African countries are making the most overall progress in achieving the Millennium Development Goals.  So says a new analysis by the London-based Overseas Development Institute and the U.N. Millennium Campaign.  The report?s been released prior to the G8 and G20 summits at week?s end in Canada.

They say 11 of the 20 countries making the most absolute progress are among the poorest in Africa.  ?Absolute? progress measures overall progress countries have made toward achieving the MDGs.  Also, the analysis indicates about half of African countries are on track toward cutting poverty in half by 2015.

A different viewpoint

Alison Evans, Director of the Overseas Development Institute in London, says, ?This analysis is basically providing some alternative measures of progress against the MDGs.  We?re not discounting the measures that are regularly used to look at progress, but we?re adding on another measure that looks at absolute changes in performance.?

She says, ?Progress is being made across a large swath of low income countries and many of them in Africa.?

Little good news has been heard about achieving the Millennium Development Goals in recent years.  The global food and economic crises haven?t helped to improve the outlook.  But Evans says a closer look has found some positive signs.

?It?s really partly by looking at some slightly different metrics (measurements).  But it?s also that some of that good news has been hidden underneath measures of progress that tend to penalize countries that had poorer initial starting points in 1990,? she says, adding that this was the case for many African countries.

?So what this analysis does really is sort of take the lid off that and actually try to value the absolute changes in progress or changes in performance that African countries have made since 1990.  It?s not better, it?s different.  But it does tend to show a number of these countries in a much better light,? she says.

2015 target

The analysis shows that even if the MDG target date of 2015 is not met, many poor countries are moving in the right direction.

?The MDG targets still remain a very severe stretch goal for many African countries.  And many of them will in the purest sense not make those MDG targets.  But they will have made progress, nevertheless. And that progress has been accelerating somewhat in the last decade; and we need to value that progress,? says Evans.

When 2015 arrives, Evans says there will still be a ?difficult story to tell? about the MDGs. However, she says, ?What this study contributes to is a slight rebalancing of the sense of pessimism about what?s been achieved.?

Message to G8 leaders

The status of the MDGs will be on the agenda for the G8 and G20 summits.

?This information basically gives them good cause to continue to support low income countries and particularly the African nations in their endeavor to improve the lives of the poorest people,? says the ODI director.

Evans says combined national and international efforts are paying off.  ?And that should give us renewed commitment and renewed energy, particularly for the G8 leaders to give them increased purpose to support change on the continent.?

So what went right?  ?The first is sort of sound economic management.  A number of African economies have gone through fairly painful economic reforms in the 80s and 90s and those are beginning to pay off,? she says.

She says other indications are that ?consistent and committed leadership? is vital to MDG progress, as well as establishing institutions ?to ensure that public sector funds and aid resources get to citizens and are handled in a responsible and accountable way.?

The ODI and U.N. Millennium Campaign list of top 20 countries in ?absolute? terms includes: Benin, Mali, Ethiopia, Gambia, Malawi, Viet Nam, Uganda, Nepal, India, Cambodia, Bangladesh, Honduras, Mauritania, Ghana, China, Burkina Faso, Rwanda, Nicaragua, Guatemala and Togo.