Africa is halfway towards achieving SDGs, report

By Ronda Naidu

Africa is halfway towards achieving SDGs, report

After four years of SDG implementation, the African continent is only halfway towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030. This is the conclusion of the 2020 Africa Sustainable Development Report released in March 2022, the fourth in a series of reports that date back to 2017 that looks at Africa’s progress towards the SDGs and the objectives of the African Union’s Agenda 2063.

Report overview

The report evaluates the SDGs under the five pillars of people, prosperity, planet, peace, and partnerships. These pillars closely correspond to the five transformational outcomes of Agenda 2063 and its 20 goals and break down the goals into smaller areas of analysis.

The analysis focuses on comparing the progress and challenges according to the continent’s sub-regions of Northern Africa, Western Africa, Central Africa, Eastern Africa, and Southern Africa.

Fig. 1. Five pillars of the Sustainable Development Goals and Agenda 2063

Source: 2020 Africa Sustainable Development Report


The report noted that African governments have made significant efforts to incorporate the SDGs and the goals of Agenda 2063 into national strategies and development plans with government units having been identified to coordinate their implementation and the prioritization of targets and indicators.

In 2019, the overall Africa SDG progress score was 52.9% representing a gap of 47.1%. In 2020, the average score across the continent was 53.82 which indicates that “after four years of SDG implementation, the African continent is only halfway towards achieving the SDG goals and targets by 2030,” the report states.

In terms of SDG ranking in 2020, the top five countries were Tunisia (1), Mauritius (2), Morocco (3), Algeria (4), and Cape Verde (5).

People pillar

The report examines the broad themes of poverty, hunger, health, education, and gender under the people pillar with the single most important goal being progress towards reducing and eliminating poverty.

According to the report, the absolute number of poor people in Africa has increased. The poverty headcount has not fallen fast enough to keep pace with, much less exceed, population growth which doubled from 1990 to 2018. The World Bank estimates that there were 284 million people living in extreme poverty in 1990 in Africa excluding Northern Africa, compared with 433 million in 2018.

A 2021 study by the African Development Bank estimated that 30 million Africans were pushed into extreme poverty in 2020.

Prosperity pillar

Three key characteristics are examined under the prosperity pillar which are Africa’s efforts to achieve inclusive economic growth, access to affordable energy, and internet access as a reflection of infrastructure.

The report shows that economic growth, measured by per capita income growth, lagged behind real income growth on the continent between 1980 and 2019. This, in effect, means that even periods of modest growth have not necessarily translated into higher standards of living but instead have resulted in the paradox of greater income inequality.

Fig.2 Access to energy by subregion (%) (2000 and 2018)

Source: 2020 Africa Sustainable Development Report

Between 2000 and 2018, on average Africa more than doubled energy access with data showing that just above 50% of the population is connected. However, there were wide variations among African countries.

In terms of internet access, the report shows that on average, the number of internet users per 100 increased from almost 12 in 2011 to 39 in 2018. This represents a 225% increase although in real terms that is relatively low.

Planet pillar

Many African countries have the legal and policy frameworks required to address environmental concerns but progress has, however, been slow. According to the Environmental Performance Index (EPI), Seychelles ranked highest on the continent at 33, with Egypt, Gabon, Mauritius, Morocco, South Africa, and Tunisia also making it into the top 100.

The report makes particular mention that African countries may benefit from the growing attention of the global community to the existential importance of combating climate change in this generation, thus leading to higher resource flows to respond to Africa’s environmental challenges and the acknowledgment that while Africa is bearing the brunt of climate change, it is largely not responsible for its causes.

Peace pillar

The report clearly states that Africa is unlikely to achieve any of its goals for peace, security, and governance. In general, there has been a decline in democratic values, challenges in holding free and fair elections, and unconstitutional changes of government.

Further challenges under the peace pillar include human rights abuse, corruption, a growing demographic youth bulge, unequal access to resources, and rising unemployment.

Partnerships pillar

The focus under the partnerships pillar is the critical role of development financing as the underlying condition required for African governments to achieve the 2030 Agenda and Agenda 2063. It is examined under the lens of domestic resource management, the composition of financial flows from both domestic and international sources, and debt management.

Fig.3 African indebtedness and comparator regions (percentage of gross national income, 2011–2020)

Source: 2020 Africa Sustainable Development Report

The analysis finds that the majority of African countries are not on track to take “full responsibility for financing [their] development goals” as defined by either the 2030 Agenda or Agenda 2063.

The analysis also reveals that Africa’s debt management situation is unsustainable. A 2021 study by the United Nations Development Programme found that 33 out of 54 African countries are among the most ‘debt vulnerable’ in the world. This debt position has been exacerbated by the response and recovery efforts related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Progress made

Nonetheless, it must be noted that Africa has made remarkable progress in certain development areas including substantial declines in maternal and child deaths and steady decreases in HIV infection rates, malaria, and tuberculosis as well as considerable progress in primary school enrolment and youth literacy.

In terms of gender equality and empowerment, between 2013 and 2019 the proportion of seats held by women in national parliaments in Africa (excluding Northern Africa) increased by three percentage points.

The report also highlights that the majority of governments in Africa have made significant efforts to incorporate the SDGs and Agenda 2063 into their national development plans.

A concerted effort is underway to drive forward climate action and a just energy transition across Africa as noted at the recent High-level Dialogue on Energy and the 26th UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26). According to the report, access to clean, renewable energy as well as digital solutions are expected to make inroads into the persistent challenges of poverty and inequality that Africa has chronically faced.