Africa in Brief

From Africa Renewal: 
page 23

Security Council action against using child soldiers

Security Council action against using child soldiers
Photograph: UNMIL / Eric Kanalstein

In July, the UN Security Council took its first concrete steps to identify and isolate groups or nations using child soldiers. Resolution 1612 establishes a monitoring and reporting mechanism to allow the UN to obtain information on grave violations of children in armed conflict for subsequent action. The council publicly identified 54 parties utilizing child soldiers across the globe. These included the Janjaweed militia in Sudan, the Lord’s Resistance Army in Uganda and government forces in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Uganda. There are an estimated 250,000 to 300,000 children worldwide who are used as combatants, porters, spies and sex slaves, with the problem gravest in Africa and Asia.

With the adoption of the resolution, “we have now entered the ‘era of application’,” said then UN Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict Olara Otunnu. He says the resolution brings together “all the key elements we have developed, to ensure accountability and compliance on the ground. This is a turning point of immense consequence.”

The resolution orders offenders to prepare time-bound action plans to cease all violations against children in armed conflict. Failure to comply could result in actions such as arms embargoes, travel bans and restrictions on financial resources.

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Africa can move faster on MDGs, says ECA

Despite widespread pessimism, some African countries are on course to meet key targets set by the international community, known as the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), reports the UN Economic Commission for Africa (ECA). Fourteen countries in Sub-Saharan Africa — out of 30 worldwide — have so far managed to reduce the number of people living in hunger by at least 25 per cent, notes the report, The Millennium Development Goals in Africa — Progress and Challenges.

At least 14 African countries have already reached or have the potential to achieve universal primary education, another of the goals. The proportion of children attending school in Africa increased from 50 per cent in 1990 to 61.2 percent in 2000.

Mr. K.Y. Amoako, ECA’s then executive secretary, says that “ Africa does need to make much faster progress and we’re showing a way forward; but the impression is sometimes given that there is no progress to report. That is wrong.”

Yet many countries lag far behind, and some have regressed. Average adult life expectancy, for example, has declined from 50 to 46 years. It is clear, the report notes, that sub-Saharan Africa as a whole will not achieve the MDGs by the target date. But the ECA argues that governments can be successful at reducing extreme poverty if they use the MDGs as a tool in shaping their development policies.

UNCTAD cautions Africa on foreign investment

A too-narrow focus on attracting foreign direct investment (FDI) may be detrimental to development and long-term economic growth, the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) warned African countries in a report released in September. Entitled Economic Development in Africa: Rethinking the Role of Foreign Direct Investment, the report calls for a more balanced approach to FDI.

Attracting FDI has assumed a prominent place in economic strategies in Africa in recent years, in part because it provides external financing without adding to countries’ debt burdens. “FDI can play a constructive role . . . by transferring capital, skills and know-how,” says Mr. Samuel Gayi, one of the report’s authors. However, he adds, whether it contributes to development depends on broader macroeconomic and structural conditions.

Africa has traditionally drawn FDI into enclaves of export-oriented primary production, such as oil and mining, with limited links to other economic sectors. Competition to attract investment into these extractive sectors has led to what some observers describe as “a race to the bottom,” the agency notes. In the process, governments have given up “policy options necessary to organize a more dynamic long-term growth path,” such as developing infrastructure.

Policy reforms have instead focused on liberalization, privatization and deregulation. Though intended to improve the investment climate, they have neither increased FDI flows to productive sectors nor stimulated more rapid growth and poverty reduction, UNTCAD reports.

Average FDI flows to Africa rose from $2.2 bn a year during the 1980s to a record $18 bn in 2004. The jump, however, reflected an increase in demand for natural resources such as fossil fuels, platinum, chromium and diamonds, reports UNCTAD. Nine of the top 10 African countries receiving FDI in 2003 had major mineral and oil reserves. Despite policies designed to attract FDI, the continent received only an annual average of about 2 per cent of global flows between 2000 and 2004, compared to 4.4 per cent during the 1970s.

Economic adjustment policies imposed on Africa over the past 20 years did not improve the quantity or quality of FDI, says Mr. Richard Kozul-Wright, an UNCTAD economist. Where FDI did come, it did not encourage local investment or increase government revenues. He warns that trying to attract more FDI through further liberalization and downsizing of the state “will not do the job.”