Creating coherent national policies is a challenge for most countries. And now the adoption of the UN’s 2030 Agenda and its sustainable development goals (SDGs) has presented governments with an additional challenge: aligning national policies with expansive global development goals.

Both developed and developing countries are faced with this challenge. This is exacerbated by the SDGs’ integrated nature and the related challenges of measuring, monitoring and communicating progress. In Africa, a plethora of home-grown development goals, encapsulated in national development plans and visions, have emerged during the last decade.

Kenya, for example, adopted its Vision 2030. And at a continental level the African Union adopted Agenda 2063. In most cases these national or continental development plans are accompanied by detailed implementation plans.

In South Africa, it is known that policymakers need to align the country’s National Development Plan (NDP) with the SDGs. The NDP is South Africa’s long-term development plan. It expresses consensus on societal challenges, focuses on the national planning system and has the potential to implement development priorities in a more effective way.

The plan is primarily implemented through five-year Medium-Term Strategic Frameworks. The current one prioritises 14 outcomes, ranging from quality education and health care to an effective public service and rural development, the medium –term strategic framework includes the following:

  • Sets out the actions government will take and targets to be achieved.
  • Provides a framework for the other plans of national, provincial and local government. etc.

But aligning South Africa’s national development plan and the sustainable development goals will have its fair share of complications. South African policymakers must consider how best it can be done. One possible route is to turn to the Policy Coherence for Sustainable Development movement which is regarded as the industry standard for creating policy coherence. It initially focused on creating policy coherence for countries receiving foreign aid. But this weakness, namely using policies of developed countries as point of reference, has being corrected in the post-2015 development era.

There are few useful guidelines.

Developing countries have been wary of this approach given its genesis as a product of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development’s Development Co-operation Directorate. In its early days it had a strong donor bias and impact was defined mostly in terms of the interests of donor countries.

But after the adoption of the 2030 Agenda in 2015, the donor-bias was addressed by emphasising sustainable development. This signified a sea-change in the movement itself.

At least five of the guidelines it uses could be helpful to South Africa.

  1. The movement’s emphasis on political buy-in without which policy coherence isn’t possible. It is believed that it might be helpful for South Africa to rekindle the political momentum that was achieved when it was involved in negotiations for the global adoption of the 2030 Agenda
  2. The importance of national development priorities and challenges. National ownership is the key for development effectiveness. The fact that the national development plan was adopted before the SDGs should make it easier to safeguard the integrity of national priorities.
  3. Using existing institutional structures and processes. Existing structures should be organised in the most efficient way. This might result in a coordinated effort to improve policy coherence that includes various government actors and stakeholders.

The Department of Planning, Monitoring and Evaluation, for example, is well positioned to champion policy coherence between the national development plan and the 2030 Agenda. This is because it’s already the custodian of the national development plan. As well as the Department of International Relations and Cooperationthis coordinates South Africa’s international obligations.

4. Takes an issue-based approach to policy coherence by suggesting cooperation across government departments and across sectors. This is difficult but important. The notion that development priorities are interconnectedis a defining characteristic of the sustainable development goals, and also characterises South Africa’s national development plan. But using an issue-based approach will be of no avail if it’s not coupled with making the best use of existing structures and processes.

5.  Encouraging governments to look beyond the short-term. The effect of policies should be viewed beyond the present generation and beyond national borders. Many governments find it difficult to include long-term and transnational impacts into their policy making processes. It is believed they should, because issues such as climate change aren’t constrained by national borders and affect the flow of people and of goods.

Certain challenges face South Africa in aligning its domestic development plan and the SDGs, such as

  • The plan was adopted before the 2030 Agenda. Superimposing the global agenda onto the local plan is politically problematic because it can’t be changed without seriously damaging its legitimacy.


  • The 2030 Agenda does not – and cannot – respond to national development challenges. The 2030 Agenda expresses global commitments reached by the United Nation’s 193 member’s states. There’s of course very little space in the core text of such an agenda for national development challenges.

The 2030 Agenda and its SDGs do not mention the peculiarities of the South African or any other national – context.
The good news is that the Policy Coherence for Development movement can help as countries try and bring the two together.