African leaders did a remarkable thing on Friday: They called for the end of extreme poverty, in all its forms. The response to this rallying call will define our generation.
At the start of the Millennium, the world decided to work together to fight poverty, and agreed the Millennium Development Goals. Since then, these shared goals have spurred impressive progress, including in Liberia.
Life has certainly improved for Liberian children during the Millennium Development Goals era. The fastest reduction of preventable child deaths in Africa. 100 fewer children dying every 1000 births. Net enrolment in primary schools increasing by 42 percent. Life expectancy at birth increasing by an astounding 13 years. The Millennium Development Goals helped to spur this vital progress.
At the end of 2015, the Millennium Development Goals expire. We need a new plan.
After all, in Liberia there is still much to do. Most Liberians still live far below the $1.25 a day poverty line. Just this week, Save the Children published a report revealing that every year, 3,000 Liberian children die on their first day on earth.
What the world plans to do about poverty after 2015 will matter enormously to children in Liberia.
When the Millennium Development Goals were written, Africans didn’t have much of a say. This time must be different. African peoples must lead the debate.
This week Africa made a start. And Liberia led the way.
On Friday, the African Union’s High Level Committee of Heads of State on the Post-2015 Agenda, Chaired by Liberia’s President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, launched the ‘Common African Position’ on what the world should achieve by 2030.
The Common African Position is inspiring. It says the overarching aim of the post-2015 agenda should be the end poverty in all its forms.
And the African position also starts to set out a plan.
It’s full of exciting proposals. Equitable access to good quality affordable basic healthcare for all, education as the foundation for development, drinkable water for all, close the sanitation gap, decent and productive employment, action to reduce inequalities, fair taxation, wider access to social protection, universal human rights: the list goes on.
The African position also focuses on ending crucial drivers of poverty, like preventable newborn, child and maternal deaths, gender-based wage inequality, all forms of violence against women and children, child labour, and early marriage.
If poverty is to end in Liberia, these problems must end first.
Finally, the Common African Position is inspiring because it is, well, common.
The African leaders commit to speak with one voice, and act in unity whilst seeking to ensure Africa’s voice is integrated into the global development agenda.
As the global negotiations in New York become ever more fraught, a unified voice for Africa will add up to more than the sum of its parts.
And if African leaders continue to reach out to their peoples, asking them what they want, then Africa’s shared voice will only be more legitimate and more persuasive on the world stage. The post-2015 framework will be more likely to address people’s needs and aspirations.
At the turn of the Millennium, the world debated what people in richer countries thought Africans needed. This time, if Africans speak up, the world might work with African peoples to achieve what Africans say they want.