In a fine 3rd Feb 2020 morning, I attended a lecture by Prof. Jeffry Sachs on Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) and his pessimistic view on the progress made by countries and challenges which SDGs are facing given the increasing hostility towards multilateralism and the tilting of powerful states like USA and UK towards popularism and protectionism and bla bla bla.
For some unknown co-incidence, I was watching a video lecture on YouTube on that same afternoon by Nick Mount on Samuel Beckett’s “Waiting for Godot”, and bingo! I immediately connected the dots and started to write this parody on Godot, and here you have “Waiting for SDGs”. If you have not read that novel, and without risking to spoil the plot, “Waiting for Godot” is all about the absurd life with no purpose for life, no reckoning of time and an absolute value-less system. Similarly, SDGs are increasingly becoming like orphans with no guardian. Looking at the way the world is progressing with SDGs and the promise of 2030 one can, without doubt, see the absurd amnesia the world is suffering from, and countries waiting for SDGs is much similar to the two poor gentlemen in Beckett’s novel waiting for Godot.
Every day we are going back instead of going forward waiting for some progress on SDGs. During the MDG time, in the early 2000s, there was much more optimism and the UN played a great role in bringing people around the table and countries poured money and created success stories. For example, Jeff did talk about the fund to fight malaria in Africa and how it saves an estimated 40 million people. Progress on SDG needs rich countries and individuals giving grants rather than loans on social sectors (particularly education and health), but the libertarian elders in Washington and New York believe in the hardcore protestant ideology of market forces. Their “white man’s burden” ideology will keep the least developed countries stay in perpetual slavery (think of the (un)Lucky slave and his master Pozzo in the novel).
Rich countries love to use nice photos of poor boys and girls from poor countries - and better if they are smiling- and brag about in the UN how they are making progress here and there, but none feel comfortable to get serious - beyond these casual gestures - and commit to setting solid goals with accountable targets based on informed decisions. At the end of the day, the poor will remain an object of amusement and fun and the rich would find them good news coverage items. These rich countries have lost memory and tracking mechanism of time and probably turned blind as well (think of Pozzo again). They do not like data or statistics, they just want some media coverage and photoshoots with smiling poor girls to win the heart of voters and create an alternative truth around a populist fan (yes, I am talking about Trump and Boris Johnson).
What is the solution? will we ever meet Godot? Will humanity triumph on 1st Jan. 2030 and celebrate SDGs or will the drama continue with some new set of goals as we saw at the time of transition between MDGs and SDGs? I think we can eventually meet with Godot and get out of our current absurd world if we are successful first in identifying the root cause of the problem.
In my view, the problem lies in the absurd modern world that we are living in today where there is no reference to a value system. In other words, and here I agree with Jeffry Sachs, the elders who are driving the SDG agenda are libertarians who have no respect for human values or culture or religion or history. The solution is then is to return to a value system that has respect for local culture and religion. The attention needs to divert from placing money at the center of the development agenda to placing the poor human being at the center of the development agenda. The White Anglo-Saxon Protestant (WASP) elders need to be humble and respect other cultures and stop being imperial forces who assume the burden to civilize other nations.