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Challenges Facing the Success of SDGs in SSA


As part of its efforts towards developing a global sustainable future world by 2030, the UN set 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The aspirations aimed at prospering within environmental limits and ensuring that nobody is left out are common objectives of people worldwide in support of a perfect globe. Nevertheless, with a seven-year deadline expiring upon the world community, the assessment of the performance, issues encountered, and achievements of every region, including sub-Saharan Africa (SSA), This paper critically assesses various challenges facing SSA in its efforts towards achieving the SDGs, identifying factors that complicate the progress to sustained development and inclusive prosperity.


Multiple world leaders who represented member states of the United Nations (UN) came together on 1 January 2016 and came up with the 17 sustainable development goals (SDGs) as part of the 2030 sustainability agenda (UN, n.d.). The new goals were meant to be universally applicable to all, requiring countries in the following fifteen years to mobilize adequate resources and efforts to fight inequalities, end all forms of poverty, and tackle the issue of climatic change while simultaneously ensuring that no one is left behind. Global goals are the foundation that leads to the success of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), with its primary focus being ending poverty (UN, n.d.). The goals call for action from all nations, whether developing, underdeveloped or developed, to protect the planet and promote prosperity.

SDG goals

Figure 1: SDG goals

(Ejim, 2023)

In the wave of monitoring the progress of the SDGs, the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) released a report in 2022 that demonstrated the conspicuous lack of progress in Africa in achieving the SDGs for 2030. According to the progress data, apart from Oceania, SSA remains the most underdeveloped region globally. This was highlighted in the SDG index score, which measures the progress of each nation and region’s progress towards achieving all 17 SDGs. The report argues that SSA has an index score of 53.6 in achieving the 2030 SDGs targets, with a gap of 46.4%. The performance of SSA is in direct contrast with the Central Asia and Eastern Europe scores of 71.6%, the Caribbean and Latin American score of 69.5%, and the East and South Asian score of 65.9%. Therefore, it can be realized that SSA faces significant challenges in achieving all its SDGs, except SDGs 12 and 13. Since 2021, the region has made little to no progress in all the other 15 SDGs. In matters regarding the other development indicators such as inequality, poverty, access to water, education, health, clean energy, and sanitation, increasing access to jobs has deteriorated or stagnated.

SDG index score 2022

Figure 2: SDG index score 2022

(Loots, 2023)

SDGs are global commitments that reach various landscapes in 193 United Nations member states. These goals are based on the principles of inclusiveness and the environment and are an expression by the world to tackle current global problems. SSA, a region with its opportunities and challenges, can be counted among such focus points within that framework. Most African countries draw their developmental blueprints along the SDGs lines. Nevertheless, the continent is characterized by diversity as a result. This diversity is revealed in the Africa SDG Index and Dashboard Report 2020. North Africa appears to be the most developed region, ranking high at 61.9% point (Loots, 2023). However, Central Africa remains at the bottom of the list, with a low score of 47.6%. These disparities show the complex issues SSA faces when turning its commitments into tangible achievements.

This divergence concerns various economic considerations that come into play during development. East and Central Africa lag in this while North Africa moves forward. However, the need for money becomes all the more real when considering the current fiscal situation in the country. The IMF working paper (2019), as well as the Foresight Africa report (2020), state that SSA as a whole requires about USD 528.3 billion for the implementation of SDGs (Coulibaly, 2020). However, these problems go beyond monetary limitations. There is an added layer of complexity because governance efficacy is critical in this regard. There are indicators of severe deficiencies in SSA: government effectiveness (-0.8) and control of corruption (-0.7). It is important to note that the tax-to-GDP ratio for SSA is 13.6%, which falls significantly behind that of Asia, Pacific (19.8%), Latin America and the Caribbean (21.7%) as well as OECD (34.1%) (Coulibaly, 2020). The intricacy of economic, governance, and financial problems SSA faces as it strives to achieve SDGs by 2030 makes it lag. One holistic and multidimensional strategy is necessary to cope with these problems. This paper aims to unearth such complexities, which may help establish an appropriate route map for SSA that would be sustainable going forward.

Challenges Faced by SSA in Achieving SDGs

Economic and income challenges

A country or region’s economic status plays a central role in the achievement of its SDGs targets. Regions with low economic growth and economic prosperity have deeply been integrated into the ability of a region or a nation to achieve its sustainable development targets, influencing progress and success across multiple fronts. A region with a thriving economy is highly likely to alleviate poverty, covered in SDG 1, through job creation. Economic development is also highly connected to achieving zero hunger targets, as in SDG 2, through improved agricultural infrastructure, development, and support of food security programs (Kestava-kehitys, 2023). Economic development and stability are also necessary to address the climatic action agenda defined in SDG 13. It helps in adopting low-carbon technologies, which leads to the adoption of more sustainable practices. Economic development touches on all facets of the 17 SDGs, including promoting responsible consumption and production. Therefore, challenges in the economic growth of a given region or nation are likely to translate to difficulties in achieving its SDG targets.

Sub-Saharan Africa faces multiple development challenges related to the region’s progress in achieving all 17 SDGs. The region is characterized by a high persistence in inequalities, rapid population growth, and a relatively high fragility level among some countries, which can be used to understand the relatively slow progress in addressing the poverty level. The extreme poverty levels in SSA have been reduced by a low margin, from 54% in 1990 to 41% as of 2015, compared to the global reduction rates from 36% to 10% within the same period (IISD, 2020). Across other regions, poverty reduction rates have been faster, from 62% to 2% in the Pacific region and Asia within the same period, which was motivated by economic growth and relative poverty reduction in India and China. This also reflects a relatively slow improvement in the region’s life expectancy and mortality rates, demonstrating a lag in achieving SDGs (IISD, 2020). The GDP development rate has been slow and declining in SSA, which affects its rate of achievement of its SDG targets.

poverty rates in SSA

Figure 3: poverty rates in SSA

(Ekpo, 2020)

Economic constraints have been a significant challenge towards achieving SDGs in the SSA region. Fundamentally, most SSA economies depend on their exports for primary commodities, which puts them at risk of high vulnerability in case there are changes in commodity prices. Despite trying for decades to diversify, a substantial proportion of African countries, approximately 60%, depend on experiencing primary commodities, leaving little room for innovation and diversification, which is crucial for the implementation and achievement of SDGs. (Ejim, 2023) Africa SDG Index and Dashboards Report 2020 shed light on the apparent economic disparity between Sub-Saharan African countries. North Africa is the leading region in terms of economics, with an astonishing mark of 61.9%. On the other hand, Central Africa is on the other side of the equation, facing this considerable problem, as evidenced by its lowest mark of 47.6% (IISD, 2020). The report highlights this complex process regarding the economic development in SSA.

At the same time, it shows region-wise breakdown, which can be a deeper granular level problem. Despite this stagnation and even deterioration in the case of East and Central Africa, one cannot help but admire how the advancements in North Africa are commendable enough. The above divergence necessitates region-specific interventions and the complexity of issues faced in the SSA region. Economic heterogeneity becomes a critical stumbling block that requires specialized approaches adapted to specific areas. It is necessary to create initiatives promoting economic convergence and narrowing up development shortcomings in SSA to achieve balanced growth and fair distribution of successful fruits throughout SSA.

Governance Challenges

Governance is a fundamental tool in the context of sustainable development, and hence the attainment of the 17 SDGs, continuously steering its implementation and development. Scholars tend to talk of governance for sustainability when there are efficient state-society interactions during policy-making and implementation, aiming at achieving a more sustainable future. Environmental scholars also highlight its multidimensional nature, focusing more on the sustainability governance discourse (Glass & Newig, 2019). However, the exact modes and dimensions of governance that directly translate to sustainable development are not clear. A substantial proportion of current research regarding the role of governance in the attainment and development of sustainability tends to focus on single aspects such as participation, policy implementation, or reflexivity. One cannot, however, deny that governance has played a central role in the slow progress in attaining SDGs in SSA.

According to a study that analyzed the impact of corruption and economic freedom and how they relate to human development and globalization, some key contributors to achieving SDGs found a direct correlation (Ekpo, 2020). The relationship was negative when corruption was involved in governance, as it was a barrier to economic freedom and globalization, negatively affecting the attainment of sustainability goals (Fagbemi et al., 2021). The quality of governance is also a key factor to consider to determine its impact on human development and the eventual attainment of a region’s sustainability goals. A study found a positive influence between governance indicators and human development. The effectiveness of governance within a given region, such as sub-Saharan Africa and the quality of regulation and control of corruption significantly impact sustainable development.

Studies conducted among various SSA countries in the period between 2002 and 2009 sought to understand the state of control of corruption in that region and how it affected economic freedom, one of the critical enablers of poverty and inequality eradication, the key themes of the 17 SDGs (Akinbode et al., 2020). The relationship between the effectiveness of governance and social welfare is a crucial contributor towards attaining the SDGs related to health and inequality. It was realized that poor governance and increased corruption were critical barriers to human and economic development, and hence, potential regions in the SSA might only partially attain the 17 SDGs. Increased corruption substantially reduces human and economic development.

Having established that governance is a critical factor in sustainable development, the SSA is a crucial example. Despite boasting enormous material, human and natural resources, SSA countries need to be more developed. Among most SSA countries, growth rates have stagnated between 4% and 6% in the last two decades, reflecting a similar state in their progress in attaining their SDG targets (Fagbemi et al., 2021). Some countries have demonstrated a growth rate lower than that of their population, with most fingers pointed at their state of governance and high corruption rates, which have also affected economic development. Governance has been at the centre of interest among most SSA countries’ studies conducted regarding the underlying factors acting as a barrier to economic development. The studies have found a substantial need to address the governance patterns of that region, which is the main hope for attaining the SDGs through policy formulation.

It has been realized that institutional, economic, and political governance is the key factor towards the economic growth and eventual attainment of SDG targets for the sub-Saharan African region. Corruption was explicitly found to be a fundamental barrier towards development and a key cause of underdevelopment and stagnation witnessed in the region. Often, corruption arises due to inadequate governance, which leads to a significant decrease in private investments or an outrageous expansion of public investments, which are often utilized inefficiently (Ekpo, 2020). Such factors provide some of the primary reasons why the SSA region might face significant difficulties even in the near future to achieve the SDGs targeted for 2030 unless a tremendous shift in governance patterns occurs across most countries. Economic growth and good governance are also directly and positively related, making them critical contributors towards national development, which translates to sufficient progress in attaining SDGs. The nature of governance, which is often studied regarding broader institutional factors such as the absence of corruption, the rule of law, and the protection of human and property rights, is essential for any region’s long-term growth.

Governance also directly relates to the literacy levels of a nation or region, which is essential in determining the rate of human development and crucial for achieving the 17 SDGs. Significant educational disparities are noticed when comparing SSA and other countries in parts of Africa, such as the North and West, and the world generally. The problem has been recurring for a long time and is said to have long-term implications for the region’s development and achievement of its SDG targets (Ekpo, 2020). As a result of high illiteracy levels, SSA has also been found to have relatively modest health outcomes, with the region being substantially burdened by diseases. Such outcomes are elaborate due to the region’s high maternal mortality ratio and infant and child mortality rates.

education rates in SSA

Figure 4: education rates in SSA

(Ekpo, 2020)

Funding Challenges

In the SSA, the existing funding gap is one of the most significant challenges facing the achievement of all the SDGs. According to an analysis of the IMF, the funding gap facing the achievement of SDGs in SSA requires more than USD 528 billion despite the region’s current spending capacity being approximated at USD 271 billion (Coulibaly, 2020). This demonstrates a deficit of about 95%, which should be fulfilled before sub-Saharan Africa can finance the implementation of its SDG targets. The deficiency provides a picture of the dire state of the region and the reason it might never be able to achieve most of its SDG targets unless sufficient external intervention is availed.

Per the IMF working paper for 2019 and additional insights from the Foresight Africa Report of 2020, the financial challenges facing the region, characterized by high poverty rates and poor governance, can be understood (Prady & Sy, 2019). The reports further demonstrate the implications of such a financing gap in the region’s capability to develop economically, socially, and politically, a combination that would make it easier to achieve SDGs. A region with a deficit of approximately USD 257 billion calls for international attention and an urgent development of innovative modes of resource mobilization (Coulibaly, 2020). A multifaceted approach is further required to enable the region to fund its development and achieve its sustainability goals.

Consequently, filling this enormous financing gap demands increased tax revenue as the main instrument. The lower tax-to-GDP ratios of some countries in SSA (13.6%) underscore the need to increase revenue mobilization. At the same time, it is essential to curtail illegal outflows of capital, which are needed to retain and move them within a region. As highlighted by the Foresight Africa Report 2020, the closure of this financial gap can only be achieved through international partnerships and support. The financial mobilization strategy must consider the developmental imperatives of the region such that the funding shortfall does not undermine the aspirations embodied in the SDGs.

Addressing the Challenges

Economic solution

Economic convergence in SSA cannot succeed unless tailor-made developmental policies are carried out to meet the unique requirements of respective regions in SSA. The case for North Africa demonstrates the effectiveness of such a regionally focused approach and suggests it could be applied in other scenarios like this one. It will be essential for countries to work together by sharing what works well between regions and devising regional strategies. Priority should be put on initiatives aimed at eliminating economic disparities and convergence. This entails developing infrastructure, education, and health care, nurturing innovation, and instituting a conducive business environment. However, if SSA addressed the root causes of the economic disparities, it could lay the foundation for sustained and inclusive economic growth.

Governance Improvements

Institutional reforms are the best way of improving the governance of SSA. A lack of government effectiveness and control of corruption must be addressed through institutional reforms in SSA. Hence, governments must focus on solid institutions, open government, and robust accountability frameworks. Institutional reforms build bases for good governance and thus provide conditions to support economic growth. Such capacity-building initiatives are necessary to improve the functions of public organs. Such investments in training programs, knowledge transfer and skills building of the public servants could greatly enhance policy and program implementation. The governance challenge could be defeated by developing a skillful and strong labor force.

Financing Mobilization

Boosting Tax Revenue is one crucial solution to this issue. The problem of financial deficit in SSA has to be addressed by boosting tax revenue. Therefore, governments may consider alternative options, for example, a review of the tax regime, a widened tax base, and improved tax revenue collections, among others. Good fiscal policies, including a progressive tax structure, could help improve the tax as GDP ratio and, in turn, enable SDG financing. Illicit funds are vital in curbing illicit capital flows is one way of holding the financial resources within (Prady & Sy, 2019). It is important in strengthening regulatory frameworks, enhancing financial oversight and international collaboration in combating illegal financial dealings. Addressing these concerns will help prevent leakage of foreign currency and enable the resources to be channeled towards national development objectives. Collaboration across national boundaries remains essential in addressing the financing gap. In this regard, SSA should engage the international organizations, donor countries, and the private sector. The resources provided by foreign direct investment, aid, and innovative financing mechanisms may complement domestic efforts to realize SDGs.


The paper discussed the intricate economics challenges, governance, and financing difficulties that impedes progress towards SDG in SSA by 2030. Based on this, the Africa SDG Index and Dashboard Report 2020 emphasizes the importance of region targeted and customized approaches in efforts to narrow down the economic variations between diverse parts of the region under consideration. One of these indicators includes governance weaknesses; in this case, institutional reforms and capacity building are vital considerations towards creating a conducive environment towards sustaining development. From the funding gap analysis, and as indicated by the working paper for IMF (2019), and the fore sight Africa reports (2020), SSA may have addressed the existing challenges and utilized the above approaches to ensure that no one is excluded from development initiatives.


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Coulibaly, B. S. (2020). Foresight Africa: Top priorities for the continent 2020 to 2030.

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Ekpo, A. H. (2020). Governance, Growth and Development in Sub-Sahara Africa: A Revisit of the Evidence. In Working Paper presented at the AEA/NEA/AFEA Conference in San Diego, California, USA, January.

Fagbemi, F., Nzeribe, G. E., Osinubi, T. T., & Asongu, S. (2021). Interconnections between governance and socioeconomic conditions: Understanding the challenges in sub-saharan Africa. Regional Sustainability2(4), 337–348.

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(n.d.). United Nations Sustainable Development Agenda. United Nations.


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