Home > Development, Sustainability and Peace > The African Roadmap Series Part I – By Eyob Zerihun

The African Roadmap Series Part I – By Eyob Zerihun

The MDGs, NEPAD programme and Development

The achievement of the millennium development goals (MDGs) is critical for the realization of what some call the renaissance of Africa. The MDGs drawn from the United Nations millennium declaration at the millennium summit in 2000 provide a common framework for combating poverty, ensuring sustainable development and promote peace and security. It consists of eight goals thought to help break the vicious circle of poverty and put underdeveloped countries on a path of sustainable growth and development.

These eight goals: Eradicating extreme poverty and hunger; Achieving universal primary education; Promoting gender equality and empowering women; Reducing child mortality; Improving maternal health; Combating HIV/AIDS, malaria, and other diseases; Ensuring environmental sustainability; and Developing a global partnership for development, were more or less ideas in one of Jeffery Sachs’ famous books. Jeffery Sachs was the special adviser to the former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan. As the matter of fact anybody who read Jeffery Sachs book “The End of Poverty: Economic Possibilities for Our Times” can easily identify his foot prints in the MDGs. In this book Sachs discuss about a plan that can help eradicate extreme poverty around the world by 2025 by focusing on the one billion poorest people around the globe caught in a poverty trap of disease, physical isolation, environmental challenges, political instability, and lack of access to basic required needs such as capital, technology, medicine, and education. He also shatters some persistent myths about poor people and shows how developing nations can do more to help themselves.

William Easterly in his book The White Man’s Burden: Why the West’s Effort to Aid the Rest Have Done So Much Ill and So Little Good, sternly argues:

“The West spent $2.3 trillion in foreign aid over the last five decades and still had not managed to get 12 cent medicines to children to prevent half of all malaria deaths. The West spent $2.3 trillion and still had not managed to get $4 bed nets to poor families. The West spent $2.3 trillion and still had not managed to get $3 to each new mother to prevent five million child deaths.”

Easterly sharply criticizes Western large scale-planning that may seem appealing to market fundamentalist who call for market solutions to solve the problems associated with poverty and is one of the outspoken economist cynical about imposing the “Washington Consensus”. Easterly a University Economics professor is also a former World Bank economist. The way forward for him is to examine each culture individually and offer aid specific to local conditions.

Another economist, whose ideas are widely seen to be competing with those of Jeffery Sachs, is Paul Collier the author of “The Bottom Billion: Why the Poorest Countries are Failing and What Can Be Done about It”. Collier also focuses on the bottom billion. He reveals that fifty failed states; home to the one billion poorest people on earth, pose the most fundamental challenges of the developing world and pinpoints a set of solution that can help tackle the long standing issues. Collier analyzes the causes of failure identifying a set of traps that entangle such countries, including civil wars, reliance on extraction and export of natural resources, and bad governance. He wrote: “Standard solutions do not work, aid is often ineffective, and globalization can actually make matters even worse driving development to rich countries”. According to him what the bottom need is a bold new plan backed by the G8. He argues that the group of eight has to adopt policies, new laws against corruption, new international charters and even conduct carefully “calibrated” military interventions. Even though some of his suggestions sound extreme and impractical in the eyes of today’s international politics, he pointed out some key points in his analysis.

All three renowned economist mentioned above have wealth of experience and are people in touch with the realities in the developing world. And there intellectual works are based on great amount of statistics. Some see there views as different contradicting approaches in the battle against poverty but these are not competing ideas but rather very useful ideas complementing each other that can serve as general frameworks to be later on customized according to the need and context of each developing country. Looking at the progress of the MDGs, it is important to understand and recognize that in principle, we are in the right path in the stratified combat against the vicious circle of poverty. But there is an old expression that says the devil is in the details. That’s where in depth knowledge, analytical skills and great flexibility is required. How well can African nations develop strategies and policies within these broad frameworks to effectively achieve the goals? In other words the main question is: How can it be achieved?

The three economists mentioned above have a number of things in common and that includes their dissatisfaction with the approach used by the West for years.

Encouraged by the level of political commitment shown on the MDGs, African leaders embraced the call for global partnership to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger and in 2001 the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) was established. NEPAD programme is an all African initiative coherent with the MDGs. Most importantly it is owned and managed by Africans. Briefly described by the NEPAD Secretariat itself; “NEPAD is a pledge made by African leaders, based on a common vision and strong and shared conviction, that they have urging responsibilities to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger and to place their countries on a path of sustainable growth and development.” (Statement taken from: NEPAD in Brief)

Colonialism, the cold war, the world economic system and years of failed policies and ideologies exacerbated poverty and fuelled conflicts on the continent of Africa. In most cases post-colonial Africa inherited weak states and dysfunctional economies. Furthermore many African leaders lacked the political will required to take their countries out of poverty and Africa remained marginalized from the world economic and political scenes for decades. The battle of the two dominant ideologies during the cold war was another negative factor that further aggravated poverty and instability. For centuries Africa’s role in the global economy was limited to providing cheap labour and raw materials. Although the continent is rich in natural resources, these resources were largely misused and have been sources of conflicts in the majority of the cases.

After African countries gained their independence in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s they had only two options. And that was to follow capitalism or socialism; ideologies that were never meant for African nations. In fact the same is true for many other theories, ideologies and other economic philosophies. The problem was further exacerbated by the cold war as the two super powers tried to extend their ideological territories. The great divide created during the cold war has affected open mindedness on policy issues. Especially the US or more generally the West’s flexibility and its will to entertain other ideas have been seriously affected. And many international institutions and even some African intellectuals failed under their influence. The West including America has invested a great deal of money and tried to change the world for the better. There was no lack of good intensions. But it was done under a confined mind set. Many people are still in that cold war driven mentality even though they are not conscious about it. They are more ideological than pragmatic. Some American intellectuals should be conscious that views and ideas outside Capitalism are not necessarily Communism. At the same token the developing world was numbed by the deafening propaganda from the socialist camp. This has to change and is gradually changing.

TIME Magazine columnist Alex Perry in his essay; Lions on the Prowl: By confronting their problems, Africans have earned the right to dream great dreams, writes about how Africans have started addressing African problems. In this essay Perry discusses how Africa’s economic growth is rising steadily and the growing opportunities for investment. He wrote: “It isn’t in comparison with its past that Africa is doing well. It’s in comparison with the feted stars of the new economy.” In a paragraph that depicts the current political and economic environment he wrote: “But when the global elite meet in Davos, they might take a moment, stop thinking about China and the European sovereign debt crisis and the democratic sclerosis in the US, and think about the continent that often gets left out when great matters of globalization are discussed.” And in another paragraph he adds: “The benefits of globalization, long something of a conviction at Davos will mean something really mean something – when they are extended not just to Asia’s but to everyone.”(Quotations from: TIME January 31, 2011 issue)

French President Nicolas Sarkozy who assumed the EU’s rotating presidency seems to be committed to put a halt to Africa’s marginalization from the world political and economic arenas. The President visited Addis Ababa during the 16th Ordinary Session of the African Union Commission. He expressed his support for Africa to have a more active role in the United Nations Security Council, the IMF and the World Bank. In an interview to Capital (an Ethiopian News Paper) the French ambassador to Ethiopia Jean-Christophe Belliard says: “The French President is coming with new ideas, and if there is one outcome we want to see, it is Africa having a better say in world affairs, a fair representation of Africa in the UN Security council, a fair representation of Africa in the IMF, the World Bank, G8 and G20. France wants Africa to be heard and represented, not on ad-hoc basis but regularly.”

The fact that this view is rapidly gaining momentum is encouraging for Africa. But on the other hand it is essential for Africans to improve in the area of policy making and analytical thinking. Open debates on policy issues, is critical and can help Africans refine their skill in this area. It is only then the continent will take advantage of such political settings.

NEPAD provides a framework for sustainable development. The Johannesburg Plan of Implementation (JPOI) recognizes that achieving sustainable economic growth and development requires creating enabling environment at all levels. The plan calls on international development partners to support the continent’s effort to foster peace, security and stability, conflict resolution and prevention, democratization, respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, gender equality and good governance. These were identified by African leaders as the necessary conditions required for ensuring sustainable growth and development. The NEPAD Secretariat has continued to offer intellectual leadership and technical and policy support in the priority areas for which it was established. Africa has made a significant leap over the last few years in the areas of agriculture and food security, good governance, capacity development, gender, infrastructure development, education and health, science and technology, trade and markets access; environment and climate change. The NEPAD Secretariat works closely with the African Regional Communities (REC). The RECs are responsible for the implementation of development programme but the NEPAD secretariat coordinates and mobilises resources. NEPAD is doing a very good job in this area. However NEPAD’s planned integration into the African Union is a great concern. NEPAD may be drowned in the bigger bureaucracy of the African Union and become less effective. Africa should proceed with caution and carefully consider the terms of the integration. However if successful the integration will make political leadership more convenient and help reduce redundancy.

The MDG Report 2009 (MDGR 2009): Assessing Progress in Africa toward the Millennium development Goals indicated that the progress towards achieving the MDGs was on course despite the food crisis, fuel crisis, and the global financial and economic crisis that started in the year 2008. The report also underlined the need to scale up the much-needed development assistance by development partners if gains are to be safeguarded and future achievements secured.

Even though from the very first beginning some development partners failed to increase aid and development assistance as pledged, international cooperation has brought the MDGs a long way in Africa. China’s development assistance and vendor financing including the technology transfer it brings along, GTZ’s (now GIZ) work on capacity building, infrastructure, good governance and its partnership with Africa in the area of peace and security, US assistance and increased aid on HIV/AIDS, Malaria and Tuberculosis, European Union attempts to eradicate poverty by encouraging trade and providing aid for MDGs and fostering them, are among the different areas of global cooperation. Development partners and international institutions are becoming more and more effective by focusing mainly on technical assistance. The African Union, NEPAD, the African Development Bank and the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa are providing intellectual leadership and strategic framework for Africa. UN agencies, funds and programmes, NGOs and other IGOs (Inter-governmental Organizations) are engaged in the more technical areas of implementation.

The recent economic crisis presents challenges in achieving the MDGs. G8 countries struggled to meet pledges made for development assistance. And the situation can get even worst with most of developed countries deep in deficit. European countries are taking drastic austerity measures and the Euro zone is in profound crisis. Some argue that governments have spent a lot of money treating the symptoms of a huge economic disaster and are left with virtually nothing to deal with the main issues. And they predict that the tough times are only ahead. Hence developed countries may not be in the position to maintain the level of development assistance.

Look at the trillions of dollars spent in aid. What was actually achieved? Many argue that development aid from the West has done very little good and that African leaders have become heavily dependent on it that they have become reluctant in bringing development. They argue that aid money is rarely used for the right purpose and has rarely reached the intended recipients and that it has been only serving the corrupt. This is a legitimate observation. But the most important question is why? It is mainly because of the way aid was provided. And this is not a matter of personal opinion but of factual assertions with relevant data. Africans heavily depended on off-the-shelf policies from the West and were indifferent to answer the demand of their people. There was no African initiative in the efforts made to lift Africa from its poverty and the path followed for decades was more or less fruitless. It is true that Africa should learn to be less dependent on foreign aid. And there should be a mechanism to ensure that aid is used for the right purpose and ensure accountability and transparency. There are some progresses in this aspect as well.

The need for efficiency and adequate utilization of scares resources is becoming more critical than ever. Given the current economic situation, development partners may or may not be able to live up to Africa’s expectations when it comes to aid. Africa should improve on the way it uses and mobilize resources. Improvement in efficiency of resource utilization including cracking down on corruption, prioritising different development activities based on their importance and supply only the necessary fund and cutting the cost of less important activities, reducing non-productive consumption and mobilizing local resources seem the way forward for Africa. The economic growth that many African countries have managed to produce over the last few years should boast further economic development and sustainability on the continent. But this can only happen if Africans can cut on their non-productive consumptions and reinvest the wealth or the capital gained. Fostering savings and subsequently being able to mobilize these resources and channelling them to the right development activities should be given due consideration. The other critical area for securing resources for development is in the area of tax collection. If government can effectively collect taxes in a timely manner, it will certainly help secure more resources.

The United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) has a division working on strategic frameworks in the area of regional integration, trade and international negotiation, infrastructure and natural resources development. The division in charge previously known as the NEPAD and Regional Integration Department (NRID) now the Regional integration, Infrastructure and Trade Division (RIITD) is responsible for the development of natural resources in Africa. Its task is essentially to do analytical works and provide intellectual leadership for the achievement of NEPAD goals on regional integration, trade and infrastructure. During his visit to Addis Ababa, Australian Foreign minister Kevin Rudd pledged that his country will work with Africa in the area of mining and Energy. Australia has a vast experience in this area. And the cooperation will allow Africans develop new regulations and enhance the existing ones to maximize benefits from natural resource. The Foreign minister promised that his country will be working closely with the African Union to bring new breakthroughs in this area. For a continent where most countries heavily rely on natural resources for economic growth, the need for leadership and cooperation in mining and energy is vital. Ensuring that African countries get the right benefits from these resources should be one of the top priorities.

Six countries in the list of top ten world countries ranking, based on the average annual decline in the poverty rate are African countries. These are namely Gambia, Mali, Senegal, Ethiopia, The Central African Republic, and Guinea. The economist notes that there were challenges in the area of funding as development partners struggle to fulfil pledges made to support and accelerate development and that the global financial crisis made it even more challenging. However, it is also important to note that meeting the MDGs and NEPAD targets is not limited to spending more money. The economist made some important remarks; “the top performers in Africa got successful in cutting poverty not by spending public money but by encouraging rapid economic growth.” That’s where effective policy making, strategy formulation and implementation come in the picture. Meeting the targets is not a matter of merely spending large sum of money it goes beyond that. It is also about stimulating the economy in the right way.

There are also other views. The Economist Magazine (issue: September 25th 2010) wrote that in ten years, the living conditions of the poor have been improvingbut not necessarily because of the UN’s goals. Than how were the reductions in enfant mortality, and increased maternal health and literacy were achieved in Africa? How is Africa making progress in combating HIV/Aids, Malaria and Tuberculosis? How is the continent achieving an annual economic growth average of 5.5%? If there are any valid arguments about how these are being achieved without the MDGs, then they should be made public. But we haven’t seen one yet and the ones already made are a bit ambiguous. The United Nations has defended the MDGs and its secretary general Ban Ki-Moon, called the MDGs “a milestone in international cooperation”.

“The United Nations reckons that in 2008 over a quarter of children in the developing world were underweight, a sixth of people lacked access to safe drinking water, and just under half used in sanitary toilets or none at all. But while these figures are disquieting, a smaller fraction of people were affected than was the case two decades ago. So such data also indicate the world’s progress towards meeting the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), a set of targets adopted by world leaders at the UN ten years ago.”(The economist)

The MDGs and NEPAD programme are in fact taking Africa forward.

Whether African countries decide to follow balanced or unbalanced growth strategy or focus on food security by improving the productivity of the subsistent farmer and encouraging large scale corporate farming, or/and focus on land management, insuring environmental sustainability, human capacity building and develop their social overhead Capital (SOC); they have to come up with some real-time feasible plan that has taken their particular situation into consideration. Doing so requires having broader perspectives and being more practical. African intellectual leadership and the increased level of African initiative have played a decisive role in the current development achievements. Again Africa should continue building its capacity in the area of policy making. Western partnership in empowering Africans in this area is critical. When attempts to further involve Africa in international affairs yield fruit, we can expect that development will be even more accelerated.

Issues related to development, sustainability and peace are of cyclical nature. If there is no development there is nothing to sustain. If there is no sustainable development there is no peace. And if there is no peace there is not going to be some meaningful development. So the question is how do we sustain development? The next part of the African Road Map Series will focus on Sustainability.

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