Walking Towards Transformation: Africa’s Journey to Sustainable Development Post ARFSD-10

Hod Anyigba, Chief Economist of ITUC-Africa writes about the work of the union delegation at the 10th African Regional Forum on Sustainable Development, and their push for sustainable, inclusive policies, advocating for decent work, universal social protection, and just transition pathways to combat poverty and climate change.

Every morning, 11-year-old Adama embarks on a remarkable journey. With her worn-out school bag slung over her shoulder, she sets out on a 10-kilometer walk to school, traversing dusty paths and rugged terrain. Adama’s story epitomizes the resilience and determination ingrained in the fabric of African communities. But behind her youthful determination lies a stark reality – a reality shaped by the harsh realities of poverty, hunger, and environmental degradation. Adama’s family, like many others across Africa, faces formidable challenges. With her mother toiling as a trader in the informal economy and her father unable to secure stable employment, the family struggles to make ends meet. Adama herself often goes to bed hungry, with meals scarce and undernourished. Yet, amidst these hardships, her spirit remains unbroken, fueled by the hope for a better tomorrow.

But hope alone cannot overcome the complex web of challenges confronting Africa. Climate change has exacerbated the situation, drying up once-abundant water sources and pushing Adama’s daily trek for water from a mere kilometer to a grueling seven kilometers. As the impacts of climate change intensify, so too do the struggles faced by Adama’s family and countless others across the continent. In the face of such adversity, the outcomes of the 10th African Regional Forum on Sustainable Development (ARFSD-10) offer a glimmer of hope. The delegates, representing diverse stakeholders from across Africa, convened to chart a path towards sustainable development – a path that holds the promise of transforming Adama’s reality and that of millions like her.

At the heart of the forum’s deliberations lies a recognition of the urgent need for Africa’s economic transformation to align with the ambitious goals of Agenda 2030 and Agenda 2063. The Addis Ababa Declaration, adopted at the forum (April 23-26, 2024), underscores the imperative of delivering sustainable, resilient, and innovative solutions to eradicate poverty, hunger, and inequality in all its forms. The commitments outlined in the declaration span a wide spectrum of issues, from sustainable development and financing to international peace and security, scientific innovation, and digital cooperation. They call for bold action to reform global financial institutions, strengthen governance frameworks, and leverage emerging technologies for inclusive development.

But words alone are not enough. The true test lies in translating these commitments into tangible actions that bring about meaningful change in the lives of Adama and others on the front lines of Africa’s development challenges. It is a test that requires collective effort and unwavering commitment from all stakeholders – from governments and international organizations to civil society and the private sector.
As trade unions, the African Regional Organization of the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC-Africa) and the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) have a crucial role to play in this endeavour. By advocating for policies that prioritize decent work, social protection, and environmental sustainability, trade unions can amplify the voices of workers and marginalized communities, driving forward the agenda for sustainable development.

ITUC-Africa delegates attending the ARFSD-10 emphasized the necessity for the realization of Just Transition Pathways as agreed upon by African member states ahead of COP28. They highlighted Somalia’s groundbreaking enactment of Just Transition into law by incorporating a standalone article in the Environmental Management Law, marking it the first instance in Africa where Just Transition has become law. Head of delegation Hod Anyigba from ITUC-Africa also stated that the realization of Just Transition would not be possible without adopting a social dialogue approach, where the attitude of society as a whole is embraced. Given that the climate-induced crisis is a national crisis, he called on African member states to realize Just Transition pathways based on social dialogue.

In light of these recommendations, trade unions put forth the following additional points for consideration: First, trade unions advocate for the implementation of universal social protection in line with ILO standards. This entails ensuring that all workers, regardless of their employment status, have access to adequate social protection measures, including healthcare, pensions, and unemployment benefits. Moreover, it is imperative to protect the vulnerable segments of society, including informal workers, women, and youth, who are often disproportionately affected by economic shocks and crises. Second, trade unions call for the guarantee of decent work and a minimum wage for workers across all sectors of the economy. Decent work encompasses fair wages, safe working conditions, and the protection of workers’ rights. By ensuring decent work for all, African countries can promote inclusive growth and reduce poverty, laying the foundation for sustainable development. Lastly, trade unions advocate for the implementation of just transition policies based on effective and inclusive social dialogue in all sectors of the economy, including agriculture. Just transition policies are essential for managing the shift to a low-carbon economy while safeguarding the rights and livelihoods of workers and communities affected by economic restructuring. By involving workers and other stakeholders in the decision-making process, African countries can ensure that the transition to sustainable development is fair and inclusive.

The journey towards sustainable development in Africa requires a concerted effort from all stakeholders, including trade unions, governments, and civil society. By working together and embracing bold and innovative solutions, Africa can overcome its development challenges and create a future where every child, like Adama, has the opportunity to thrive and prosper.