Difficulties in Implementing Sustainable Development Goals in Africa

July 14, 2023
May 11, 2023

The 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are a set of global goals adopted by the United Nations in 2015 as part of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The goals are intended to guide and encourage sustainable development in all countries, in social, economic, and environmental dimensions. The SDGs are: 

These goals are interconnected, and progress in one area can help to achieve progress in others. The SDGs have been adopted by countries around the world and are being implemented through a variety of initiatives and programs.

In Africa, progress towards achieving the SDGs has been mixed. The continent faces a range of challenges, including poverty, hunger, disease, scarcity of resources and environmental degradation. However, there have been some successes in areas such as education, access to clean water and economic growth. Some specific initiatives that have been implemented in Africa are: 

  • The African Union's Agenda 2063, which aims to promote social, economic, and political integration across the continent, and 
  • The African Development Bank's High 5s, which focuses on these five priority areas for development: Light Up and Power Africa, Feed Africa, Industrialize Africa, Integrate Africa, and Improve the Quality of Life for the People of Africa, 
  • The United Nations Development Programme's Africa Accelerator Lab, a network of innovation labs across the continent that work to find new solutions to development challenges.

Challenges in Implementing the SDGs

Besides all these initiatives, the overall average SDG score across all African member countries was 53.82 in 2020, which is slightly higher than the 2019 average. This still implies that after four years of SDG implementation, the African continent is only halfway towards achieving the SDG goals and targets by 2030. These limitations can be attributed to some impending African challenges.

One of the major challenges in implementing sustainable development goals in Africa is the economic constraints faced by many African countries. African economies are largely dependent on the export of primary commodities, making them vulnerable to fluctuations in commodity prices. Nearly 60% of African countries depend on the export of primary commodities despite decade-long efforts to diversify. This leaves little room for diversification and innovation, which is crucial for the implementation of the SDGs. After this was noticed, the United Nations advised African countries to break their reliance on commodities exports for economic growth and diversify toward higher-value services such as technology and financial services. Furthermore, many African countries have a weak tax base and rely heavily on foreign aid, making it difficult to finance sustainable development initiatives.

African countries need to prioritise economic diversification and local value addition to overcome this challenge. Governments can create more sustainable and resilient economies by moving away from a commodity-dependent economy. This can be achieved by investing more in education and training programs to develop the skills and knowledge necessary to support local innovation, entrepreneurship and production. Additionally, governments can explore alternative sources of financing, such as green bonds or private investment. With this, the high dependence on primary commodity export and foreign aid will be highly reduced, making the African economies more independent and self-sustaining.

Another significant challenge in enacting the SDGs in Africa is political instability. Many African countries have a history of political turmoil, corruption, and weak governance. This instability can make implementing policies and programs that require long-term planning and investment difficult. 

To address this challenge, African countries must prioritize good governance and strengthen their institutions. This can be achieved through reforms in areas such as public administration, judiciary, and law enforcement. Governments must also work to build trust with citizens by promoting transparency and accountability in decision-making processes. Civil society organizations, the media, and other stakeholders can play a crucial role in holding governments accountable and advocating for sustainable development initiatives.

Another major obstacle to the implementation of SDGs is ecological barriers. Environmental challenges such as climate change, deforestation, desertification and high carbon footprints pose significant obstacles to the implementation of SDGs in Africa. Many African countries are highly invested in fossil fuels and disposable plastics. These actions contribute negatively to the natural order of our ecosystem, with global warming being one of the most significant side effects.

To tackle this, African countries must prioritize climate action and adopt sustainable land management practices. This can be achieved through reforestation, renewable energy, and sustainable agriculture initiatives. African countries must also work together to advocate for climate action on the global stage, as the impacts of climate change are not limited by national borders.

Finally, cultural challenges can also present difficulties in performing some SDGs in Africa. Many African countries have diverse cultural traditions and beliefs that can conflict with modern sustainable development practices. Let's consider the specific goal of gender equality (SDG 5) as an example. In many African cultures, there are deep-rooted patriarchal norms and traditional gender roles that assign specific responsibilities and expectations to men and women. These cultural beliefs can pose significant challenges to achieving gender equality and implementing the SDGs. For instance, traditional beliefs may perpetuate the idea that women should primarily be caregivers and homemakers, limiting their opportunities for education, employment, and leadership positions. This cultural bias can hinder efforts to empower women and girls, reduce gender-based violence, and ensure equal access to resources and opportunities. Moreover, some cultural practices, such as early marriage and female genital mutilation, may directly violate human rights and impede progress towards gender equality. These practices are deeply entrenched in certain communities and are often justified by cultural norms, making it difficult to eradicate them solely through policy interventions.

To overcome this challenge, African countries must prioritise cultural sensitivity and inclusivity in sustainable development initiatives. This can be achieved by involving local communities in the planning and implementation of projects and programs. Governments must also work to promote gender equality and women's empowerment, as women are often disproportionately affected by environmental and social challenges.

Implementing SDGs in Africa presents a unique set of challenges. To overcome these challenges, African countries must prioritize economic diversification, good governance, climate action, and cultural sensitivity. With all these sustainable initiatives in place, methods of measuring progress and accountability systems need to be set in place for proper evaluation and monitoring of the state of sustainability within the continent. Additionally, African countries must work together and collaborate with international partners to achieve sustainable development goals and create a better future for the continent and the world.

Joshua Ejim

Research Analyst

Joshua Ejim is a research analyst with a B.ENG in Civil Engineering who develops articles, research reports, white papers, and other published documents. An ethical hard worker that strives to be the best through learning and a fixed dedication to the course. He also enjoys photography, writing, and traveling in his leisure.