Africa’s development: Opening up to broader ownership

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As the first decade of the new millennium drew to a close, it was a time for proponents of Africa’s development to take stock. “A lot has been done,” affirms Ibrahim Assane Mayaki, the chief executive officer of the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD), the continent’s central development plan. But over the eight years since the programme’s inception, he acknowledged in an interview with Africa Renewal, there also have been “ups and downs,” and the challenges ahead remain daunting.

In certain respects, argues Mr. Mayaki, that initial period for NEPAD was something of an “experimental process,” as Africa’s governments, regional organizations and international partners tested new ways of tackling the continent’s deep poverty, weak economies and shaky political systems. Now that Africa’s continent-wide political and development institutions have found a clearer direction, he says, the real challenge of NEPAD is to show more tangible results. “Now we really have to deliver very concretely on the ground. It’s on the basis of our delivery that we have to be judged.”

NEPAD was originally adopted at a 2001 summit meeting of African leaders. The plan expressed the determination of Africans “to extricate themselves and the continent from the malaise of underdevelopment and exclusion in a globalizing world.” Within Africa, NEPAD promotes greater democracy and respect for human rights, closer trade and other economic ties among African countries and the mobilization of more domestic resources to develop the countries’ productive sectors and improve people’s well-being.

From farms to schools

One example of how NEPAD is seeking to encourage the adoption of more effective policies by African governments is the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP). Formulated in 2003, the CAADP seeks to increase farm production in an environmentally sustainable manner so as to boost food security, provide more raw materials for African industries and raise rural incomes.

The programme reaffirms a commitment by African governments to devote at least 10 per cent of their national budgets to agriculture. “To say the truth,” Mr. Mayaki concedes, “that target has not been very well attained.”

Raising farm incomes and creating economic opportunities in Africa’s countryside will also be important for the continent’s long-term political stability, Mr. Mayaki observes. By generating rural employment for discontented youth, governments may be able to stabilize their political institutions. But if they fail to do so, they will be sitting on “a political bomb.”

Additionnaly, there have been a number of other recent NEPAD initiatives and projects, including the construction of Uhurunet, a $1.4 bn submarine cable, that will provide broadband Internet access for all coastal and island countries of Africa by the end of 2010.

Mobilizing domestic resources

Building up Africa’s physical infrastructure — roads, railways, harbours, electricity grids, waterworks, communications networks — is another NEPAD priority. Such infrastructure will be essential if African industries, small businesses and farmers are to produce and earn more.

Building such large-scale projects is especially expensive, however. A recent World Bank study estimated that $80 bn would be needed annually to bridge Africa’s “infrastructure gap.” Part of that amount is being provided by foreign donors and investors. In 2008, commitments of financing by members of a consortium on infrastructure in Africa reached $13.7 bn, up from $12.4 bn the year before.

But the world economic downturn will make it harder to secure enough donor aid or private foreign investments. “Given that infrastructure projects need quite important amounts of resources,” notes Mr. Mayaki, “we’ll evidently face challenges in that sector.”

Such external difficulties make it even more imperative for Africa to find ways to better use its own pools of domestic financing. The potential is there, Mr. Mayaki points out. Currently, Africa spends some $40 bn annually on food imports. With sound agricultural policies and the investment of just a portion of that amount in boosting farm yields, Africa could grow much more food, drastically reduce its import bill and even earn money from food exports. In addition, about $30 bn a year is now also lost to capital flight, with about $20 bn of that amount resulting from corruption, Mr. Mayaki reports. By stemming corruption and keeping such vast sums from reaching foreign bank accounts, African countries could make more available at home for investment in infrastructure and other priority needs.

Broader African ownership

In 2007 a summit of African leaders decided to better integrate NEPAD into the African Union (AU). They envisioned replacing the NEPAD Secretariat with a new NEPAD Planning and Coordinating Agency, a step that the AU officially approved on 1 February 2010. The new agency is still located in South Africa, but now as an integral part of the AU. Mr. Mayaki, in fact, already served not only as NEPAD’s CEO, but also as the representative in South Africa of the chairperson of the AU Commission.

Africa Renewal asked Mr. Mayaki whether the closer integration of NEPAD into the AU reflects an effort to generate broader political responsibility for the plan within Africa, especially now that several of its early proponents — such as President Olusegun Obasanjo of Nigeria and President Thabo Mbeki of South Africa — are no longer in office.

The initial push given by those leaders “was absolutely essential” at the time, Mr. Mayaki responds. “Otherwise NEPAD would not have been seen as important.” Nevertheless, he continues, “Now we are in a phase of opening up to broader ownership, so NEPAD becomes owned by the 53 countries of the African Union.”

That effort in turn poses new challenges for NEPAD. “We have to be present more widely,” Mr. Mayaki explains, “and we have to deliver very concretely in all the regions.”

Mr. Ernest Harsch writes for United Nations Africa Renewal magazine.

Africa Renewal  Africa Renewal magazine, published by the United Nations, examines Africa's development, achievements and challenges. It provides expert analysis and on-the-spot reporting to show how policies affect Africa's people.
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