not a bad idea to eliminate poverty and hunger in its entirety, it, however, becomes a hindrance to speedy economic progress when it is positioned as an overarching target as is the case in the SDG. Being driven by the goals of poverty and hunger eradication only reminds one of the sayings that say that most people fail in life not because they aim too high and miss but because they aim too low and hit their foot. Poverty eradication for Africa; therefore, can only be a necessary condition at the most; a situation that ensures that most of its people no longer live like animals. Such goals are no guarantee of any escape from the vicious grip of socioeconomic vulnerability. Such a state does not guarantee large-scale migration into the desired circumstances of well-being and prosperity, which is the necessary condition.
Poverty conditions in Africa do not seem to have abated. Statistics also prove that much. The general expectation was that the combination of the millennium development goals and the sustainable development goals would have considerably eradicated poverty in the continent since many years of their implementation. According to a report by Accelerating Poverty Reduction in Africa, the proportion of the extreme poor within the continent dropped substantially by 13 percentage points between 1990 and 2015. In 1990 54% of Africans were in extreme poverty. The number came down to 41% in 2015. But in absolute terms and thanks to high population growth, the number of poor people increased from 278 million in 1990 to about 413 million in 2015. It is also predicted that by 2030 global poverty will become increasingly African, rising from 55% in 2015 to 90% in 2030. The implication is that hunger situations have also barely changed. More people, approximately twice the number in 1990 are hungry today. The culprits, they say, are the fertility of the African people and the attendant population growth rate. And because more of these supposedly fertile Africans live in rural areas, it is difficult to curb the growth rate.
So, what has changed since the days of the millennium development goals up until this point in time that the world has advanced so profoundly into the implementation of the sustainable development goals? How effective have these supporting efforts been in curbing the poverty status of the continent? A primary reason why much of the expectations for the realization of the dreams of prosperity and well-being of the Africans appeared elusive despite global efforts on poverty eradication is because of the wrong goal setting. In the first instance, the goal of poverty eradication ranks relatively low in the hierarchy of SDG. This seeming satisfaction of the African yearning is unfair and contrary to the underlying equity philosophy behind the sustainable development mindset. Poverty eradication, even if achieved, is not synonymous with the well-being and high quality of life desired by most Africans. What humanity is craving, and which indeed typifies the equitable tendency to development is the search for prosperity. Even if 60% of Africans that are living below the so-called poverty line through some magical process can earn the stipulated minimum of $1.25 per day, there is no guarantee that they would enjoy the quality of life that can be deemed consistent with equitable development. Therefore, there is a need to change the goal to reflect the original aspiration of the African person. Focusing on both the elimination of hunger and poverty are utterly low aspirations that will only perpetuate the conditions of disguised poverty in the garb of earning an income that is $1.25 or above.
African people are more desirous of flourishing well-being through prosperity creation process rather than poverty eradication mechanisms. The difference between the two lies in the spirit behind the goals set. For the eradication of poverty, the goal is to have as many people as possible cross the poverty line of $1.25 per day. That is entirely inconsistent with the purpose of prosperity creation. Even if most of the people in the continent can make $2.5 per day, they will barely be far away from poverty. Such income levels can only earn a disguised poverty status. $2.5 per day will hardly pay for the room space in a shantytown as well as provide two good meals per day. Prosperity creation, on the other hand, not only destroys poverty but in the main, creates the capacity for earning a good income with adequate shelter and feeding. It is the route to the realization of the request in the paternoster; “give us this day our daily bread”.
Prosperity creation stands on the principles of entrepreneurship rather than on the mechanisms propelling poverty eradication, most of which are driven by subsidies and aid as well as non-entrepreneurial vocational and skill-building programs. The last point deserves an additional explanation. Many government programs designed to equip participants with some artisanal skills such as carpentry, tailoring, masonry and so on operate on the premises that those who acquire these skills will be able to run on their own profitably. It is the same kind of thinking behind the type of education that the whites bequeathed to the African people. For instance, possessing a university degree is not a bill to success in life. Not even in the university degree. Skills and good education can be necessary for sharpening entrepreneurial success, but they are only necessary conditions. They do not satisfy the requirements for entrepreneurial success. Therefore, what Africa needs is to alter the SDG goal numbers one and two and replace them with the pursuit of entrepreneurial prosperity. These are the most guaranteed and sustainable routes to well-being and development. The agenda of swaying Africans into those two limiting goals can only lead to further stunting of the continent’s economic growth and development. By adopting the goals of entrepreneurial prosperity in place of the pursuit of poverty and hunger eradication, the continent set itself high aspirations that are genuinely consistent with where it should be in the committee of nations. Such aspirations should naturally be driven by a distinct set of indicators, policies, and programs country level. That is the kind of goal that will ensure that the continent provides lots of jobs for its teeming unemployed population, as well as flourish like other nations of the world.