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“OpFOL and the MDG’s” – it sounds a bit like one of those many pop groups that arose in

the height of the pop music explosion in the ’60 (for those of us who are old enou
gh to remember those times!). “Freddie and the Dreamers,” “Gerry and the Pacemakers,” an
d “OpFOL and the MDGs.” But far from the glittering, superficial world of pop music,
OpFol and the MDG’s actually stands for Operation Fullness of Life and the Millen
nium Development Goals. One of the significant events of our first year in Ugand
a is that we, Rob and I, came to realise that it is no longer appropriate to tie
the work of OpFOL into the MDGs’ – and this communication will explain why, and exp
ose the MDG’s for the fraud that they are! The big problem, that we have come to s
ee, is that the MDG’s are all about numbers, simply statistics – and they do not, in
reality, address quality of life.
The background is that at the tail-end of the last century the great and the goo
d of the United Nations came together and set 8 goals that were to be achieved g
lobally by 2015. These were called the Millennium Development Goals and the goal
s are to:
Goal 1: Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger
Goal 2: Achieve universal primary education
Goal 3: Promote gender equality and empower women
Goal 4: Reduce child mortality
Goal 5: Improve maternal health
Goal 6: Combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases
Goal 7: Ensure environmental sustainability
Goal 8: Develop a Global Partnership for Development.
They all sound great, they were announced with much fanfare, and they have joine
d the international aid band-wagon as one of the great money-spinners for those
involved in the international aid business. Every now and then meetings are held
at which representatives from donor and recipient countries gather together and
, amidst comfort and luxurious food beyond the reach of most of us, pontificate
about how well – or not – this grand scheme is getting along. There are usually many
claims about how well some countries are doing at eradicating poverty, and how
hard some other countries are struggling to make any progress at all; there are
proud announcements by recipient nations about how well they are doing – and plain
tive cries about how much better they would be doing if only the donor community
increased their aid. And so it goes on.
But it doesn’t take too much knowledge to realise that these MDG’s are but window-dr
essing that give the people of the North (and perhaps even the South) the impres
sion that their leaders really do care about poverty and its associated ills, an
d that the alleged progress on the goals allow those in the North to sleep easy
in their beds and ignore the calls of those who cry out about the injustice and
inadequacy of the current international aid system.
Take the first goal, for example: “To eradicate extreme poverty and hunger.” Who cou
ld fault such a goal? It does sound very noble, until it is examined. To live in
poverty means, according to the United Nations, to live on one US dollar and 25
cents or less each day. So to statistically remove a person from poverty it is
only necessary to increase their daily disposable income by one cent – to $1.26 ce
nts – and the box is ticked, the MDG is achieved. The Developed World has its cons
cience eased over its obscene consumption of world resources, the leaders of the
Developing world find themselves in line for plaudits and increased aid from do
nors to “accelerate” the progress – whilst the ordinary people of the Developed World
notice no difference whatsoever to their standard of living. And this is exactly
what is happening. Whilst some progress is possibly being made, overall the man
y claims about progress are fraudulent – in terms of improvements in quality of li
fe. And it is even officially acknowledged that the number of people living in h
unger has actually increased since the year 2000 – whilst statistics are produced
to “prove” that this is actually an improvement.
And then there is the goal: “To achieve universal primary education” with one of the
UN’s primary indicators that this goal is being achieved being “Improved net enrolm
ent in primary schooling.” Several Developing World countries, including Uganda an
d neighbouring Tanzania, are already claiming major success with this MDG. And m
any Western countries, including the UK, are claiming their international aid pr
ogrammes have dramatically improved enrolment in primary education, thus helping
to meet the MDG. Such claims entirely overlook the facts that huge numbers of t
hese newly enrolled pupils attend schools with no facilities, no resources, unqu
alified teachers and even, in many cases, no actual classrooms. And in many scho
ols there is a 75% drop out rate between Primary One and Primary Seven. Going to
“school” and receiving an education are not the same thing, but as long as the numb
ers of “enrolled” children increases then the MDG box can be ticked – as it so fraudul
ently is.
The goal to reduce child mortality needs examining. Whilst sounding commendable,
the question has to be asked as to the point of the goal if all we are doing is
increasing the number of uneducated children living in poverty.
“Improving maternal health” is a good example of the hypocrisy behind these goals. O
ne third of all deaths to women during pregnancy in the Developing World is caus
ed by abortions that go wrong. And the main factor behind this statistic is that
abortion is illegal, or extensively restricted, in so many countries in the Dev
eloping World that women are forced to seek the help unqualified practitioners – a
nd many die as a result. Northern aid pours into health clinics, educational cou
rses for women, free condoms and the like – yet not one Developing World country h
as been pressed into legalising abortion since the announcement of the MDG’s. Abor
tion is an exceptionally tricky and emotive issue, and I am not personally advoc
ating here for the legalisation of abortion, but simple integrity demands that t
he problem is acknowledged rather than ignored so that the real issues can be de
alt with. In some 16 Developing World countries abortion is illegal even to pres
erve the life of the mother (in some of those it is allowed but only in the firs
t three months of pregnancy). If this particular UN MDG is to have any integrity
, a solution has to be found to this dilemma – and it is not simply pouring in mor
e money by the North.
And so the list goes on. Some may say that it is better to try and do something
than to sit back and do nothing. But to offer false hope, and plain untruths, is
to offer no hope at all and to simply deceive the most needy and vulnerable on
the planet. And the alternative is not to do nothing, but to develop real goals
that will actually improve quality of life and hope for the future, whilst resto
ring human dignity and independence. And then to develop a programme of targeted
, accountable aid that will really make a difference.
So we have disassociated OpFOL from the MDGs, and our soon to be re-designed web
site will reflect this. It is now our goal to “Improve quality of life through sus
tainable community regeneration.” We believe that the work at Buyonjo, including
feeding the pupils, improving their educational opportunities and potential, cre
ating self-sufficiency for the school, improving the health of all at the school
and creating employment (and therefore income) within the wider community demon
strate a much better model of support than the hand-outs that are supposed to ac
hieve the MDGs.