'Africa has come of age'

General Assembly debates New Partnership, peace efforts
From Africa Renewal: 
Amos Wako, Ministre de la justice du Kenya : "L'Afrique a mûri et assume la responsabilité première de son développement et de sa destinée." Photo : ©Nations Unies
Attorney General Amos Wako of Kenya: “Africa has come of age and takes primary responsibility for her development and destiny.” Photo: United Nations

Nearly a year after the UN General Assembly first endorsed the New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD), the body convened again on 15-16 October to review the plan's progress. Delegate after delegate, from poor and rich countries alike, noted the many difficulties and challenges facing Africa, but also found signs of improvement, notably a modest rise in donor assistance to Africa and progress towards peace in some of the continent's most deadly armed conflicts.

NEPAD, noted Kenyan Attorney General Amos Wako, represents an assertion of Africa's commitment to take charge of its own affairs. It is “an African initiative that sends a signal that Africa has come of age . . . and takes primary responsibility for her development and destiny.”


Attorney General Amos Wako of Kenya: “Africa has come of age and takes primary responsibility for her development and destiny.”
Photo: United Nations


UN Under-Secretary-General and Special Adviser on Africa Ibrahim Gambari underlined that point in a briefing on the eve of the General Assembly debate. “The Africans are saying for a change: 'We want to take ownership of our problems. We are defining our priorities and we are taking steps to implement those programmes.'”

'NEPAD in action'

Practically every participant in the debate cited the creation of the African Peer Review Mechanism as one of NEPAD's most significant, tangible achievements so far. Under the mechanism, participating African countries agree to review and learn from each other's experiences in promoting good governance, sound economic management and respect for human rights. “We applaud the progress” made by Africa in establishing the mechanism, said Ambassador Marcello Spatafora of Italy, speaking on behalf of the European Union. He urged other African countries to join the 16 that have already acceded to the mechanism.


“We applaud the progress” made in establishing the African Peer Review Mechanism, said Ambassador Marcello Spatafora of Italy.
Photo: © Ministero degli Affari Esteri


While welcoming such external expressions of support, Ambassador Dumisani Kumalo of South Africa emphasized that the mechanism — a “novel and courageous process” — was not designed to please Africa's external partners. “Rather,” he said, “it was Africa's own effort of seeking good governance for itself and not as a means to appeal to the international community.”

Overall, NEPAD is “still in its infancy,” noted Foreign Minister Leonardo Santos Simão of Mozambique, speaking for the African Union. Nevertheless, he added, a number of regional NEPAD projects are already being promoted, including construction of a gas pipeline from Nigeria to other West African countries and links between the electricity grids of the Democratic Republic of Congo and Zambia. These, plus “many others in the pipeline,” represent “NEPAD in action.”


NEPAD is “still in its infancy,” noted Foreign Minister Leonardo Santos Simão of Mozambique.
Photo: United Nations


A few delegates noted that NEPAD still faces a challenge in gaining understanding and support within Africa . “NEPAD is not without its flaws,” said Mr. Amare Tekle, a foreign affairs adviser in the office of Eritrea's president. He cited frequent criticisms from African academics and civil society organizations, many of which question their governments' commitment to good governance or believe that NEPAD reflects an uncritical acceptance of globalization. Moreover, he added, “Many in Africa are sceptical that the developed countries will translate pledges of assistance into concrete action.”

Peace and development

Development in Africa will not be possible without peace, nor peace without development, the delegates noted. Some pointed to recent progress towards resolving conflicts in Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Guinea-Bissau, Sudan and elsewhere as evidence that Africa may be on the way to a more peaceful future. Others emphasized that the improvements have been slow and erratic, and that far too many countries remain mired in war and other forms of civil strife.

Stressing the importance for Africa of strengthening its own capacities to prevent and resolve conflicts, Nigerian Foreign Minister Saidu Balarabe Samaila added that such efforts “should not be used as an excuse for the international community to shrink from playing an active role in the search for peace in Africa.” He said that international “indecision and inaction” had contributed to repeated conflicts in Guinea-Bissau and Liberia.

Ambassador Marc Nteturuye of Burundi, pointing to the difficulties of building up the troop strength of an Africa Union peacekeeping force in his country, asked: “Why are the rich countries hesitating to give financial and logistical support to those African countries trying to dispatch troops?”

Post-conflict reconstruction

Beyond ending actual fighting, the struggle for peace in Africa also will require greater African and international assistance for post-conflict reconstruction and development, Ambassador Teruneh Zenna of Ethiopia told the Assembly. “Adequate resources must be provided to ensure the implementation of disarmament measures, including weapons collection, demobilization and reintegration programmes.” Above all, he added, financing must also be allocated to rebuilding infrastructure, restoring social services and developing income-generating programmes.


UN Under-Secretary-General and Special Adviser on Africa Ibrahim Gambari: “The Africans are saying for a change: ‘We want to take ownership of our problems.'”
Photo: United Nations


In his briefing, Mr. Gambari also emphasized that point. Despite progress in resolving African conflicts, he said, “the bigger challenge is how to maintain peace in those countries that have recovered from war,” including by effectively tackling their development challenges.

Aid and debt

While Africa is trying to take the driver's seat, the continent still needs support from its external partners, given the widespread poverty and limited capacities of most African countries, many General Assembly speakers pointed out. They were therefore encouraged by the news, in a report on NEPAD's implementation by UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, that donor assistance to Africa has begun to recover. Between 2000 and 2002 it rose modestly from $16.4 bn to $18.6 bn. Although this marks an end to the steady decline in aid during the previous decade, the latest figure is still well below the $26.6 bn received in 1990.


While Africa is trying to take the driver’s seat, the continent still needs support from its external partners, given the widespread poverty and limited capacities of most African countries.


Ambassador Kumalo of South Africa said that his country appreciates the recent increase in aid to Africa . But since overall aid levels remain low, he said that it is also important to improve the effectiveness of the aid that is provided. This is an issue donors are also emphasizing, Mr. Kumalo noted, a stance that, however, “contrasts sharply with the reluctance by some donor countries to untie certain types of aid.” By continuing to link aid disbursements to the purchase of goods and services from the donor country, he said, there is a risk that “the concept of aid efficiency would become a mere slogan which is applied selectively.”

Mr. Masashi Mizukami of Japan's permanent mission to the UN argued that more international assistance should be invested in developing “the skills and abilities of people in Africa . Japan believes that Asia-Africa cooperation . . . can contribute a lot to capacity building in Africa.”

Delegates also cited the need for greater debt relief. The debt “is still an unbearable burden,” said ambassador Martin Belinga Eboutou of Cameroon, even for countries that have benefited from debt reduction under the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries initiative. Many African representatives supported a proposal that an international conference on African debt be held next year.


Ambassador Martin Belinga Eboutou of Cameroon: The debt “is still an unbearable burden,” for Africa.
Photo: United Nations


‘Disappointment' at trade talks failure

Whatever financial benefits Africa may get from aid or debt relief, many ambassadors pointed out, these have been virtually wiped out by the losses the continent has suffered in the realm of trade. In particular, they criticized developed countries' barriers to African products and the high domestic subsidies they pay to their own farmers, which have tended to depress international prices for cotton and other key African agricultural exports.


Ambassador Papa Louis Fall of Senegal: Africa was disappointed in the breakdown of the World Trade Organization talks in Cancún .
Photo: United Nations


Senegalese Ambassador Papa Louis Fall expressed his country's “massive disappointment” at the breakdown of the World Trade Organization's talks in Cancún a month earlier. Ambassador Mohamed Bennouna of Morocco, speaking on behalf of the developing countries' Group of 77 and China, noted the “devastating impact” that volatile commodity prices and Northern agricultural subsidies, especially in cotton, have had on Africa's development prospects.

Inconsistency

The failure of Cancún, combined with the “cotton scandal,” have revealed the inconsistency of the industrialized countries in international trade talks, Mr. Bennouna said: “on one hand, developed countries call for a reinforced and general liberalization of trade in African countries to the extent of imposing it through other multilateral institutions, and on the other hand, developed countries show no sign of openness concerning the legitimate claims and urgent needs of African countries.”

Among several other delegates from developed countries, French Ambassador Jean-Marc de la Sablière “profoundly regretted” the failure of Cancún and urged further efforts to achieve multilateral trade agreements that would improve Africa's export prospects. Senator Susan Knowles of Australia said that her country has “long advocated ending farm subsidies in developed countries. Not only are these subsidies hugely expensive — more is spent on them than Africa's combined economic output — they are also highly damaging to Africa's development prospects.” She urged the creation of “a fair international trading system in agricultural products.”