A 'disappointing' decade for Africa

Independent panel proposes UN General Assembly support NEPAD
From Africa Renewal: 
Kwesi Botchwey
Kwesi Botchwey Photo : ©UN / Even Scheider

After surveying another decade of "poor economic performance" in Africa, an independent panel has called on the United Nations to throw its weight behind African leaders' own homegrown strategy, the New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD). "What we are saying is simple," Prof. Kwesi Botchwey, chairman of the panel, said at an 11 June news conference at UN headquarters. "The only way to make progress in Africa is for there to be local ownership of development policy. Africa and Africans must drive the policy agenda."Recent international agreements to promote peace and development in Africa have essentially failed, the panel's report concluded, noting that some 80 million more Africans live in poverty today than at the start of the 1990s. When the UN General Assembly convenes in September to evaluate the now-concluded UN New Agenda for the Development of Africa in the 1990s (UN-NADAF), it should not negotiate another international compact, but instead consider supporting NEPAD, the panel recommended.For Africa's own programme to have a greater chance of success than past efforts, the panel argued, rich countries need to increase aid, provide greater debt relief and open their markets to African exports. The UN itself will need to increase and better coordinate its support for Africa. And African governments must do more to end armed conflicts and further democratize their societies. "Commitments must be kept on both sides," Mr. Botchwey stated.UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan appointed the Panel of Eminent Personalities on the Independent Evaluation of the UN-NADAF in August 2001. It comprised a dozen individuals with extensive knowledge of African and development issues, headed by Mr. Botchwey, a former finance minister of Ghana (1982-95) and currently director of Africa research and programmes at the Centre for International Development, at Harvard University. They and a small team of consultants interviewed more than 300 individuals in a dozen African countries and a number of donor capitals.Donor commitments not metOn balance, Mr. Botchwey said, the performance of African economies during the decade covered by the New Agenda "has been negative." The causes were both external and internal. "The decade was characterized by tremendous terms-of-trade losses," he said. "The resource flows that were supposed to help accelerate the growth of the region did not materialize. Donor commitments were not met."Kwesi Botchwey Photo : ©UN / Even Scheider To provide the minimum economic conditions for development and poverty reduction, the UN-NADAF had set a target of at least 6 per cent average annual economic growth. Yet throughout much of the decade, economic growth in Africa averaged only about 3 per cent, "a very disappointing result," the panel reported (see graph).To reach the 6 per cent level, the drafters of the New Agenda estimated that a minimum of $30 bn in net official development assistance (ODA) would be required from the donor countries in 1992, and that ODA would need to grow by an average of 4 per cent a year. Instead, aid to Africa fell from $28.6 bn in 1990 to $16.4 bn in 2000, a decline of 43 per cent (see graph).During a decade of rapidly expanding global trade, Africa's export opportunities increased very slowly. In part, this was because African economies continued to rely on a very narrow range of primary commodity exports, while much of the expansion in global trade involved services and manufactured goods.The UN-NADAF had proposed a diversification fund to help African countries broaden their production and export bases beyond primary commodities. Such a diversification fund, Mr. Botchwey noted, "was not in fact set up."Instead of being allowed to pursue their own policies, African governments were obliged by the international financial institutions to adopt yet more structural adjustment measures - sweeping liberalization, privatization and other market-based reforms. These did help improve the macro-economic situation in Africa somewhat, the panel found, in particular by reducing inflation. But, said Mr. Botchwey, "short-term macro-economic stability was achieved at the expense of longer-term growth and structural transformation."'Waywardness' in governanceInternal factors also contributed to the poor economic performance, the panel found. The continent's economic crisis was aggravated by "despotism and corruption," as well as by the proliferation of wars and civil strife. There was "a significant incidence of waywardness in economic and political governance," Mr. Botchwey said.On the bright side, many African countries made significant strides in democratizing their political systems during the 1990s. "Free elections became more and more the norm rather than the exception," Mr. Botchwey observed. Civil society organizations flourished in much of the continent. The transformation of the Organization of African Unity into the new African Union, along with other regional initiatives, reflect a growing commitment by African countries to better coordinate and integrate their economies, transport systems and political relations.The human dimension of Africa's development "witnessed mixed performance" during the UN-NADAF period, the panel reported:

-- There have been slight improvements in enrolment in primary and secondary education compared to the 1980s. But these were insufficient to reverse the setbacks of the previous decade. Moreover, said the report, "in countries with adjustment programmes, governments were forced to slash already meagre education budgets and transfers to families."-- Throughout the 1990s and into the early years of this decade, the spread of major epidemics, especially HIV/AIDS, overwhelmed health systems in most of Africa. Governments cut already inadequate health budgets and shifted much of the cost of health care from public services to individuals. However, the panel noted, in April 2001 African countries committed themselves to allocating 15 per cent of their annual budgets to improving the health sector.-- Women throughout Africa have formed networks and partnerships to improve their conditions and opportunities. As a result, gender equity considerations have begun to be taken into account in African policies, programmes and administrative and financial procedures. However, women's representation in parliaments and other decision-making bodies remains low, while in most countries girls' enrolment in school lags far behind that of boys'.

Lessons for the futureTo identify the conditions for success of any future African development initiatives, the panel drew some lessons from the past decade's experience. A number of African countries did, in fact, experience relative peace, sound development policies and improved international support, the report noted, demonstrating that progress is possible if those conditions can be created.Achieving peace and security must be "the primary responsibility and highest priority of African countries, individually and collectively," the panel concluded.Given the shortcomings of external economic prescriptions, the panel argued that every African country "must evolve its own development strategy." Donors and international financial institutions should in turn "do more than pay lip service to African ownership.... Democracy is undermined if elected African governments have policies imposed from outside, leaving their democratic institutions without any real choices."Donors must also keep their commitments. "Africans have come to embrace improved standards of governance as a fundamental condition of economic development," the panel observed. "Donors also have an obligation to deliver on the promises they make regarding financial support." In particular, this should include:

  • accelerated and increased debt relief, including "complete debt cancellation for countries with a track record of good policies and a transparent democratic environment,"
  • genuine market access for goods produced in Africa,
  • and increased aid "without conditionalities," except those that the countries themselves adopt as benchmarks for performance.

Another lesson is the continuing importance of "sustained advocacy for African development." The panel commended the UN for its consistent efforts to present Africa's case at various global conferences and for keeping Africa's challenges on the international agenda. However, it added, the UN needs to increase the efficiency and relevance of its own activities in relation to Africa.In recommending that the UN support NEPAD, the panel acknowledged that the new African programme remains fragile and has yet to be translated into national or regional policies. Most seriously, it depends substantially on external assistance to implement a number of its aspirations. Donors, the panel argued, should demonstrate "a renewed commitment to the assurance of African leadership and the avoidance of a return to old-style conditionality that has been counterproductive in the past.""Peer reviews" are already being developed among the major donor countries, to better monitor their own aid policies and practices. The panel recommended that such reviews be extended to cover all policies affecting Africa, "in particular those relating to trade and agriculture." And so that the assessments of aid recipients can be heard, it also suggested that African countries be included in the donor review process.   UN New Agenda for the Development of Africa (UN-NADAF) The United Nations New Agenda for the Development of Africa in the 1990s (UN-NADAF) was adopted by the UN General Assembly in December 1991. It was a compact of mutual commitments by African countries and the international community. The New Agenda's goal was to accelerate the transformation, integration and diversification of African economies, reduce their vulnerability to external shocks, strengthen them within the world economy and enhance their self-reliance. Under UN-NADAF, both Africa and the international community agreed to:

 African countries

 International community

-- carry out economic reforms and improve domestic economic management-- promote regional and sub-regional economic cooperation and integration-- create a policy environment that would attract foreign and domestic private investment-- intensify democratization and improve human rights, living standards, support for children and equality of opportunity for women-- promote development that is environmentally sustainable-- improve agricultural policies and food security.-- take "innovative and bold" measures for a durable solution to Africa's debt crisis-- provide additional resource flows to Africa, and work to attain the international target of providing 0.7 per cent of donor country GNP as official development assistance-- help African countries diversify their commodity exports and boost export earnings-- substantially reduce or remove tariff and non-tariff barriers affecting African exports-- support African efforts toward regional economic integration.