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Africa's Seat at the Table: Global Governance in a Changing International Context

Time (GMT +00) 13:00 14:00

Adaora Ikenze, the Commonwealth Secretariat
Adotey Bing, Director of the Africa Centre

Hugh Bayley, MP

1. The last meeting in the series was held on Tuesday 30 November. The title was 'Africa's Seat at the Table: Global Governance in a Changing International Context. The speakers were Adaora Ikenze, Political Adviser for Africa at the Commonwealth Secretariat, and Adotey Bing, Director of the Africa Centre. The meeting was chaired by Hugh Bayley, MP.

2. Adaora Ikenze spoke first. Her general theme was that Africa needed to engage more effectively with itself, and be clear about its own priorities, if it wished to participate more effectively as a continent in global governance. There were some positive signs, but there was also much to do.

3. In the arena of peace and security, for example, there was potential in the new Peace & Security Council of the African Union. This was the first public and sustained commitment to the continent's own security (with the possible partial exception of ECOMOG). However, it was clearly difficult for Africa to act effectively with regard to internal conflict, as the case of Darfur illustrated. If Africa could not manage the Darfur crisis, what would it usefully do with a seat on the Security Council?

4. Similar points could be made in other arenas, for example the economic order and the social and political environment. There were again promising signs - for example, initiatives taken by African leaders acting together at Doha. At the same time, the HIV/AIDS crisis illustrated the magnitude of the problem. It was not clear that there was sufficient impetus to solve problems. The African peer review mechanism, for example, was a promising idea but was probably insufficient to bring about long-term change.

5. Adotey Bing picked up these themes in his presentation. He reminded the audience that Africa was effectively marginalised in global governance. Sometimes, this was because formal representation was inadequate. Illustrations could be the appointment procedure for the President of the World Bank, clearly a US nomination, or the question of who had a veto in the Security Council. In other arenas, the power imbalance was more informal. A good example was the WTO. Here there was nominal equality, with each country having equal representation. However, the fact was that rich countries were far more powerful than poor ones.

6. The consequences of these imbalances were evident. Adotey Bing cited particularly poor policy advice from the international institutions. He argued that those that had developed had not followed World Bank advice, whereas those that had followed advice had not developed. He also referred to very short transition times to free trade allowed under the WTO and to the lack of a genuine impetus to disarmament. The slow progress was not surprising. Change would not be spear-headed by those who had to adjust. The poor, therefore, could not automatically expect to be helped.

7. What might be done about this? Adotey Bing's key conclusion was that Africans needed to look to their interests and to organise themselves more effectively.

8. An immediate discussion followed on whether it was actually sensible at all to talk about 'Africa'. Did Burundi have more in common on certain issues with Belgium, or Brazil, rather than Botswana? Would the best advice to the Africa Commission and to the many other initiatives operating at a continental level be not to bother, but rather to operate with smaller groups of countries with special interests? Certainly, there was evidence that this was the right approach to follow in trade negotiations. There was no resolution to this question. However, some participants found no difficulty in thinking about a set of African problems, to do with slow development, poor governance, or other issues. Nevertheless, it did seem that there was more work to do in teasing out what was 'African' in the current problematique, and what might be more cross-cutting or differentiated.

9. On the question of Africa organising itself better, there were some strong comments about governance. There was also a good deal of scepticism about the peer review mechanism as a vehicle for improving coherence. One speaker described the African peer review mechanism as a 'feather duster'. Another thought it was unlikely to make any significant change.

10. As to the question of how to mobilise, one participant referred back to an earlier ODI-led meeting series on global governance and UN reform, and to the discussion of incentives for collective action. It was suggested that Africans needed to think more carefully about how to change the incentive structure, for example so as to dissuade the big powers from acting unilaterally.

11. No clear conclusions emerged from this discussion for the Africa Commission. However, one participant argued forcefully that the key priority for the Commission was to make sure that previous promises to Africa were kept.


This meeting looked at how Africa could participate more effectively as a continent in global governance.

Boothroyd Room