The Sunday Mail
Zimbabwe will join the rest of the world this month at this year’s major global gathering — the SDG Summit — at UN Headquarters in New York, where global leaders will convene to take stock and commit to accelerate progress to achieve the SDGs by 2030.
The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and its 17 goals represent collective commitment to tackle challenges, ranging from poverty, education, climate change, inequality, environmental degradation to peace and more.
As Zimbabwe and the world prepare for the global summit, in this piece, I share my perspectives on the SDGs as the pathway towards a more just and inclusive society in Zimbabwe.
One of the fundamental principles of the SDGs is leaving no one behind.
This commitment aligns with human rights principles, which emphasise the equal worth and dignity of all individuals.
Integrating SDGs with human rights frameworks ensures that the most marginalised and vulnerable populations are not forgotten or excluded in the pursuit of sustainable development.
Among the national objectives outlined in the Zimbabwean Constitution is fostering fundamental rights and freedoms and to facilitate rapid and equitable development.
As such, aligning the pursuit of SDGs with human rights standards and principles can accelerate progress and achieve inclusive socio-economic growth that improves quality of life and livelihoods and ensures the realisation of fundamental human rights for all.
While both human rights and the SDGs are independently important, it is essential to recognise their interdependence and promote their effective integration within Zimbabwe’s social, economic and political landscape.
So, what will it take for Zimbabwe to achieve this?
First, quality and transformative education. Ensuring access to quality education for all children is crucial to achieving SDG4.
Zimbabwe has done well in ensuring universal primary and secondary school enrolment.
During my travel on official duties across Zimbabwe, I take heart to see that Zimbabwe has done well to ensure availability of schools in every corner of the country, including in the remotest areas.
Along the global commitment of transforming education and the country’s Education 5.0 policy, Zimbabwe has now to scale up investments, including improving infrastructure, particularly access to ICT in schools, school meals and water and sanitation facilities, increasing teacher training and support, and reducing barriers to education, particularly for marginalised groups such as persons with disabilities and intensifying campaigns to reduce teenage pregnancies and end early marriages to achieve gender parity at higher and tertiary levels.
There is need also to scale up the Government initiative of innovation hubs-cum-start-up centres in State universities grounded on solving specific development and economic challenges in Zimbabwe.
Second, health and well-being: Promoting universal healthcare coverage, improving healthcare facilities, and addressing key health challenges such as HIV/AIDS, malaria and maternal mortality are essential for achieving the SDG 3 in Zimbabwe.
Zimbabwe, with support from UN and other partners, has achieved impressive global milestones such as the 95-95-95 towards ending AIDS and containing malaria and TB.
However, investments are needed to tackle growing challenges of non-communicable diseases that include mental health, diabetes, hypertension and cancer, as well as traffic injuries/fatalities.
Drug and alcohol abuse — particularly among young people — as well as road safety, require concerted action by Government and society.
Third, gender equality and women empowerment: Promoting gender equality and empowering women are crucial for Zimbabwe to achieve SDG 5.
This involves combating gender-based violence, ensuring equal access to education and economic opportunities, and empowering women and girls.
We must sustain the gains and build on programmes such as UN’s Spotlight Initiative to eliminate violence against women and girls, funded by the European Union; UN electoral support to ensure women participation for public office, the Government of Zimbabwe’s High-Level Political Compact launched by the President and resultant investments in a safe market.
We must also build on programmes like women banks and access to productive assets such as land and farming input schemes, resilience and asset building programmes for rural women. Uplifting over 50 percent of the entire population that happens to be women and girls is smart and a strategic investment in the country’s quest to achieve the SDGs and equally contributes to advancing women’s rights.
Fourth, poverty eradication and addressing climate change: Over the past years, Zimbabwe has been grappling with economic challenges owing to exchange rate fluctuations, recurrent climate-induced crises, and impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and the Ukraine -Russia war.
The country is on a positive trajectory, with the agriculture sector on a rebound, Government’s relentless effort to revamp mining and value addition, and the expanding tourism sector and investments being made in addressing human-wildlife conflict and environmental sustainability.
These gains notwithstanding, ending poverty and economic boom remains elusive.
As such, addressing poverty and promoting sustainable economic development remain critical to achieving the SDGs in Zimbabwe.
This includes implementing comprehensive social protection programmes, putting in place early warning and anticipatory response plans to tackle natural disasters such as cyclones and looming El Nino-induced droughts and disease outbreaks, and promoting economic opportunities through increasing access to finance and entrepreneurship opportunities for women and young people.
Fifth, resolving the debt and arrears overhang to unlock capital and attract domestic and foreign direct investments.
From my years of experience in development, I can attest with a degree of certainty that public investment, and overseas development assistance (ODA) should be used to catalyse public-private partnership for transformational economic progress and creation of sizable middle-income society.
Zimbabwe’s capacity for public investments is currently encumbered by the debt and arrears overhang, which needs to be urgently addressed as outlined in the roadmap drawn from the series of high-level structured dialogues.
Concurrently, the Government should be supported to implement the economic and democratic governance reforms, including settling agreed-to outstanding compensation of the former farmers and bilateral investment agreements without putting in jeopardy the gains made in social and public investments and straining social services.
To build on investments made thus far and scale up on the above-mentioned areas and increase momentum on the SDGs, the need to adhere to good governance principles, including adoption of e-governance, fostering strong institutions and ensuring the rule of law cannot be overemphasised.
This includes promoting access to justice, combating corruption, promoting peaceful and inclusive societies and ensuring the protection of economic, social, civil and political rights.
For instance, transparent, efficient and strong institutions contribute to minimising corruption, which can free up resources that can be channelled to development projects, thus supporting the SDGs the Government has prioritised, namely, SDG 2 (zero hunger), SDG 3 (good health and well-being), SDG 4 (quality education), SDG 5 (gender equality), SDG 6 (clean water and sanitation), SDG 7 (affordable and clean energy), SDG 8 (decent work and economic growth), SDG 9 (industry, innovation, and infrastructure) and SDG 13 (climate action).
Addressing the above issues with the urgency they deserve requires a whole-government and whole-society approach and strong international cooperation anchored in the UN Charter and its ethos of multilateralism, shared responsibility and global solidarity.
The UN in Zimbabwe remains committed to march in lockstep with the Government and people of Zimbabwe through adopting the UN Secretary- General’s new policy direction of UN 2.0, which seeks to enhance the United Nations’ effectiveness and efficiency in accelerating progress on the SDGs by leveraging on innovative technologies and fostering global collaboration.
Edward Kallon is the UN Resident Co-ordinator to Zimbabwe, and Representative of the UN Secretary-General in the country.