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Africa's Development: Past Present and Future Roles of the West

Time (GMT +01) 12:00 13:00

Richard Dowden
, Director of the Royal African Society
Myles Wickstead, Head of the Secretariat of the Commission for Africa
Dapo Oyewole, Executive Director of the Centre for African Policy and Peace Studies

Hugh Bayley, MP

1. The first meeting in the series was held on Tuesday, 12 October 2004. The meeting was chaired by Hugh Bayley. The three speakers were Richard Dowden, Myles Wickstead and 'Dapo Oyewole.

2. Richard Dowden said that a new deal was emerging on Africa. On the one hand, Africa would deliver good governance, respect for human rights, and peace. On the other hand, outsiders would support Africa with more aid, fairer trade, less money laundering (especially through London), less exploitation of natural resources and minerals, and attention to the negative impact of recruiting skilled Africans.

3. But was Africa ready? The official answer, for example from the ECA, was 'yes': remarkable progress was claimed over the past decade, especially with respect to governance. However, the news from Africa was mixed. Some countries were doing well (Senegal, Mali, Ghana); others were not (DRC and Nigeria were prime examples). Some countries (Eritrea, Uganda) were heading back into old problems, so were Kenya and Cote d'Ivoire. The key problem was a long-standing one: African politics.

4. And was the West ready? The Africa Commission had many exciting ideas, for example recommendations for 100% debt relief, and the IFF, but would the G8 buy them?

5. Myles Wickstead provided an optimistic answer to these questions. Past history had been characterised by conflict over natural resources and the political fall-out of the cold war. A new era was beginning, however, with Africa taking responsibility for its own development: in evidence, he cited the creation of the African Union, NEPAD, and the Peer Review Mechanism. The Commission for Africa was envisioned as being a mirror image of NEPAD and would focus on what the West could do to support initiatives that are developed in Africa, for example in the areas of debt relief, aid and trade. It would be a highly consultative process, with a report available by the end of March 2005.

6. Dapo Oyewole was more guarded. Africa was of course responsible for its own future, but also faced deep-seated problems associated with the colonial legacy, ranging from the life-style and governance template of the colonial era, to the exploitative infrastructure they bequeathed, the biases in the global trading system, the wider international political architecture, the vulnerabilities that come with Africa's low rung on the international economic ladder, and the sale and resultant proliferation of arms from the West. The picture today was mixed. On the positive side, NEPAD was one of the boldest and strongest developments to come out of Africa (though needed to be less elite-led and more participatory). The development and actions of the AU and its organs so far remained positive and showed steps in the right direction for regional leadership. Dapo Oyewole stressed that Africans however had to be at the fore front of shaping and driving the agenda on African development, with the West providing authentic support. Quite crucially, he stressed that the West had to keep old promises if new ones were to be deemed as sincere and sustainable.

7. As far as the Africa Commission was concerned, the critical issue was political will. There were many new ideas. However, the most important starting point was that developed countries should honour commitments they had already made, for example making trade fairer and addressing the arms trade.

8. In the discussion that followed, four key themes were identified: governance, agriculture, the private sector, and peace and security.

i. The discussion of governance picked up Richard Dowden's important theme about African politics, but also the question of the West's expectations. Some felt that the West was trying to transfer its own concepts of good governance and also its own ideas about development: 'we approve of ownership by Africans as long as they have ownership of our ideas'. Dapo Oyewole argued that democratic and participatory political processes were made more difficult by the weight of Western intervention in Africa. Did aid decapitate local politics? And, if so, what were the implications for the aid recommendations of the Africa Commission? Myles Wickstead thought that a strong emphasis on country ownership and on Poverty Reduction Strategy processes could deal with this issue.

ii. On agriculture, the question of whether Africa was ready to exploit a rapid expansion of opportunities was raised and it was felt that African agriculture still requires protection at these early stages. Any move to make Africa internationally competitive in agriculture would also require land ownership issues to be properly addressed on the continent.

iii. The private sector was identified as being crucial to Africa's long-term development but this was premised on the production of internationally competitive goods and services. The need for international and regional investment in the private sector was emphasised.

iv. The way in which conflicts were resolved was identified as being very important, especially when longer-term reconstruction was considered. An early warning system was also suggested. The Commission for Africa was working with the AU to better understand what the AU needed to be able to successfully achieve peace and security in Africa.

Nambusi Kyegombe
October 2004


This meeting looked at the state of African development and the current political, economic and international context.

Committee Room