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December 5, 2023

Challenges to creating synergies to accelerate SDG goal 17 between Sub-Saharan Africa, China, and the U.S.

By Amukelani Charmaine Matsilele, Researcher: Communications & Public Diplomacy, Wits African Centre for the Study of the United States (ACSUS)

Establishing cooperation between China, the U.S., and Sub-Saharan Africa is crucial for global promotion of SDGs but challenging. To achieve the SDG goals, it is imperative to promote international partnerships. This article delves into the practical implications of accelerating SDG development, emphasising the urgent need for multilateral cooperation and action.

In 2015 the United Nations adopted a universal call to action for Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), also called Global Goals and Agenda 2030. The universal call has 17 SDG goals and 169 targets. The multilateral initiative covers the environmental, social, and economic spheres.

The United Nations' Sustainable Development Goals. (Image: The United Nations)

The actions include protecting the planet, ending poverty, and ensuring peace and prosperity for developing and developed nations. The SDGs build upon the work of the eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which had similar intentions and concluded in 2015. The SDGs compensate for the shortcomings of the MDGs.

To make the SDGs a reality, all stakeholders are urged to be committed to implementing global goals, emphasising multilateral partnerships. Due to the divergent developmental pathways, priorities, measures, and progress in implementing SDGs differs from one country and region to another. This inspires the importance of putting in place measures that promote global partnerships.

A possible starting point is SDG goal 17, which mainly focuses on covering means of implementing the success of sustainable development through global partnerships. It focuses on strengthening the means of implementation and revitalising the global partnership for sustainable development.

Capacity development under goal 17 aims to strengthen and maintain the capabilities of states and societies to design and implement strategies that minimise the negative impacts of the three pillars of the SDGs, which are economic, social, and environmental.

Capacity building is a cross-cutting entry point to building activities that promote the integration of the SDGs into national sustainable development planning frameworks and sharing lessons. Goal 17 factors in government, civil societies, and other stakeholders in promoting the implementation of effective capacity building for all countries.

Table one below highlights the 19 targets for SDG goal 17, which focuses on partnerships for the goals. The targets for goal 17 facilitate ways of making countries reach their global goals through partnerships.

Table 1: SDG Goal 17 and the target representations

Target 17.1 Strengthening domestic resource mobilisation to improve domestic capacity for tax and other revenue collection.
Target 17.2 Implementing all development assistance commitments for developed countries to fully implement their official development assistance.
Target . 17.3 Focus on mobilising multiple financial resources for developing countries.
Target 17.4 Assisting developing countries using coordinated policies for long-term debt financing, restructuring, and relief.
Target 17.5Investing in the least developed countries.
Target 17.6 Enhances North-South, South–South and triangular regional and international cooperation through knowledge sharing and cooperation for access to science, technology and innovation.
Target 17.7 Promotes developing, transferring, disseminating and disseminating technologies to developing countries on favourable terms
Target 17.8 Strengthening the least-developed countries' science, technology and innovation capacity.
Target 17.9 Enhancing international support for capacity building in developing countries.
Target 17.10 Promotes a universal trading system under the World Trade Organisation (WTO)
Target 17.11 Increasing developing countries exports.
Target 17.13 Removing trade barriers for least developed countries.
Target 17.14 Looks at policy coordination and coherence through enhancing global macroeconomic stability.
Target 17.15 Enhancing policy coherence for sustainable development.
Target 17.16 Aims at respecting each other’s country’s policy space and leadership to establish and implement policies for poverty eradication and sustainable development.
Target 17.17 Looks at enhancing the global partnership for sustainable development through multi-stakeholder partnerships that mobilise and share knowledge.

Target 17.18
Encourages public-private and civil society partnerships.
Target 17.19 Aims to further develop measurements of progress that complement the gross domestic product.

Table 1: 19 Targets of SDG Goal 17

Overall, all the targets aim to promote global partnerships; however, a few highlight the key to achieving sustainable development goals through international partnerships where developing and developed countries are simultaneously assisted. The targets of goal 17 are grouped into seven groups: finance, technology, capacity building, trade, systemic issues, multi-stakeholder partnerships, data, monitoring and accountability.

The finance group consists of targets 17.1, 17.2, 17.3,17.4, and 17.5. The second group set looks at technology, which is placed on targets 17.6, 17.7, and 17.8. The third target, 17.9, focuses on capacity building. The fourth group of targets focuses on trade which is 17.10, 17,11, and 17.12. Systemic issues concentrate on policy and institutional coherence and are covered by targets 17.13, 17.14, and 17.15. Multi-stakeholder partnerships are covered by targets 17.16 and 17.17. The last group focuses on data, monitoring, and accountability by looking at targets 17.18 and 17.19. The key highlight is how different initial conditions must be considered when measuring the overall progress of sustainable development goals.

Goal 17 targets are linked to indicators that can be grouped into economic and governmental indicators, and because of multiple stakeholders, this creates challenges to accelerating sustainable development goals as all levels involve numerous parties. The 19 targets to goal 17 are all classified under international cooperation.

Table 2: SDG indicators and targets grouped into governmental and economic factors

17.1.1 Total government
revenue as a proportion of
Target 17.1X
17.1.2 proportion of
domestic budget funded by
domestic taxes
Target 17.1X
17.2.1 Net official
development assistance
Target 17.2X
17.3.1 Foreign direct
investment, official
development assistance and
south -South cooperation as
a proportion of total
domestic budget
Target 17.3X
17.3.2 Volume of
remittances (inUSD) as a
proportion of total GDP
Target 17.3X
17.4.1 Debt service as a
proportion of exports of
goods and services
Target 17.4X
17.5.1 Number of countries
that adopt and implement promotion regimes for least developed countries
Target 17.5X
17.6.1 Number of science or
technology cooperation
agreements and
programmes between
countries , by type of
Target 17.6X
17.6.2 Fixed internet
broadband subscriptions per
100 inhabitants by speed
Target 17.6X
17.7.1 Total amount of
approved funding for
developing countries to
promote the development,
transfer, dissemination and
diffusion of
environmentally sound
Target 17.7X
17.8.1 Proportion of
individuals using the
Target 17.8X
17.9.1 Dollar value of
financial and technical
assistance (including North-
South, south – south and
triangular cooperation)
committed to developing
Target 17.9X
17.10.1 Worldwide
weighted tariff average
Target 17.10X
17.11.1 Developing
countries and least
developed countries share of
global exports
Target 17.11X
17.12.1 Average tariffs faced
by developing countries and
small island developing
Target 17.12X
17.13.1 Macroeconomic
Target 17.13X
17.14.1 Number of countries
with mechanisms in place to
enhance policy coherence
of sustainable development
Target 17.14X
17.15.1 Extent of use of
country -owned results
frameworks and planning
tools by providers of
development cooperation
Target 17.15X
17.16.1 Number of countries reporting progress in multi-stakeholder development effectiveness monitoring frameworks that support the achievement of the sustainable development goalsTarget 17.16X
17.17.1 Amount of USD
dollars committed to
public-private and civil
society partnerships
Target 17.17X
17.18.1 Proportion of
sustainable development
indicators produced as a
national level with full
disaggregation when
relevant to the target , in
accordance with the
Fundamental Principles of
official statistics
Target 17.18X
17.18.2 number of countries
that have national statistical
legislation that complies
with the fundamental
principles of official
Target 17.18X
17.18.3 number of
countries with a national
statistical plan that is fully
funded and under
implementation , by source
of funding
Target 17.18X
17.19.1 Dollar value of all
resources made available to
strengthen statistical
capacity in developing
Target 17.19X
17.19.2 Proportion of
countries that (a) have
conducted at least one
population and housing
census in the last 10 years
and (b) have achieved 100
% birth registration and
80% death registration
Target 17.19X

Table 2: SDG indicators and targets grouped into governmental and economic factors

Upon analysis of Table 2, it is apparent that the goals are predominantly centred on economics without considering the vital role of implementing a development strategy that can pave the way for economic prosperity. The policy responses resulting from the competition between China and the U.S. significantly impact businesses that invest and operate in global markets, including their economics, politics, and security.

The equal emphasis given to (Northern) developing and (Southern) developing via the 2030 Agenda is a viable route to promote sustainable development. The North-South cooperation promotes dialogue between countries in the northern and southern hemispheres and aims to provide a platform to discuss SDG challenges to promote coherent collaborations. However, these collaborations indicate that involvement is unequal and perpetuates the north-south divide within countries.

Another challenge indicated is how goal 17 needs to consider global inequalities from the countries expected to participate, resulting in fewer partnerships between developed and developing states.

For example, the U.S. and China compete on the African continent in all sectors. This means access to data and scientific capacities will be divided as the other country tries to prove that it is the lead. This has substantial implications for developing and implementing practices and policies and negatively impacts how goals are implemented for global sustainable development.

While goal 17 focuses on strengthening the implementation of the SDGs, the need for coherent collaboration between China and the U.S. requires more partnership. Target 17.16 emphasises multi-stakeholder partnerships through mobilising and sharing knowledge, expertise, technology, and financial resources; equitable involvement is vital to making sustainable development success for Sub-Saharan Africa, China, and the U.S.

Another shortfall indicated by the UN database with goal 17 and creating global partnerships is the actual distribution of partnerships is due to pre-existing relations, and this makes collaboration between the U.S., China, and Sub-Saharan Africa complicated as the two global powers compete instead of collaborating.

Due to the polarised geopolitical rivalry and competition between China and the U.S., the assistance given to Sub-Saharan Africa has been more focused on vested interests, undermining sustainable development cooperation. An example is the Sino-American rivalry that undermines multilateral institutions like the World Trade Organisation.

While the US has withdrawn from many multilateral institutions, China is expanding its influence in contexts such as the UN.As a result, Sub-Saharan countries have been playing power politics by taking advantage of both sides without fully committing to either. As an example Zambia and China have a stronger relationship than Zambia and the U.S. It is also evident from Table 2 that most of the indicators for goal 17 focus on the economic aspect of global partnerships as indicated by the table developed by the UN. The rivalry between China and the U.S. make it difficult to create a partnership where all three regions collaborate instead of competing.

Even though collaboration is a critical driver for knowledge sharing, the development dynamics between China, U.S., and Sub- Saharan Africa make it difficult to pool equal resources when dealing with developmental issues, and this contributes to cases where some parts of Sub- Saharan Africa remain on the receiving end instead of actively participating in contributing to sustainable development.

Achieving Target 17.6, which promotes knowledge sharing and resource accessibility, poses a challenge for the African continent. The digital competition between China and the U.S. could hinder the digital transformation dream. Moreover, the varying approaches to data protection laws may not fully safeguard individual identities and may restrict practical knowledge transfer.

Despite these challenges, ICT investment from both countries could transform various sectors, such as agriculture, retail, and healthcare. It could also foster connectivity between African financial systems, crucial for achieving Target 17.10, focusing on universal trading systems.

The battle of influence between China and the U.S. hinders the promotion of target 17.13 to remove trade barriers, as evidenced by the trade war between China and the U.S., which results in supply chain relations and investment shortfalls.

It is essential to acknowledge that powerful countries' separation of financial and digital systems impedes the achievement of target 17.3, which strives to mobilise financial resources. This is because instead of collaborating, there is more competition and sabotage. An example of this is both nations competing for deeper ties across the African continent to shape the future trajectory of what happens next on the African continent.

The competition and conflict between China and the US affect the application of SDG 17 in Sub-Saharan Africa, leading to economic disparities within and between countries. Therefore African countries are compelled to decide which country to support.

For instance, the US is putting pressure on the South African government and threatening to remove South Africa from the African Growth Opportunity ACT (ALGOA). This action could result in South Africa losing significant investments from Western nations because it has relations with Russia and China. In response, South Africa has stood its ground.

The polarised competition affects every level of relation. The rivalry also leads to Africa losing its agency as the policies introduced by both U.S. and China seem to be competing and serving the interests of both countries rather than that of Sub-Saharan Africa. For instance, China has articulated how it wants to relate to the continent through Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) and the U.S. through (ALGOA), a different policy to China.

A significant challenge in Sub-Saharan Africa is the tendency for sensitive political issues to spark counter-accusations, distracting attention from more crucial matters. This can lead to unfulfilled promises from the two superpowers. African leaders advocate for practical and advantageous solutions to drive development. Climate change activist Vanessa Nakate from Uganda emphasised in a speech how the West has made empty promises about African development while benefiting themselves during the Paris Summit.

President William Ruto emphasised the importance of holding fair conversations during the Paris Summit, which aims to propose solutions for financing SDGs. This context highlights the need for open and equitable discussions. To achieve development and sustainability while addressing global inequalities, stakeholders in China, the U.S., and Sub-Saharan Africa must distribute partnerships equally. Aligning policies among these regions will create better synergies to accelerate goal 17. Technology and geo-economics are essential drivers for achieving goal 17 and advancing the global system toward development goals. Before embarking on joint efforts, partners must identify and address areas where capacity-building is needed.

Considerations on the way forward

Partnerships should be built on equitable terms to prevent any escalation of geopolitical tensions between China and the U.S. and to ensure that sustainable development objectives are met. It is crucial to establish partnerships based on mutual benefit to address the existing power dynamics between the two countries, as this will impact the role of global rule-making, resulting in discussions centred around shared values and good governance. In conclusion, this paper finds that international partnerships are essential for achieving global goals, and multilateral cooperation is urgently needed to promote goal 17, the overarching goal for the other 16 goals.


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