As it plans its own fu­ture, Africa en­gages with the world

Africa Renewal - - Contents - By Tim Wall

30 out of 54 African coun­tries are clas­si­fied as LDCs

This year’s sum­mit of the African Union (AU), which turned 50 in 2013, fol­lowed an in­ten­sive round of plan­ning for the next 50 years. The sum­mit, in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, was just open­ing as Ms. Amina Mo­hammed, the UN Sec­re­tary-Gen­eral’s point per­son on devel­op­ment, spoke with Africa Re­newal at her of­fice on the 37th floor of the UN Sec­re­tar­iat build­ing in New York.

Re­mark­ing on the 2015 end of the Mil­len­nium Devel­op­ment Goals, Ms. Mo­hammed ob­served that the UN’s post-2015 drive, with sus­tain­able devel­op­ment as its hall­mark and ap­pli­ca­ble to the whole world and not just poor coun­tries, was rais­ing many ques­tions on the con­ti­nent. “First is the sus­pi­cion that ‘sus­tain­able devel­op­ment’ is an ex­cuse to es­cape from com­mit­ments to Africa,” she said, “and then whether the is­sue of poverty would re­main cen­tral,” as it was for the MDGs.

Poverty cer­tainly re­mains a dom­i­nant is­sue in Africa more than in any other re­gion. But it is also true that Africa is ex­it­ing the MDGs era in a very dif­fer­ent po­si­tion than when it en­tered. Economies have grown steadily since 2000 and UN econ­o­mists es­ti­mate av­er­age African growth in 2014 and 2015 to ex­ceed that of any re­gion in the world, ex­cept for China. The con­ti­nent ar­guably has weath­ered fi­nan­cial crises of the new cen­tury bet­ter than any other, and in­vestors prize its grow­ing class of con­sumers and its nat­u­ral re­sources. High pop­u­la­tion growth rates pose their own set of prob­lems, but one con­se­quence is that Africa gains in­flu­ence by re­cently be­com­ing the world’s sec­ond most pop­u­lous re­gion.

Na­tional lead­ers can there­fore be for­given for be­liev­ing they are now in a po­si­tion to turn the ta­bles in terms of lend­ing ad­vice. Among the key is­sues fac­ing Africa to­day are those that can only be ad­dressed in global terms: cli­mate change, im­mi­gra­tion, fi­nan­cial sys­tem sta­bil­ity and devel­op­ment mod­els. So when the AU ap­proved a “com­mon po­si­tion” on the post-2015 devel­op­ment agenda at this year’s sum­mit, “it came at ex­actly the right mo­ment,” said Ibrahim Mayaki, head of the New Part­ner­ship for Africa’s Devel­op­ment (NEPAD), the devel­op­ment arm of the AU.

The com­mon po­si­tion em­bod­ies a shift­ing of the devel­op­ment model from so­cially-ori­ented plan­ning to one fo­cused on value ad­di­tion and prop­erly tak­ing ad­van­tage of re­sources, he said. Via a com­mit­tee chaired by Liberian Pres­i­dent Ellen John­son Sir­leaf, the AU doc­u­ment went through a num­ber of drafts, gath­ered views of busi­ness and civil so­ci­ety, and was re­viewed at the head-of-state level.

On the UN side of post-2015 talks, the con­ti­nent is al­ready well-rep­re­sented. Civil so­ci­ety, busi­ness, po­lit­i­cal and aca­demic rep­re­sen­ta­tives sit on the high-level panel set up by the Sec­re­tary-Gen­eral, and Pres­i­dent John­son Sir­leaf was one of three heads of state who were co-chairs (Prime Min­is­ter David Cameron of the UK and Pres­i­dent Susilo Bam­bang Yudy­ohono of In­done­sia be­ing the others). Kenyan Per­ma­nent Rep­re­sen­ta­tive to the UN Macharia Ka­mau co-chairs an Open Work­ing Group tasked with rec­om­mend­ing a set of Sus­tain­able Devel­op­ment Goals (SDGs) by this year.

Along with Africa’s new­found strengths, how­ever, are wor­ries, some new and some left over from the past. These con­cerns clearly im­pinge on how Africa re­gards world pri­or­i­ties in its com­mon po­si­tion, and not only in its own devel­op­ment agenda.

Cli­mate change is bear­ing down on the world. With its cli­matic zones rang­ing from warm to trop­i­cal, Africa is likely to bear the brunt of this change. Agri­cul­ture is es­pe­cially threat­ened. Thirty of the 54 African coun­tries are clas­si­fied by the UN as among the world’s least de­vel­oped, and in these na­tions 70% of the pop­u­la­tion lives in ru­ral, farm-ori­ented re­gions but adds only 30% to eco­nomic growth. Food must be im­ported, ren­der­ing peo­ple and coun­tries vul­ner­a­ble to price volatil­ity, global fi­nan­cial jolts and ex­treme weather pat­terns.

High birth rates have worked to give Africans a me­dian age that is two-thirds that of Latin Amer­ica and half of much of the rest of the world. The de­mo­graphic bulge of those in their teens and twen­ties can be­come a tick­ing time bomb of so­cial dis­con­tent rather than a

pro­duc­tive boon un­less the prob­lem of high un­em­ploy­ment is solved. “The main chal­lenge will be job cre­ation for youth,” said Dr. Mayaki. “If we do not suc­ceed, this will desta­bi­lize coun­tries.”

In fact, youth dis­con­tent is most likely a sub-text in new con­flicts spread­ing across the Sa­hel and is hob­bling the strides to­ward peace and sta­bil­ity that Africa has taken in the 21st cen­tury. The north­ern rim of the con­ti­nent, once counted on as a bas­tion of sta­bil­ity, has been shaken by fall­out from the Arab Spring—Mayaki cited the role of dis­en­chanted, dis­en­fran­chised youth as well as gov­er­nance is­sues in Tu­nisia. At the con­ti­nent’s south­ern tip, South Africa is ex­pe­ri­enc­ing more tur­moil than it has seen in many years.

A young gen­er­a­tion, heard at global dis­cus­sions, de­clares that its stake in the fu­ture is not be­ing rec­og­nized and this has be­come a cross­cut­ting con­cern. Youth un­em­ploy­ment is felt acutely around the globe.

Pro­tect­ing economies by pro­tect­ing na­ture

The “com­mon po­si­tion” fo­cus on eco­nomic trans­for­ma­tion, in­clu­sive eco­nomic growth, build­ing pro­duc­tive ca­pac­ity and in­stalling badly needed in­fra­struc­ture may ob­scure the main char­ac­ter­is­tic of sus­tain­able devel­op­ment, which is the mar­riage of en­vi­ron­men­tal, eco­nomic and so­cial con­cerns.

The con­cept of sus­tain­able devel­op­ment has been around since the 1970s, but the mar­riage in prac­tice has been more like a di­vorce, es­pe­cially be­tween econ­omy and en­vi­ron­ment, ob­served Betty Maina, Chief Ex­ec­u­tive of Kenya’s As­so­ci­a­tion of Man­u­fac­tur­ers and a mem­ber of the Sec­re­tary-Gen­eral’s High-level Panel on the Post-2015 Agenda.

That en­vi­ron­men­tal con­ser­va­tion seems to run par­al­lel to, rather than in con­cert with, eco­nomic devel­op­ment was sug­gested by for­mer In­dian prime min­is­ter Indira Gandhi as early as the first UN con­fer­ence on the en­vi­ron­ment and devel­op­ment. Peo­ple liv­ing in des­per­ate poverty, she noted, are not go­ing to worry ex­ceed­ingly about longterm en­vi­ron­men­tal prospects, or pro­vide a po­lit­i­cal base for en­vi­ron­men­tal ac­tion.

Agri­cul­ture and food se­cu­rity – the theme of this year’s AU sum­mit – are among the ar­eas that may be able to pull to­gether the sus­tain­able devel­op­ment uni­verse of eco­nomic progress, so­cial jus­tice and en­vi­ron­men­tal pro­tec­tion.

As can be seen, the over­whelm­ing ma­jor­ity of the poor in Africa and around the world de­pend for their liveli­hoods on the nat­u­ral world, whether through farm­ing, forestry, fish­ing or pas­toral­ism. But this ac­cess to nat­u­ral cap­i­tal is not be­ing ad­e­quately trans­formed into fi­nan­cial cap­i­tal, points out El­liott Har­ris, direc­tor of the UN En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­gramme in New York. The pop­u­la­tion of­ten lacks prop­erty rights, and there is an ab­sence of fi­nan­cial in­ter­me­di­a­tion through banks, credit unions or co­op­er­a­tives. Ge­o­graph­i­cally iso­lated and work­ing on small­holder plots or vaguely de­fined com­mon lands, the poor can­not cap­i­tal­ize on the soil and the water with­out tech­no­log­i­cally ad­vanced agri­cul­tural in­puts, food stor­age fa­cil­i­ties and trans­port in­fra­struc­ture, while their fam­i­lies’ fu­tures are un­der threat from cli­mate change and degra­da­tion of land and water re­sources.

Fi­nan­cial re­sources

As the UN moves to­ward the post-2015 cross­roads, the key topic of im­ple­men­ta­tion is be­ing treated gin­gerly. Dis­putes over fi­nan­cial as­sis­tance from the North have stale­mated nu­mer­ous UN dis­cus­sions in re­cent past. Africa and the UN are in­sist­ing that a post-2015 agenda should not be an oc­ca­sion to walk away from com­mit­ments made in the con­text of the MDGs. But there is also an ar­gu­ment that aid is not the only rel­e­vant fi­nan­cial re­source, with the im­pli­ca­tion that it should not be­come a deal-breaker.

“With­out ODA [of­fi­cial devel­op­ment as­sis­tance], there will be no devel­op­ment agenda,” said Ms. Mo­hammed, adding: “it’s an im­por­tant part of the mix – but prob­a­bly a small part. We know that the nec­es­sary fi­nan­cial re­sources are in ex­is­tence. If there is agree­ment on the need for plan­e­tary so­lu­tions, the next step is to find a frame­work to un­lock those re­sources. We need to build the ca­pac­i­ties of tax sys­tems and cre­ate suit­able en­vi­ron­ments to ac­cess pri­vate eq­uity. We need to make bet­ter use of aid at the lev­els that we al­ready have.”

Dr. Mayaki, while en­cour­ag­ing donors to abide by the UN tar­get of de­vot­ing 0.7% of in­come to ODA, notes that rev­enue from do­mes­tic re­sources in Africa has mul­ti­plied by a fac­tor of four over the past 20 years. He also cites an Or­ga­ni­za­tion for Eco­nomic Co­op­er­a­tion and Devel­op­ment (OECD) study find­ing that out of a bil­lion Africans, less than 60 mil­lion live in coun­tries where aid is more im­por­tant than do­mes­tic re­sources.

Dr. Mayaki aims for in­tel­li­gent use of pri­vate-pub­lic part­ner­ships, in­volv­ing both do­mes­tic and in­ter­na­tional busi­ness. In ad­di­tion, he says that the African drive for in­dus­tri­al­iza­tion favours a shift of South-South co­op­er­a­tion from po­lit­i­cal to eco­nomic is­sues. It’s not just a mat­ter of re­source-for-in­fra­struc­ture ex­changes with China, he says, but it’s Brazil look­ing to An­gola and Mozam­bique for pri­vatepub­lic part­ner­ships, In­dian en­trepreneurs com­ing to East Africa or South African min­ing com­pa­nies do­ing busi­ness in Guinea and Mau­ri­ta­nia.

Civil so­ci­ety lead­ers are wor­ried about the in­creased pri­va­ti­za­tion of devel­op­ment, while busi­ness lead­ers in Africa, notes the UN Global Com­pact, have a mixed view on the rel­a­tive im­por­tance of aid ver­sus eco­nomic growth to devel­op­ment.

With few ex­cep­tions, aid re­mains at the top of the list of is­sues that could ig­nite and com­bust in the face of ne­go­tia­tors, the is­sues be­ing mar­ket ac­cess, pol­lu­tion con­trols that may ap­pear to con­strain pro­duc­tion or con­sump­tion, the rights of women and mi­nori­ties, and the sim­ple fact that the el­e­va­tion of the pri­or­ity topic of one in­ter­est group can be per­ceived as a down­grade of an­other topic. The value added of a sus­tain­able devel­op­ment agenda – its abil­ity to in­ter­con­nect vir­tu­ally all is­sues – poses an im­ple­men­ta­tion chal­lenge. For now, it places ex­plo­sives along the road to a global agree­ment.

“There will be many tense mo­ments,” pre­dicts Ms. Mo­hammed.

Panos/Mikkel Oster­gaard

Chil­dren study­ing math in Harare, Zim­babwe.

UN Photo/Devra Berkowitz

Amina J. Mo­hammed, the UN Sec­re­taryGen­eral’s Spe­cial Ad­viser on Post-2015 De­vel­op­ment Plan­ning.

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