Nelson Mandela and Gordon Brown

Thank you for addressing one of the most critical issues facing Africa today in your February Cover Story, Live now, pay later a dissection of British Chancellor Gordon Brown’s ‘Marshall Aid’ for Africa. I would like to add my views to the debate.

The launch of the report of the Commission for Africa (CfA) entitled “Our Common Interest” at the British Museum in London last month revealed that the CfA appears to be primarily concerned with injecting more equality in the manner that the West conducts business with Africa.

In my opinion, the report should be praised for a number of factors such as the call for the total cancellation of the debt of Africa’s least industrialized countries; a doubling of development aid to $100bn by 2015; calls for special global tax hypothecated for development programmes; an improvement of governance including tackling corruption in Africa and within OECD multinationals, and a recommitment to meet Millennium Development Goals.

However, my impression was that too much importance has been attached to government representatives acting between themselves. Non-state actors, especially from the business community do not appear to have been given the opportunity to participate. This could be a serious oversight as small and medium sized business enterprises generate so much of Africa’s wealth.

But with the CfA report, it should also now be possible to build a global consensus on issues such as health, education, poverty reduction, international partnerships, and gender equality.

What Africa requires in order to assist its own struggling economies can be summed up as fair trade rules and the abolition of the West’s double standards regarding agriculture subsidies, tariffs barriers and trade rules all of which are clearly contrary to the development agenda of the World Trade Organisation (WTO). It is also vital that Africa has a more forceful voice in development finance institutions such as the World Bank and the International monetary Fund.

For an official report, the CfA’s document is surprisingly frank about Africa’s failures, although I would argue that undue emphasis has been placed on Africa’s share of the responsibility for its predicament.

Yet, while the CfA contains little that is really new, it does serve to remind us of the unfulfilled promises made by OECD countries some 45 years ago–to contribute 0.7% of Gross National Incomes in the form of aid to support developing countries.

Inexplicably, the CfA report appears to be making good governance, democracy, and free trade in Africa a precondition for the West to keep its own promises when there is good evidence that had the OECD kept to this pledge ‘good governance, democracy and free trade’ may have been enshrined by the sort institutions that can only evolve within healthy economies.

There are also a number of questions regarding the CfA and whether the work of this commission duplicates or complements Nepad and the African Union’s strategic vision.

Nor, it would appear, have Western donors demonstrated any firm financial commitment–although Blair obviously believes the CfA may make progress at the G8 July meeting.

But most importantly, since the 1980 Brandt Commission and the African Lagos Plan of Action, and the World Bank’s Berg Report of the following year, Africa has been constantly marginalised as a either a ‘reserved continent’ or a ‘continent of reserves’ (for the rich West to exploit).

That sentiment is not questioned in this report. I should add that the regional dimension, a cornerstone of Nepad and the AU’s approach to economic regeneration, is somewhat diluted. It would have been more innovative to have structured the CfA report on a sub-regional basis to ensure that negotiation for the report’s implementation take place with regional groups such SADC, Comesa, and Ecowas. The CfA, it would appear, is expecting developing African countries to compete among themselves to supply resources to the West.

With 2.4% of world trade exports and 2.2% in world trade imports in 2003, Africa is not an equal partner in the global system. As a consequence, Africa is of little strategic economic importance to the West. This could explain why the CfA’s report concentrates more on ongoing assistance rather than truly creating Africa’s economic capacity and capabilities. Brown’s African recovery plan, the so-called ‘live now, pay later’ formula, is not an option for Africa.

No African, with the welfare of the continent at heart, could possibly agree to transfer the debt burden to the next generation while possibilities exist to revisit our problems with alternative progressive thinking. I believe that Africans needs to produce now and pay later. The overall approach should focus on generating wealth and employment in Africa, not simply reducing extreme poverty.

It is clear that aid, trade, and investment without stimulating production is not sustainable. In the CfA report, support is given to the Nepad/African Productive Capacity Initiative, based on a shared economic growth vision that could truly change Africa’s development prospects. I would urge all decision makers to investigate and promote the implementation of this initiative.

Unfortunately for the CfA, the challenge is not in the analysis of Africa’s problems in order to convince the G8, the US or European Union leaders. The challenge is about how Africa can implement projects to improve Africa’s technology levels, ensure efficiencies in economic management, create a conducive environment for investment and help Africa recover its dignity and economic independency.

Yves Ekoue Amaizo