By Georges van Montfort*
This week, representatives of African governments, United Nations Agencies, civil society organisations, private sector, women groups, youth groups and other stakeholders converge in Victoria Falls for the sixth session of the Africa Regional Forum on Sustainable Development. Organised annually, the forum provides an opportunity for African countries to advance the implementation of the SDGs and Agenda 2063 through progress reviews; identification of challenges and opportunities, as well as peer learning on transformative solutions for sustainable development.
Across the region, many countries, Zimbabwe included, are currently preparing Voluntary National Reviews (VNR) in the spirit of renewed partnership for the SDGs. These reviews, to be presented at the High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development in July, are useful, primarily, for national dialogue and policy formulation, peer learning and strategic positioning of individual African states and the region as a whole.
Here in Zimbabwe, UNDP, together with other members of the United Nations system, are supporting the preparation of the first-ever national SDG Progress Report and the second VNR, to accurately and comprehensively reflect the status of SDGs implementation, highlighting the challenges faced and prospects for the future.
The regional forum and the national review are timely for Zimbabwe as we begin the ‘Decade of Action’ – a decade to deliver a transformed and prosperous Africa. The forum comes at defining time in Zimbabwe’s development journey: at the tail end of the Transitional Stabilization Programme and the start of the preparation for the next National Development Strategy. There is, undoubtedly, a need to look back and learn useful lessons from the SDG implementation over the past five years, a period of difficult economic conditions but nonetheless un-matched resilience by Zimbabweans. It is important for the country to chart a new path for accelerating progress towards the SDGs.
At the continental level, there are great opportunities – Zimbabwe joining the Africa Peer Review Mechanism, and the ratification of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCTA) to name a few. This latter holds much promise for the region and its people through promoting intra-regional commerce and boosting the region’s trading position on the global scene by strengthening the African voice within the multilateral trading system. However, Zimbabwe needs to ready itself for this trade openness and promote its export industries and import substitution to fully benefit from this progressive agreement.
The promise of the SDGs – similar to the ambition of Zimbabwe’s Vision 2030 – requires a “business unusual” approach to development, a collective and concerted action of all and sundry. The goals are not about poverty reduction, they require poverty eradication, not about improving access to energy, but ensuring universal access to affordable, reliable and modern energy services etc. With only 10 years left to reach the goals, our ambition levels must exceed even that of our dreams. We may not reach all goals in all countries, but we should not fail for want of trying.
Zimbabwe is no exception to this: yes, we recognize the challenges, but those should not cloud our vision or dampen our ambition. This is what development is all about, and success will be possible when we all pull in the same direction to transform the opportunities into tangle benefits for the people, the economy and the environment. The #DecadeOfAction must be a period of concerted and tangible action. Development will not occur by happenstance, and nothing should be left to chance. It is for this reason that I welcome the opportunity that the forum will accord Zimbabwe, being the host, to guide the design of the development of transformative strategies for accelerating progress towards the SDGs and Agenda 2063 in the country and the region as a whole. It is also my hope that the transformative strategies will be translated into action at the national level in Zimbabwe.
Over the next few days, the country has an opportunity to engage with her neighbours and peers from across the region and evolve strategies that deliver the promise of the SDGs – a promise of prosperity for the people in a peaceful environment in harmony with mother nature. UNDP is committed to accompanying the country in its the journey towards the SDG promise – amongst others – by supporting the preparation and implementation of the SDG-based National Development Strategy.
*Mr Georges van Montfort is the UNDP Resident Representative for Zimbabwe