What to Do About Africa

Aid Isn´t Enough, Some Observers Say

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WASHINGTON, D.C., JUNE 22, 2002 (Zenit.org).- Debate continues over the best way to help Africa break out of the chronic poverty that has seen the continent continue to fall behind the rest of the world in economic terms.



The recent tour in Africa by rock star Bono of the band U2 and U.S. Treasury Secretary Paul O´Neill brought into contrast two visions of how to approach the problem, the New York Times noted May 26. Bono favors increasing aid while O´Neill is skeptical about the effectiveness of aid programs.

In defense of aid, the New York Times noted that over the past decade, Uganda has used Western help to double the number of children in schools, cut the rate of HIV infection among pregnant women by 80%, reduce poverty by about 35% and bring inflation from almost 200% per year to around 2%. Experts and government officials attribute these gains largely to outside aid.

Summing up the results of the Bono-O´Neill tour, the Financial Times commented June 3 that the Treasury secretary will face a hard time convincing Washington decision makers that additional aid can produce fruits where previous efforts have only partially succeeded. "And his businessman´s mind as yet remains disquieted with the answers he has been given about why former programs have not worked better," noted the newspaper.

The trip came shortly after the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) released figures for aid given by rich countries in 2001. The United States increased its contribution to $10.9 billion, from $9.96 billion, to become the world´s largest donor for the first time in almost a decade, the Financial Times reported May 14. Yet, U.S. aid as a proportion of gross domestic product -- a paltry 0.11% -- puts it at the bottom of the list. Japan, weakened by economic problems, cut its aid by $4 billion, an 18% drop in real terms.

Official development assistance from the 22 members of the OECD fell to $51.4 billion last year from $53.7 billion in 2000, a drop of 1.4% in real terms. The decline was partly caused by exchange rate falls against the U.S. dollar. Aid as a percentage of gross domestic product remained unchanged at 0.22%, compared with 0.33% in 1990-92.

G-8 to address problem

How to help Africa will be one of the subjects dealt with at this month´s G-8 meeting in Canada. The June issue of The World Today magazine, published by the London-based Royal Institute of International Affairs, analyzed the latest program, the New Partnership for Africa´s Development (NEPAD) designed to stimulate development in Africa.

James Hamill, lecturer in the Politics Department of the University of Leicester, explained that NEPAD is designed to be a type of compact between African states and the developed world in which the latter has agreed to provide more aid for infrastructure projects, debt relief and education, to ease access for African goods to the markets of the developed world, and to channel greater investment into African economies.

In return, African states have fully accepted the post-Cold War global economic and political orthodoxies and, consequently, have committed themselves to the principles of "good governance." In concrete terms this entails a commitment to clean, accountable and open government, together with the ending of gross human rights abuses. Governments also are promising to introduce reforms to promote sound economic management.

Though such attempts have failed in the past, Hamill sees cause for more optimism now. For starters there is a much greater commitment to Africa from the leading developed nations, demonstrated by the fact that the topic has finally found its way to the G-8 agenda.

Another factor working in its favor is that the proposals mainly come from the African leaders themselves, particularly from the presidents of Egypt, Ghana, Nigeria, Senegal and South Africa. The plan thus avoids the pitfalls of externally imposed, and often deeply resented, external solutions.

Nevertheless, the World Today article admits, it remains doubtful whether the developed world will provide the annual $64 billion of investment -- both public and private -- which NEPAD proposes.

The Times newspaper of London commented June 6 that British Primer Minister Tony Blair enthusiastically supported the NEPAD plan during his tour of West Africa in February. Since then, however, President Robert Mugabe has retained power in a discredited election in Zimbabwe, peace talks to end the civil war in Congo have faltered, and political strife has dogged Madagascar.

In Washington, a strong call for increased support by the richest countries came from James Wolfensohn, president of the World Bank. But he also said that African countries must break down internal barriers to trade and investment. "Africa has heard too many words -- especially from those who live far beyond its shores," said Wolfensohn.

Pledges of substantially increased aid for Africa were made by the European Union and the United States at a U.N. development summit in Mexico, in March. But, noted the Times, it comes after a decade of decline in aid. According to the United Nations, aid to Africa plunged more than $10 billion, to $14.2 billion, between 1989 and 1999.

Remove the trade barriers

Apart from increases in aid, African leaders are also asking developed countries to lower trade barriers. "The biggest request we are making of Western countries is to open their markets," President Yoweri Museveni told the New York Times. The May 26 edition quoted him saying: "Debt relief has saved us some money, but the real money will come from trade. Give us the opportunities, and we will compete."

But Muna B. Ndulo, director of the Institute for African Development at Cornell University, pointed out, "The fields in which Africa is most competitive now -- agriculture and textiles -- are the areas that are most protected in the West."

Others contend that trade cannot solve all the problems. Alan Tonelson, writing in the Washington Post on June 2, cited the example of textile workers in Pakistan. From 1990 to 2001, Pakistan´s annual apparel exports to the United States rose nearly 400%, to more than $1.5 billion. Nonetheless, between 1990 and 1998, nominal wages for Pakistani apparel workers stayed flat, at 24 cents per hour. In fact, the 137% inflation in the same period meant that apparel workers fell way behind the cost of living.

Tonelson, a research fellow at the U.S. Business and Industry Council Educational Foundation, said that a similar pattern holds in countries such as the Philippines, Egypt and Peru. In some countries this problem extends beyond the textile industry. He quoted a 1999 report from the Harvard Institute of International Development and the World Economic Forum that revealed falling real wages, in local currency, across all sectors of the economy in China, Indonesia and the Philippines between 1990 and 1997.

Debate will no doubt continue over how to help Africa. In their deliberations the G-8 leaders would do well to heed the words of John Paul II to delegates gathered in Rome last week for the World Food Summit of the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization: "Today more than ever there is an urgent need in international relationships for solidarity to become the criterion underlying all forms of cooperation, with the acknowledgment that the resources which God the Creator has entrusted to us are destined for all."