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The way ahead for Africa

The second plenary of the Global Coalition for Africa

Given the issue on the conference's agenda - Africa's political and economic future - and its reputation as a platform for expressing frank opinions, the roll-call of African leaders at the second plenary of the Global Coalition for Africa (GCA), which took place in Maastricht on 27-28 November 1995, was certainly impressive: Presidents Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe Ketumile Masire of Botswana, Blaise Campaore of Burkina Faso, Isaias Africa of Eritrea, Alpha Konare of Mali and Prime Ministers Meles Zenawi of Ethiopia and Antoine Nduwayo of Burundi. Also present were former Presidents Amadou Toure of Mali and Julius Nyerere of Tanzania.

If the turn-out indicated anything, it showed how at ease African leaders are now with reforms and underscored the seriousness with which l they view the continuing difficult political and economic situation in the continent.

The GCA, it should be recalled, was set up in 1990 during a conference organised in Maastricht by the Dutch Government in the wake of widespread international concern over Africa's bleak economic prospects. It brings together personalities from Africa and the industrialised world and has been directed jointly over the past five years by President Masire of Botswana, the Dutch minister for development cooperation, Jan Pronk, and former World Bank President, Robert McNamara. Although serviced by a small secretariat based in Washington, the GCA is neither an organisation nor an institution: it is, as already mentioned, merely a platform for frank discussions. Through advisory committees and sub-committees, the Coalition has identified issues for debate from which, it hopes, consensus can be reached on strategies for political and economic reforms in Africa.

Since its inaugural Advisory Committee meeting in Paris in 1991, it has aimed at attracting participation from Africa at the highest possible level. There have been meetings in Kampala, Cotonou and Harare. The turn-out in Maastricht last November was a measure of the success of that policy.

(the title of the Maastricht conference), was organised to review the progress that has been made and to debate what needs to be done to rescue Africa from its seemingly inexorable decline. It took place during a season of African cultural events in the Netherlands and in the week prior to the plenary session, an Academic conference, an NGO meeting and the GCA's fifth Advisory Committee session were also staged.

The keynote address was delivered by President Masire. He told the conference that although there have been positive developments in some countries, Africa continues to cause serious concern, whether over the level of misery and poverty, denial of basic human rights or massive loss of lives and widespread displacement of populations. Given the fact that changes were taking place at a much faster pace than five years ago in international economic relationships, he observed, 'time is not on Africa's side. Consequently, the reform process, which is a prerequisite to Africa's full participation in the global economy, needs to be accelerated and extended to all those countries which are still lagging behind.' The globalisation of economic activities presented new opportunities as well as new challenges for the continent. He invited participants to 'examine carefully the policy implications of Africa's mixed performance and to forge a consensus for international cooperation.'

Three inter-related issues on which Africa's future depends - political reforms, economic reforms and external relations - were examined separately. Each subject was presented by two lead speakers and was then followed by a debate. Unlike the earlier academic conference, which was reportedly marked by acrimony and the characterisation of the GCA by some participants as 'neocolonialist', the plenary was civil and businesslike.

Political reforms

The lead speakers on political reforms were the British minister for overseas development, Baroness Linda Chalker and the speaker of the South African Parliament, Mrs Frene Ginwale.

Baroness Chalker spoke of Africa facing the 21st century at a crossroads. She noted that while Southern Africa was being transformed into a zone of peace and democratic governments, West Africa was descending into chaos with civil wars, lack of political reforms and too many cases of corruption. She referred in particular to the situation in Nigeria and the reaction of the Commonwealth and European Union, both of which have imposed sanctions. Difficult decisions, the Baroness said, have to be taken by those governments which have stalled reforms. They have to accept certain standards of good governance based on legitimacy, accountability, competence and respect for human rights. She emphasised the need for press freedom and eradication of corruption in the continent and expressed her convinction that Africa has the human and material resources necessary to eliminate poverty.

Mrs Ginwale dealt, among other things, with the issue of ethnicity which is often cited as a negative factor in democracy in Africa. She found the concept of pluralism in this regard something of a problem, coming as she does from a country where pluralism is often used to denote ethnicity as well as diversity - a concept that nurtured the racist perspective and apartheid in South Africa. She was not against ethnicity per se, Mrs Ginwale admitted. It was the negative use made of it that she deplored. The real challenge in constructing democracy, she said, was how to strengthen institutions within which to create the democratic culture. People were free to exercise their cultural rights and all other freedoms so long as they did not impinge on the rights of others.

As was expected, a long and passionate debate ensued. President Campaore of Burkina Faso pointed out that what African populations needed above all was social peace, even if this meant living in poverty. They also wanted to have such basic rights as the right to life and to free speech. As he spoke, Burundi, Rwanda and other strife-torn countries were not far from the minds of participants and the intervention at this juncture of the former US President, Jimmy Carter, who had just flown in from chairing a meeting of the Great Lakes States, was welcomed.

Mr Carter told the conference that the Heads of State in the region had agreed on a number of important issues; among other things, to ensure that all refugees return to their homes (President Mobutu is said to have given an assurance, in this regard, to stop intimidation in the refugee camps), prevent cross-border raids, help bring the perpetrators of the recent genocide in Rwanda to justice and hold a conference on peaceful co-existence.

OAU Secretary-General, Salim Salim reiterated what the former American President had said. Intimidation was indeed occurring in the camps in Zaire and this needed to be stopped so that the refugees could return home. However, justice has to be done, and to be seen to be done, for the victims of the genocide. The tribunal set up to try those accused of perpetrating it needed resources which the international community should provide. Mr Salim recalled that African countries have always been willing to provide troops for peacekeeping, but have been prevented from doing so because of lack of logistic support.

On the issue of democracy, President Mugabe of Zimbabwe said that while there was general agreement that society must be governed in accordance with democratic principles, he objected strongly to those who spoke of minorities in terms of the right of groups to have their own political parties. 'We must stop the unleashing of undemocratic forces,' he warned. He criticised the campaign being waged in certain quarters in favour of groups such as homosexuals, whom he referred to as 'deviants'. There was no question of Zimbabwe granting political rights to such people, he added bluntly.

Because Southern Africa takes great exception to military dictatorship, it was coming out strongly against military regimes in West Africa, Mr Mugabe explained in answer to Baroness Chalker. He condemned in particular, and 'barbarous' military government in Nigeria and restated his belief in the imposition of an oil embargo against the country. Mr Mugabe stressed, however, that the task of bringing about democracy in Nigeria rested ultimately with Nigerians.

The Zimbabwean President was followed almost immediately by the Nigerian Nobel laureat, Wole Soyinka, who was scathing about the measures taken so far against Nigeria by the industrialised countries. Although the reaction of the Commonwealth to recent executions was somewhat 'cheering', it was 'diabolical' to give the 'murderous' regime two years to change its ways. He did not understand why the measures actually taken did not reflect the moral outrage expressed by the Commonwealth and the EU over the execution of Ken Saro-Wiwa. He was sure Western ambassadors who were recently recalled from Nigeria will slip quietly back to their posts. Mr Soyinka insisted that any measures against Nigeria that did not include an oil embargo were bound to be ineffective.

With 'good governance' repeatedly coming up, the Dutch minister of development cooperation, Jan Pronk, who was chairing the session, called for the report of the preceding Academic conference on the subject. What the plenary heard was more moderate and sensible than expected. The academics, a spokeman said, had had to address one simple question, namely, 'whose governance?', taking into consideration the interruptions suffered by African systems of government over centuries due to interventions by European powers. Because the term lacked clarity, and in order to prevent it from being 'hijacked', there was a need for studies to be carried out on good governance by Africans themselves, especially at the local level.

An NGO conference, which was also held on the fringes of the GCA, came to a similar conclusion, the conference was told.

Economic reforms

Two African personalities with slightly opposing views on structural adjustment, Dr Kwesi Botchwey, Ghana's former Finance Minister, and Ms Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, UNDP's regional director for Africa, were the lead speakers at this session. However, like everyone else present, they both agreed that reforms were necessary if Africa's economic recovery was to be assured. Where they disagreed was on strategy.

Despite his adherence to classical IMF structural adjustment, Dr Botchwey warned against 'undue haste' in making comparisons between reforming and non-reforming countries and 'drawing causal links between performance and adjustment or the lack of it.' He continued; 'It is important to remind ourselves of the specificities that characterise the countries in this vast region. Too much of what is specific in the experiences of individual countries gets lost in the averages and generalisations.' However, he continued, it ought to be recognised that there had been significant improvements in a number of countries in sub-Saharan Africa.

A few had achieved real GDP growth and a reduction in poverty through an increase in basic education. These achievements had not been sufficiently impressive, however, because of high population growth rates, which tended to depress per capita income. Africa, Dr Botchwey said, faced formidable problems of export promotion (its share of world trade shrunk to 1% in 1994), inadequate infrastructure which is constraining development, and foreign investment which had not bean flowing in sufficiently despite new and attractive investment codes.

The former Ghanaian minister said he understood why instability should deter foreign investors from coming to Africa and suggested that the World Bank should instead step in to guarantee investments. As for the relationship between donor and recipient, which is increasingly being seen as paternalistic, he said that it ought to be redefined as one which respects integrity and is based on trust.

Africans, he recommended, should pay greater attention to domestic resource mobilisation and should recognise the connection between population, agriculture and the environment in poverty alleviation.

Ms Johnson-Sirleaf doubted whether the successes of certain African countries were really due to IMF-imposed structural adjustment. She warned African countries against adopting policy measures and reforms that are not consistent with their own agenda and out of line with the Lagos Plan of Action. They should carry out reforms because 'they are the right thing to do, not because they are what the World Bank and the IMF want.'

She also pointed out that in order to fight poverty effectively, there has to be a massive shift in resources away from areas such as debt servicing and defense procurement, to such sectors as education, food security and health.

Ms Johnson-Sirleaf wondered whether African countries were pre pared to do this. As regards foreign investment, she said that if each of the African participants at the conference was prepared 'to invest in productive endeavour' in his or her own country, and live in his or her own country, 'then Africa is on the way to attracting the private investment and the private flows that will foster its development.'

Africa and the world

This theme of self-reliance and endogenous development was taken up by President Afwerki of Eritrea who emphasised that Africa must set its house in order and devise internal strategies for economic growth. 'Africans must stand on their own feet', develop their human resources and technology. He warned that the continent's future would remain bleak as long as it continues to copy foreign patterns of development.

It would only succeed if it embarked on homegrown strategies as Ms Johnson-Sirleaf had said. Africa must find the inner strength to relaunch itself on the path of development, eradicate corruption and establish good governance and accountability.

The continent clearly requires substantial support, but he agreed with Dr Botchwey that Africa must foster a genuine partnership based on respect. A clear distinction, Mr Afwerki said, must be drawn between conditionality and development assistance.

The Ethopian prime minister, Meles Zenewi, on the other hand, did not see anything wrong with conditionality. He could live with it as long as the IMF and World Bank kept out of micro-management.

A large number of African countries, in the opinion of former Tanzanian President Julius Nyerere, are undertaking structural adjustment, not necessarily because they believe in it, but because they are compelled to do so, to have access to funds. Others, he said, were simply doing so for ideological reasons, especially with regard to privatisation.

The IMF's managing director, Michel Camdessus observed that countries which are unable to integrate into the new world economic order risk being totally marginalised. He urged unsuccessful countries to learn from the successful ones, saying that there were certain unavoidable basic truths. To attract investment, a country must function well domestically and remove the environment of uncertainty and insecurity which scares away investors. It must restore and maintain financial stability by eliminating inflation. Mr Camdessus also agreed that Africa needs substantial external assistance - about 70% of its export earnings at the moment. But he was pessimistic that debt cancellation would make much difference. Debt servicing, he said, represented 20% of Africa's export earnings. If these were cancelled the continent would still need external assistance to the tune of 50% of its export earnings.

The IMF boss's statement underlined Africa's major problem - that of adverse terms of trade, which prompted ex-President Nyerere to raise the issue of compensation for the continent for agreeing to sign up to the WTO accord which 'everyone knew was to its disadvantage'.

Against this background of decreasing export earnings, a number of speakers decried the decreasing volume of international aid. They noted that only the Scandinavian countries and the Netherlands had maintained appreciable levels of bilateral assistance as recommended by the UN. The host country, whose bilateral assistance now hovers around 1% of its Gross Domestic Products, was singled out for particular praise. Given this situation, the current tendency by some industrialised countries to reduce their contributions to multilateral systems of aid in favour bilateral forms, which are seen as less effective, and are invariably commercially tied, was widely condemned.

The conference did not end the debate on Africa's relations with the outside world without examining the issue of corruption, which is having a deleterious effect on the continent's development. Huge sums of money are known to have been illegally acquired by some leaders and laundered in Europe and America - sums acquired through either commissions paid for contract awards or outright theft from the public purse. There was an urgent need, a number of speakers emphasised, for transparency in Africa's commercial dealings with the industrialised countries.

In this regard, Mr P. Eigen of Transparency International gave the conference an account of his organisation's efforts to have governments in the developed world enact legislation against bribery and corruption. It came as a surprise to many to learn that only the USA has such legislation. Commercial bribery, Mr Eigen said, was condoned wittingly or unwittingly through subsidies disquised as expenditure for commercial promotion.

Although the Global Coalition for Africa does not sing its own praises, it has made a tremendous contribution to the changes that have taken place in Africa over the past five years. It was pleasing to learn that its existence is assured, at least for the next five years, thanks to a pledge of continuing support from the Dutch government. Mr Robert McNamara is proposing to retire shortly and the Coalition plans to increase the number of chairmen to six. They will be predominantly Africans and half of them will be women, the conference was told. Augustin Oyowe