Africa’s partners must ‘walk the talk’

UN General Assembly urges donors to fulfill their promises
From Africa Renewal: 
page 15
President Jakaya Kikwete (Tanzania), chair of African UnionPresident Jakaya Kikwete (Tanzania), chair of African Union.
Photograph: UN Photo / Erin Siegal

African leaders have taken firm action to tackle their continent’s problems, Mr. Jakaya Kikwete, chairperson of the African Union (AU) and president of the United Republic of Tanzania, told a high-level meeting of the UN General Assembly on Africa’s development needs. But because it is the world’s poorest continent, Africa does not have enough resources of its own to adequately enhance the well being of its people or the productivity of its economies. Africa’s development partners, especially the wealthy industrialized countries, have repeatedly pledged to increase their support for Africa’s own efforts, Mr. Kikwete noted. But not all of those promises have been delivered. “Now is the time for friends of Africa in the developed world to walk the talk.”

That view was echoed by speaker after speaker at the day-long meeting on 22 September in New York, which featured the participation of 29 heads of state and government, along with other representatives of African, developing and donor countries, bilateral and multilateral agencies, and business and civil society organizations. The meeting’s final political declaration served to “reaffirm the commitment of all states to addressing the development needs of the African continent,” as expressed in the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD), the AU’s development blueprint.

The meeting called for strengthening a “global partnership of equals” by, among other things, making the world trading system less unfair and discriminatory. It pledged to support African efforts at regional integration, to cope with the impact of climate change and to combat the scourge of HIV/AIDS and other diseases. Finding solutions to such challenges are important not just to Africa, UN Under-Secretary General and Special Adviser on Africa Cheick Sidi Diarra stressed on the eve of the meeting. “Africa’s development problems are everyone’s problems.”

Financial crisis

The challenge of reducing poverty in Africa has been worsened by a variety of recent developments, participants noted. Those factors include rising food and fuel prices and the financial crisis in the US and other developed countries. The strong growth of African economies in recent years has been helped by a growing world economy, Mr. Donald Kaberuka, president of the African Development Bank, told a press conference. But if growth slows in the industrialized countries, that could weaken demand for African exports.

Aid to Africa in perspective: graph
UN Africa Renewal

Mr. Kaberuka also hoped that the rich countries’ financial difficulties would not keep them from meeting their pledges to increase aid to Africa. The UN Secretary-General’s Steering Group on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) in Africa has estimated that about $72 bn a year in external financing will be needed to meet those targets. While seemingly large, that amount is actually quite modest, Mr. Kaberuka stated. It is “just a fraction” of the $267 bn that the industrialized countries spend each year on domestic agricultural subsidies.

The urgency of Africa’s situation was underlined by a report to the meeting by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who noted that Africa remains “off track” in its quest to achieve the MDGs. The MDGs were adopted by international leaders in 2000 to focus attention on improving the well being of the world’s poorest people.

While Africa and its partners have made a number of commitments to attain the MDGs, noted the Secretary-General, those commitments “remain only partially realized.”

The international community’s pledges to help Africa are well known, and no new promises are required, Mr. Jean Ping, president of the AU Commission, told the meeting’s opening session. “The time has come for implementation,” he declared. “We need a real schedule. We need firm funding commitments. We need innovative strategies. We need leadership.”

General Assembly President Miguel d’Escoto, of Nicaragua, echoed that view, stating that Africa did not need the international community to make more commitments, but rather “the courage to live up to the words we have spoken many times over.”

Concern on aid

Increased trade opportunities, debt relief, technical assistance and foreign investment are all vital for helping to generate more resources for Africa’s development, declared the meeting’s final political declaration. But it is especially important to enhance official development assistance (ODA). In that regard, many participants welcomed the pledges in 2005 by the industrialized countries’ Group of Eight to double their aid to Africa by 2010. However, while some donors have scaled up their efforts, overall ODA has risen slowly. “We are concerned that, at the current rate, the goal of doubling aid to Africa by 2010 will not be reached,” said the declaration.

A number of donor country leaders strongly agreed with that concern, and vowed to work harder. The European Union’s commitment to contribute 0.7 per cent of its gross domestic product in aid by 2015 will be achieved, French President Nicholas Sarkozy promised, speaking on behalf of the EU. Such aid “is not simply from the heart,” he said. “It is motivated by reason. We know that the development of Africa is first and foremost an investment in our common future.”

Denmark has already achieved the target of contributing 0.7 per cent of its GDP in aid, and allocates two thirds of that amount to Africa, reported Minister of Development Cooperation Ulla Tørnaes. “We must remain focused on Africa,” she affirmed, and invited other donor countries to join the “small 0.7 per cent club.”

Roads and food

While Africa can do more to mobilize domestic resources, acknowledged Mr. Kaberuka of the African Development Bank, the amount of financing needed for essential infrastructure is beyond its means. The continent’s lack of adequate roads, railways, power networks and other infrastructure hampers its economic development and makes it very expensive for countries to transport goods. Such infrastructure is vital for helping Africa move away from its dependence on exports of oil, minerals and other raw materials, he said. “You cannot process cotton without power.”

South African Foreign Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma added that Africa needs new technology to keep up with its energy needs. In addition, she said, Africa seeks international support “for the green revolution that Africa has initiated.”

The European Commission, reported its president, Mr. José Manuel Barroso, has proposed a €1 bn food facility to help developing countries acquire essential farming inputs. The international community, he affirmed, must help “African farmers grow more food for Africans.”

Through its own efforts and with complementary support from the rest of the world, the obstacles to Africa’s development can be overcome, President Kikwete concluded. “Africa is not a hopeless case. Neither are we desperate. We are determined to wrestle ourselves out of our predicament.”