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Africa and the Developed World: Taking Responsibility for our Actions

Time (GMT +01) 00:00 23:59
Hero image description: Maasai outside a Kenyan factory Image credit:irvinepmichaelca Image license:Creative Commons


Over the past decades, many new development initiatives have been introduced in Africa, each of which has been heralded as a new era in Africa's development, but all of which have failed to produce the much anticipated results. 2005 presents an important strategic opportunity for UK development co-operation. In this year, the United Kingdom will hold the Presidency of the G8 and the EU. The findings of the Commission for Africa will also be reported. 2005 thus provides a unique opportunity for developed countries to examine their contribution to Africa's development. The focus on developed countries reflects one of the main conclusions of an e-discussion arranged by ODI for African think tanks and policy organisations. One of the key outcomes of the discussion was the need for a road map of key commitments that developed countries should make to improving development effectiveness in Africa. This meeting series is a response.

Six key messages emerged from the discussion.

First, there was much to be concerned about in Africa, but it was important not to over-generalise. Some countries were affected by conflict, but many were not. Some countries were poorly governed, but many were not. Some countries were failing to grow, but others were achieving sustained increased in per capita income. Some would benefit quickly from certain kinds of policy (e.g. trade liberalisation in OECD countries), but others would not. When these issues were raised in the meetings, some participants felt that it was inappropriate ever to talk about 'Africa'; others disagreed; all felt it was important to generalise with caution. Generalisation about trade was especially dangerous: there were losers and winners from any policy change (Ian Gillson).

Second, it was important to strike the right balance between external and internal factors. It was easy to point the finger at external factors, and important that this should be done: issues raised ranged from the colonial legacy to current trade policy, passing through arms exports, money laundering and policy with regard to aid and debt. These were important (Dapo Oyewole, Adotey Bing). However, many speakers (e.g. Adaora Ikenze) emphasised that solutions needed to be found first in Africa. There were sharp criticisms of the quality of governance in some countries in Africa (e.g. Richard Dowden), along with considerable doubt about the likely effectiveness of the peer review mechanism and other continent-wide innovations. The much-touted African peer review mechanism was described as a 'feather duster' by one speaker. Darfur was cited as an illustration of poor response by the African Union.

In its strongest form, this argument led some speakers to be sceptical about the desirability of increasing aid to Africa. Tony Killick argued that home grown factors, especially weak political cultures, were the root of the problem. In this circumstance, more aid would undermine efforts to build domestic ownership, accountability and institution-building. Needless to say, this argument was much debated, with discussion focusing on the constraints to absorptive capacity.

In a different form, the argument about governance led speakers to underline the importance of Africa being in the driving seat of its own development. Some felt that the West was trying to transfer its own ideas, for example about governance and development to Africa. This sentiment was captured by Richard Dowden in a comment on African politics and governance; "We [the developed world] approve of ownership by Africans so long as they have ownership of our ideas". Tony Killick also picked up on this issue in commenting on the donor-driven nature of the African Commission and the historical anachronism of an Africa Commission being initiated and chaired by a British PM. He argued that moves such as these could reduce the willingness of African leaders to address their own problems, and the ability of their people to hold them to account. This message was amplified in other sessions including those on conflict, private sector development, governance and the environment. A key point was made by Adotey Bing: Africans needed to look to their own interests and organise themselves more effectively.

There were some positive signs, however, and these amounted to a third set of points. There were some positive experiences, for example in Angola and Sierra Leone, or through ECOWAS (Tidjane Thiam). Dapo Oyewole was also optimistic about the role of the AU and of NEPAD. Tidjane Thiam laid out a range of actions that could help tackle the root causes of conflict, including further support to the AU and to NEPAD. Dave Fish concurred, stressing the importance of supporting initiatives that were internal to Africa, and especially the capacity of the AU to build peace and stability.

Insofar as external assistance could help, and as a fourth point, the case was strongly made that the first priority was for developed countries to honour past promises made to Africa. For example:

  • In the session on conflict, Commissioner Tidjane emphasised the importance of the developed world honouring past commitment to controlling the small arms trade which fuelled conflict in Africa. This message was supported by Dapo Oyewole, who made the pertinent point that, even though no country in Africa (except for South Africa) manufactured arms, small arms were destructively accessible in Africa, especially in conflict affected countries and regions
  • A point that was repeatedly raised by audience participants, was the importance of the OECD countries honouring their promise of 35 years ago to commit a standard of 0.7% of their GNP to ODA, a commitment that only five of 22 countries had honoured by 2003, with a further five having announced specific plans to reach this target in coming years.

A fifth cluster of points had to do with the question of Africa's infrastructure, and whether Africa was ready and able to exploit new opportunities:

  • In the session on trade, Ian Gillson highlighted that Africa's share of world exports had declined from 4% in 1980 to 1% in 2003 largely due to poor infrastructure, institutional weakness, Africa's failure to liberalise and commodity dependence. Trade liberalisation would have clear losers and could expose African productive sectors to further competitive pressure. He suggested compensation for the 'losers' from preference erosion, major investments in trade-related capacity building, infrastructure and improvements to the investment climate, and the avoidance of new obstacles that prevented Africa from diversifying into value-added products such as tariff escalation, and strict rules of origin and standards.
  • In the session on private sector development both Dirk Willem te Velde and Nkosana Moyo picked up on the Africa's infrastructure, which acted as a constraint to increased private sector led development. The lack of human and physical infrastructure, political and economic stability, good governance, rule of law HIV/AIDS and small market sizes, constrained the capacity of Africa's private sector to develop and act as a force for development. The speakers concurred on the need for public-private partnerships in the development of Africa's infrastructure. Fair trade arrangements provided a good model (Charlotte Borger), but there were also many examples of successful business development in Africa (Dirk Willem te Velde).
  • In the session on aid Alex de Waal made the emphatic point that, in the context of the health sector, increasing ODA to achieve the MDGs would not be successful in the absence of serious attention to what he described as the 'real resources', meaning health personnel. To this extent, many health sectors in Africa did not have the capacity to absorb additional resources owing to inadequate human capital infrastructure. Tony Killick argued that donors should improve the quality of their giving, fostering local ownership and institutions and implementing commitments already entered into.
  • In the session on conflict, Dave Fish talked about the capacity to manage conflict, especially through security sector reform (for example justice and the rule of law).
  • In a session on environment, Philip Bradley and Akin Fayomi emphasised the importance of carefully managed transfer of technology.

Finally, there was an important thread of discussion running through the series on the importance of the diaspora, not just as a source of remittances, but also as a source of skill and entrepreneurial initiative. Philip Aliker spoke about the need to embed a 'culture of accepted transnationalism' and Titi Banjoko described members of the diaspora as 'cost-effective, passionate consultants for Africa'. This discussion added to the debate about the brain drain from Africa, and led to important proposals for changes to legal and financial systems, among others.

At the beginning of the series, Richard Dowden spoke about a deal being on offer, with Africa delivering good governance, respect for human rights, and peace, and with the developed countries offering more aid, fairer trade, less money laundering, less exploitation of natural resources, and so on. Some were pessimistic about the possibility of either side delivering its side of the bargain. Others, however, were optimistic. Myles Wickstead, for example, talked about a new era in which an optimistic answer could be given.