My Experience and Highlights from the 3rd African Regional Forum on Sustainable Development

 

The African Regional Forum on Sustainable Development was a three day conference designed to link national and global discourse serving as multi-stakeholder platform to promote the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Working jointly with the African Union Commission and the African Development Bank and in collaboration with other United Nation agencies, Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) organized the 2017 session of the Africa Regional Forum in preparation for the 2017 high-level political forum. Thus it forms an integral pillar of the follow-up and review architecture for the 2030 Agenda.

The 2017 session was held from 17 to 19 May 2017 at the United Nations Conference Centre in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Participants were from all 54 member States of ECA. These include high level experts from ministries or agencies in charge of economic planning and finance, environment and social affairs, mining and mineral resources, and science and technology, representatives of major groups and other stakeholders, including civil society, business and industry organizations, universities and research institutions. Also present were regional economic communities, the United Nations and other international agencies and organizations as well as Development Partners.  The overall objective of the 2017 session of the Africa Regional Forum was to undertake regional follow-up and review and to facilitate learning, including the sharing of experience and lessons learned to advance implementation of the 2030 Agenda and Agenda 2063.

YES-Ghana being the nation’s most extensive youth development organisation working towards the promotion of a sustainable and productive future for all young people in Ghana through our numerous projects such as the UNDP Ghana office supported SDG’s Youth Action Campaign; we were immediately drawn to the conference. It provided opportunity to taking stock of preparations, including early signs of progress, along with the challenges encountered, and provided a space for peer learning and the provision of mutual support. I, as the Project Manager and Ms Belvy Naa Ofori our SDGs Ambassador, represented YES-Ghana at the conference. For us at YES-Ghana, this was a great opportunity to first and foremost share our experience in implementing the SDG’s and our collaborative efforts in Ghana. Then learn first-hand what others are doing across the continent and also to speak to and network with experts and similar organisations like ours promoting sustainable development.

Capacity development workshop for major groups and other stakeholders

Figure 1: Myself, seated first left-back row at the Capacity Development Workshop for MGoS.

The two previous Regional Forums (2015 and 2016) comprised pre-forum meetings and the main sessions. The 2017 session was no exception as it was preceded by a number of meetings, whose outcomes then fed into the deliberations during the general session. One of such meetings of particular interest to us was the capacity development workshop for major groups and other stakeholders (MGoS). This meeting was held on the first day of the conference in parallel with the tenth session of the Committee on Sustainable Development. The workshop brought together representatives of African MGoS, with the aim of strengthening the capacity of these groups and stakeholders to engage effectively in the follow-up to and review of the implementation of the two agendas; Agenda 2030 and 2063. The workshop adopted an outcome that fed into deliberations by the Forum. Major Groups Statement-Long Final (1).pdf

Such a meeting with a relatively small group really contributed to the intimacy of the Forum and made for great opportunities to meet and have discussions with other attendees. It also provided an opportunity for us to give a briefing on what YES-Ghana is doing at the national level with regards to the implementation of our Youth Action Campaign. Through this project we are providing a generational opportunity for young people in Ghana to become leaders in decision making. We do so by taking part in the design, implementation and monitoring of the development framework that will directly affect their lives. A notable activity we are undertaking is the development of youth-friendly, youth-targeted Information. The Education and Communications (IEC) material is used across all SDG Youth Action Campaign activities. We also support/initiate/etc. the formation of school/community youth clubs to provide a platform for youth learning. Through planned meetings and actions young people learn about the goals.

Other activities include our annual essay competitions which provide an opportunity for young people in all regions of the country to express their views and aspirations, as well as offer perspectives on critical development issues. And also our SDGs Youth Action Conference to be held on International Youth Day 2017 and every other year will bring together at least 500 young leaders from across the country, including members of the SDG Youth Clubs, to provide a rare opportunity for youth leaders to learn and share their SDG action experiences by showcasing their projects and activities, highlighting successes and challenges, and also receiving feedback.

We also took the opportunity to the project our collaborative engagements in Ghana such as leading the formation of the SDG’s Youth Working Group-Ghana and the wonderful work being done by the CSO’s platform on SDG’s in Ghana.

At the end of the meeting, a small drafting team was constituted of which I was a member of the sub-team; ‘children and youth issues’, to finalize the MGoS statement for presentation to ARFSD 3. A draft statement was then forwarded to delegates for their consideration. Closing the meeting, Fatima Denton, Director, Special Initiatives Division, UNECA, stressed the time-sensitivity of the scale and pace of investments needed to realize the SDGs, noting that MGoS can serve as a “moral compass on the ground” in evaluating strategies and plans for achieving targets. She also noted the need for MGoS to form reciprocal links with governments and the private sector, especially as the implementation of the SDGs will require new institutional configurations beyond business-as-usual.

Figure 2:  Belvy Naa Teide Ofori – YES-GH’s SDG’s Ambassador at the Capacity Development Workshop for MGoS

Tenth Session of the Committee for Sustainable Development (CSD-10)

The CSD-10 as was mentioned by Fatima Denton, the Director of the Special Initiatives Division at UNECA, took place in the context of the ARFSD, which is placed to strategically link national and global discourses on sustainable development.

Participants discussed a variety of issues related to the 2016-2017 programmes of work and the priority areas of work for the 2018–2019 biennium.  Delegates highlighted the need to contextualize green economy approaches to sub-regional differences and that the visibility of the UNECA and ACPC could be increased in African sub-regions. A number of delegates stressed the importance of public-private partnerships and private sector investment in green economy national strategies as well as the importance of inter-ministerial coordination at the country level for SDG implementation. Other issues discussed included supporting the Africa Mining Vision in the new UNECA strategic framework. At this meeting, a number of delegates noted country level initiatives and events relevant to the work programme of the UNECA sub-programme.

The chair of the session proposed that the eleventh session of the CSD take place in April/May 2019, and invited Member States to express interest in hosting the event.  In closing, the UNECA stressed the importance of working with Member States to develop top priorities in the run up to the HLPF.

Consideration and Adoption of Key Messages

At the plenary session on the last day of the conference, participants came together to consider the modalities for discussing and adopting key messages of ARFSD 3. Some participants queried whether the recommendations provided by the Forum would be legally binding. The Secretariat responded by confirming that recommendations would not be binding, but would serve as an instrument to advocate for further support from the international community. In response, Member States and MGoS stressed the importance of committing the international community to South-South as well as North- South cooperation, using agreed UN language on sexual and reproductive health, rather than proposing new language and assuring that recommendations from the Forum do not contradict positions of national heads of state. The plenary adjourned to revise the document based on the outcomes of the panel sessions and comments received.

Commenting on the revised document, participants made a number of recommendations, including: using the phrase “women and girls rights” consistently throughout the document; adding a paragraph on the specific needs of women in sensitive contexts, such as refugee women and displaced women; adding text on the protection of marine resources, extractive resources and energy resources within the Exclusive Economic Zones of Member States; and adding text on the protection of riverine and coastal communities from environmental impacts, such as pollution.

Closing

The Chair mentioned that the next meeting would take place at the end of April or early May 2018. Closing the workshop, some participants suggested that it would be wise to afford Member States the opportunity to express their candidature. Mauritania, Nigeria and Gambia expressed their interest in hosting the next meeting. Members from the West African sub-region stated that it was the turn of the sub-region to host the meeting. The chair thanked all Members and participants and brought the meeting to a close.

So this concludes some of my key take-aways from the 3rd edition of the African Regional Forum on Sustainable Development. We met so many great like-minded, passionate and enthusiastic people to share and learn from which made the conference really special. Now, having participated in this conference and spent the time learning about what others are doing elsewhere in terms of implementing the SDG’s and striving to make an impact, we at YES-Ghana feel more compelled than ever to continue to work towards ensuring that no young person is left behind and that no goal is considered met unless met for all.  It is our belief that the time is right for young people to become the leaders of development. Hence, we are going to continue these engagements, both at national and international levels, which will provide much needed opportunities for learning, sharing, and networking.

 

Gallery

Figure 3: Scenes from the 3rd African Regional Forum on Sustainable Development

 

Figure 4: Scenes from the 3rd African Regional Forum on Sustainable Development.

 

 

Figure 5: Scenes from the 3rd African Regional Forum on Sustainable Development.

 

Story by Emmanuel Nomafo