The world media has been obsessively focused on the upcoming G8 conference at Gleneagles. But despite the lack of reporting of African opinion on the issue of poverty, Africans are helping themselves, as Deborah Gabriel reports.
By: DEBORAH GABRIEL
African voices absent from public debate on poverty
With the endless photo-opportunities and TV interviews we have had to endure of Tony Blair, George Bush and other world leaders pledging to “lift Africa out of poverty”, there has scarcely been an African face in sight.
To the unknowing world and those who absorb what is reported in the mainstream media, history is repeating itself. Yet again, rich Western countries are helping poor Africans who cannot or will not help themselves.
It was no surprise then, that on Friday, at a conference organised by the New Partnership for Africa’s Development: Avenir-NEPAD (NEPAD), an African-led and African-driven organisation that has been endorsed by the African Union, there was not a mainstream journalist to be seen.
This is a pity, given that the speakers at the conference, which included the President of NEPAD UK, Dr Emanuel Argo, Baroness Howells, OBE from the House of Lords, and a strategic economist from the United Nations Industrial Development Organisation (UNIDO) raised some pertinent points.
Baroness Howells, who is patron of NEPAD UK, told the audience: “We at NEPAD feel that authentic African voices are noticeably absent from the public debate.”
Echoing that sentiment, NEPAD ‘s Vice President, Ada Madakuoh, said: “Despite the fact that all over the world African people are represented, are working and contributing to the world economy, our voices were not sought and are not being heard.”
Baroness Howells added: “There are a number of Africans and persons of African origin all over the world who are willing and also able to contribute effectively to Africa’s development.”
The purpose of NEPAD is to kick-start into action the millions of Africans throughout the western hemisphere in order to: “bring some intelligent and eloquent African voices into the arena, to contribute constructively to the debate”, said Baroness Howells.
In addition, the main objective of NEPAD is to promote economic development and to act as a link between Africa and the rest of the world.
Africans are their own biggest aid donors
Reminding the audience how the African continent became so impoverished in the first place, Baroness Howells said:
“The world economy has not been kind to Africa. The current monetary, investment and trade regimes reward the developed countries disproportionately.
The more that African countries act as a source of raw materials and cheap labour, the less capable they become of breaking out of this mould.”
Despite this injustice, across the world in developed countries Africans are contributing to the social and economic prosperity of their adopted countries and enriching local culture simultaneously.
Therefore, stated Baroness Howells: “The [image] of a helpless, passive Africa waiting helplessly for handouts from the West is just a myth.
Africa’s story is one of self-help, self-reliance, self-determination and Africans supporting other Africans.”
Instead of focusing on Africa’s problems, said Ms Madakuoh, NEPAD’s Vice President: it’s time to start talking about the solutions and the solutions can be found in Africa:
“What we are saying is trade not aid; poverty reduction cannot be sustained purely by handouts.”
Supporting that view, Mr Yves Ekoue AMAIZO, from UNIDO said : “Everyone is agreed that the vicious circle of poverty should be ended but you cannot base it exclusively on the injection of money or conditionality.”
Mr AMAIZO also suggested that instead of the developed country’s pre-occupation with poverty reduction: “The very concept of poverty reduction should be changed into wealth creation.”
The way forward for Africa
The focus on NEPAD will be in developing entrepreneurial skills and supporting small, medium and micro enterprises (SMEs), who will in turn create jobs that will sustain the economy.
The present problem, said Ms Madakuoh, is “At the moment what we have are the huge captains of industry sitting round the table and discussing private sector involvement, when SMEs from both developing and developed countries should also be invited to participate.
It is important however, stressed Baroness Howells, “Programmes aimed at tackling Africa’s problems must be both African-led and African-driven, if they are to be successful.”
In particular, said Mr Yves Ekoue AMAIZO from UNIUDO, on any development projects it is important to question whether there will be added value for the people of Africa, whether the project will enhance the lives of African people and whether they consent to it.
Mr AMAIZO said: “Organisations cannot just come along and put a project in place and just expect people to accept it.
Cancelling debt without questioning the type of practices that led to the creation of debt in Africa is not sustainable.”
The advantage of NEPAD’s strategy for Africa is that it offers massive global, economic and business opportunities, which are effectively the only way that sustained economic growth can be achieved in Africa, said Baroness Howells.
Referring to the momentum for Africa as the “African Renaissance” , NEPAD UK’s president, Dr Emanuel Argo, said that in order for Africa to move forward, it is first necessary to:
“Build a new African identity that is supported by a cultural revolution.”
The new cultural revolution will be : “based on our best ancestral values enriched by the achievements of successive Africans”, explained Dr Argo.
“We believe that given a fair chance, fair trade and good governance, Africans can transform their economic and social prospects.”
Meanwhile, The Global African Congress UK (GAC-UK) issued its own statement in response to the Live 8 concert held over the weekend and the forthcoming G8 summit.
The statement read that although GAC-UK acknowledged the efforts of the Live 8 organisers to draw attention to poverty:
“Such benevolent liberal interests do not directly influence the structural and functional mechanisms that restrict and undermine Africa’s development.”
Instead, say, GAC-UK: “It is the ability of the African people to mobilize political power on their own political principles, in order to control the economic system to their advantage, so crucial to resolving Africa’s difficulties.”