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
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.
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
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.
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
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
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
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