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NEPAD and AU Last update: 2020-11-27  

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Possible synergies between the GD and NEPAD
NEPAD has undergone several changes of name, evolving from what was initially known as the Millennium Africa Plan (MAP) through the New Africa Initiative (NAI) to NEPAD. It has its roots in the African Renaissance initiative launched by the South African president, Thabo Mbeki, several years ago. The underlying message of the African Renaissance and NEPAD is that Africans must take charge of their own destiny. The introduction to NEPAD’s founding document states: ‘The Programme is anchored on the determination of Africans to extricate themselves and the continent from the malaise of underdevelopment and exclusion in a globalising world.’ And it later underscores this message by stating: ‘Across the continent, Africans declare that we will no longer allow ourselves to be conditioned by circumstances. We will determine our own destiny and call on the rest of the world to complement our efforts.’

An important feature of NEPAD - and the main reason why it needs to be taken seriously -- is that many African states have bought into it, and that it has been endorsed as an initiative of the African Union (AU), previously the Organisation for African Unity (OAU). Its objectives are:

  • improved economic growth and development, and increased employment;
  • reduced poverty and inequality;
  • diversified productive activities and enhanced international competitiveness; and
  • increased African integration.
NEPAD is primarily being driven by South Africa, Nigeria, Algeria, Senegal, and Egypt, on behalf of the OAU. NEPAD also represents an attempt to deal with Africa’s economic, social and political development in a collective and holistic manner. If the African Renaissance is an effort - at a cultural, artistic and philosophical level - to revive African diversity and intellectual traditions, NEPAD is Africa’s ‘Marshall Plan’. It also recognises the fact that its success depends on forging a partnership with the rest of the international community. It is also ambitious in that it envisages an economic growth rate for Africa of 7% a year.

Following a recent African regional meeting preceding the WSSD, the African ministerial statement released in Nairobi on 18.10.2001 also referred to NEPAD as the framework that should drive the sustainable development agenda in Africa, and noted that it would provide the basis for responding to issues arising out of the WSSD. Therefore, close linkages are being identified between NEPAD and the outcomes of the WSSD, and how the latter could further the former’s objectives.

The first inaugural meeting of the Implementation Committee of Heads of State and Government on NEPAD was held on 23 October 2001 in Abuja, Nigeria. Delegates confirmed NEPAD as the official name of the NAI, and ratified a governing structure, served by a secretariat, to be based in Pretoria. The committee is chaired by president Olusegun Obasanjo of Nigeria, with presidents Bouteflika of Algeria and Wade of Senegal as vice-chairs. It is to meet every four months. Of the five work programme areas identified, agriculture and market access are being profiled as significant areas for intervention. The other important outcome of the meeting was that African states would be encouraged to subsume all other developmental activities under NEPAD, thus turning it into Africa’s flagship development initiative.

An interesting aspect of NEPAD is that it seeks to knit issues of trade, foreign direct investment, monetary policy, overseas development assistance, debt relief, and economic policies and other national programmes together in a single development agenda and paradigm. This prompts the question: what is this paradigm?

It is informed by a sense of both urgency and pragmatism, and a recognition that Africa runs the risk of being the most excluded continent from globalisation and its possible benefits. One of the most important emerging trends of globalisation is that it forces developing countries to compete against each other for access foreign markets and foreign direct investment. NEPAD, with its integrated approach, is meant to counteract this trend.

Without a common economic and development programme, supported by a concerted political effort, economies on the continent will probably continue to decline, and individual states continue to pursue their national self-interest rather than co-operate with others. Co-operation has the advantage of maximising the use of limited resources, reducing conflict, and ensuring a focus on the bigger picture. NEPAD has encouraged a recognition that improvements in trade co-operation between African states would not only benefit their own economies, but also strengthen their international trade. In fact, increased growth in Africa is more likely to emanate from increased internal trade than taking advantage of international trade opportunities.

Agriculture still plays a very important role in the economies of most African states. It is not only generates foreign exchange; millions of people continue to depend for their livelihoods on agricultural production, and related benefits. However, agriculture in Africa is beset with structural problems, including unequal access to land and a lack of agricultural services, research, and finance. Additional constraints are imposed by the fact that many African states are drought-prone and are generally excluded from global trade in agricultural commodities, either because of unstable prices or a lack of access to markets. While droughts and other forms of climatic instability are certainly an issue, countries can only adapt to them more efficiently if structural impediments at the national and international levels are cleared away. The main aim of continued support to agriculture is to lay the foundation for diversifying Africa’s economy.

NEPAD does contain scattered references to the importance of environmental and natural resources. These are the clichйs one is bound to find in political documents such as NEPAD. They do not signify much; if anything, they reflect South Africa’s disproportionate influence on the continent. Programme areas in respect of the environment speak to the protection of wetlands, biodiversity, the removal of alien invasives, and the combating of desertification. Very little is said about urban areas and the importance of environmental justice issues that are not only relevant to South Africa but also countries such as Nigeria. This relates to the fact that large segments of these communities suffer the burden of pollution from oil, mining, and chemical industries, let alone that some governments are eager to import toxic waste from developed countries. Perhaps we should await a more robust and comprehensive fleshing out of a broader spectrum of environmental issues that adequately embrace ‘green’ and ‘brown’ problems facing Africa.

The most important difference between the GD and NEPAD is that the latter is strongly focused on shifting the balance of power. It recognises the importance of ensuring that economic power needs to be harnessed in different ways if Africa is to be fully integrated into the world economy. It speaks to the realities of unequal political power and social exclusion, and how they contribute to political instability as well as increased disparities and distortions in the global economy. NEPAD emphasises that empowerment and self-reliance can only be achieved by linking different elements such as trade, governance, security, infrastructure development, capital flows, human resource development, and stimulating growth by improving the marketing and productive capacity of the agricultural sector.

The GD, on the other hand, falls short in bringing to the fore the intricacies of development, so that even if it were to have a narrow development assistance focus it should still be clearer on how ODA should be channelled, or trade used as a vehicle for economic upliftment. The notion that trade is just about market access is simplistic, as trade should be seen as a strategic element in the overall economic development plan for any country or region. Thus the GD’s approach to trade is still fairly narrow, and needs to be expanded to reflect broader debates on the needs of developing countries and the economic development paths they wish to pursue.

This lack of a more holistic insight into the development issues faced by developing countries or regions is the GD’s greatest weakness. What is more important, though, and distinguishes the GD from NEPAD, is that while the former speaks at a more universal and global level, the latter is specifically located in an African context, and tries to capture the different strands of the debate on development in Africa. NEPAD may not find favour with all the ideological stalwarts, but it is certainly not a document or process run by international development agencies or other forms of political influence originating in Europe or North America. While NEPAD talks about the involvement of the private sector - in positivistic terms - the GD never quite comes to grips with the role of the private sector, ie the need for recognising that some private multinationals are more powerful than many states.

Their power and ability to influence global governance and the global economy is a cause for concern, and needs to be addressed within the framework of the GD if the latter is to find ways of promoting the idea of ‘fair’ -- or what Greenpeace has dubbed ‘safe’ -- trade for the 21st century. Perhaps this blind spot in respect of multi- and transnationals has resulted from an assumption that trade occurs among states, when in fact states are also vehicles for negotiating trade agreements that improve the commercial position of their transnational companies. There is also a general tendency to ignore the role of local/domestic private capital and entrepreneurship, as big capital is thought to be better, and we are often falsely led to assume that big corporations have the national interest at heart.

Cynics would retort that NEPAD and the GD alone will not change the world, but actions would. Both the GD and NEPAD may have the last word if they implement their goals effectively. However, wider and more critical debate is necessary if the documents are to gain greater public support, as discussions so far have only been limited to government officials and other specialists.

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