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13. Can Africa halve its poverty by 2015?
On 4 April 2002 SARPN hosted a lecture by Clare Short, the UK Secretary of State for International Development on this topic.

In her lecture Minister Short noted that reaching the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) with their overall target of halving the number of people living in poverty by 2015 will require a significant increase in development effort from the entire international community. So far the world is on track to meeting this goal largely because of successes in Asia, but Africa is becoming poorer. This is the challenge facing the New Partnership for African Development (NEPAD). Slavery colonialism, apartheid and the Cold War have been cruel to the people of Africa, but part of the explanation also lies in policies pursued by African governments. Almost 50 per cent of Africans live on less than a dollar a day, 20 per cent are affected by violent conflict and more than 25 million people are living with HIV/AIDS. To reverse the trend and halve poverty in Africa by 2015 will need strong commitment from leaders and real partnership from the industrialised countries.

Minister Short set out six priority areas where NEPAD needs to achieve success to ensure that Africa achieves the Millennium Development Goals.
  • Armed conflict is now concentrated in the poorest parts of the world and increasingly takes place within rather than between countries. According to World Bank estimates it is costing Africa 2 per cent in growth every year. NEPAD has identified this as a priority and it should take top priority at the G8/NEPAD talks in Canada in June

  • At present economic growth on the continent averages about 3 per cent. To halve poverty by 2015 Africa needs an economic growth rate of 7 per cent. Countries like Uganda, Mozambique and Botswana are already achieving this level and others show promise but NEPAD has to ensure that this spreads across the continent. Economic development and poverty reduction require better economic and political governance, effective democracy that gives the poor a voice, a flourishing private sector, the rule of law, universal health care and basic education.

  • Fairer trade rules are essential. At present trade rules impede the processing and value adding activities Africa needs to improve its position in world trade. The WTO is moving to consider trade barriers erected by developed countries. African countries also need to increase trade with each other and overcome the lack of regional economic integration they inherited from the colonial era.

  • Poor transport and communications are a barrier to economic growth. To attract international investment and retain domestic savings to invest in infrastructure development, progress on reducing conflicts, improvements in governance and the enforcement of the codes and standards agreed at the recent NEPAD meeting in Abuja are crucial to.

  • Investment in human development is the fifth issue. Health care, particularly the fight against HIV/AIDS and other communicable diseases is the key along with education, which is a crucial investment for a successful modern economy. The evidence is clear that the single most powerful investment any country can make is to educate its children - including its girls.

  • The final issue is aid. NEPAD and the Monterrey Consensus have called for more and better aid with studies indicating that an additional $50 billion a year, roughly double present levels, is needed to meet the Millennium Development Goals. Improvements in the quality of aid call for further progress in untying aid from the trade and investment interests of donor countries and supporting poverty reduction strategies devised by developing countries themselves. Unsurprisingly, local reform agenda have been far more effective that those imposed from outside and the accompanying improvement in financial management and strengthening of local institutions has made aid spending more effective.
Minister Short ended by calling on NEPAD to bring a new drive, a new political energy and a greatly sharpened focus to push forward African development. Most important of all, the people of Africa must be empowered to demand more of their governments and of the international community – both of which have let them down too badly for too long.

13.1 Wiseman Nkuhlu replies

In his reply to Minister Short’s lecture, Wiseman Nkuhlu, chairman of the NEPAD Steering Committee, said that NEPAD was making real progress but faced complex challenges. For the first time African leaders have acknowledged their contribution to increased conflict and poverty on the continent and committed themselves to changing this. Ordinary citizens should take them seriously and hold them accountable, because without this the process may not go very far.

Establishing conflict resolution mechanisms and structures is critical to NEPAD’s success. The structures and institutions should be permanent, able to act as a future deterrent to those who see conflict as an easy route to power on the continent.

Enhancing political and economic governance is NEPAD’s second building block. African countries have signed a number of human rights instruments such as the UN and OAU human rights charters committing themselves to democracy and human rights but these have not been implemented and election rigging and other abuses continue. The political standards NEPAD is drawing up, based on international conventions that Africa has participated in, will be underpinned by independent peer review mechanisms that are free from political manipulation. NEPAD recently held a meeting in Addis Ababa with the African Development Forum to get input from civil society and the private sector on these processes. The plan is to hold similar forums in every country. NEPAD itself as a continental level initiative will deal with pan African and global structures, relying on those institutions to get inputs from affiliate structures.

Sustainable economic growth in Africa requires a framework of economic policies and democratic rights so that individual Africans feel free and confident to invest their savings in Africa. The second requirement is to remove barriers to trade between African countries. These things are within the power and competence of African government. The other very important factor is access to markets in industrialised countries.

Achieving the Millennium Development Goals is a priority for NEPAD but without drastic action this will not be possible. The focus here is on three things:
  • Agriculture is the dominant economic sector in Africa, a programme that will empower people on the ground will be taken to the public for inputs once it is ready

  • A comprehensive health programme is being drawn up for the continent. It is based on comprehensive participatory processes

  • The third area is primary education.
In all three areas the lest developed countries on the continent will not achieve the 2015 targets without significant increases in assistance and NEPAD is developing a strong case for this.

The final priority area for NEPAD is establishing the foundations for higher levels of sustained growth through increased technical skills, bridging the digital divide and infrastructure development. Without addressing these issues, the other reforms will not yield the desired improvements.

The programme is being developed using African resources as the basis for an enhanced partnership with the developed countries. If the nucleus of African leaders championing the process holds together and civil society applies pressure to make sure that it is not reversed this will truly be the African century.

13.2 Questions

Professor Nkuhlu pointed out that in his view enforcement depends on transparency and openness supported by standards and peer review. The public needs to know its rights and the media needs to be effective throughout the continent. As trade links between African countries grow it will be easier to apply sanctions by denying countries the benefits of regional integration.

Africa can determine its own path by using its own institutions and listening to people on the ground. There are two levels of involvement. The information NEPAD is using comes from participative processes in pan African structures and forums such as the Dakar conference on education and the Abuja conference on HIV/AIDS. NEPAD also uses information collected over a long period of time by various UN agencies and institutions such as the African Development Bank and World Bank. The other level, and this is the focus now, is direct participation by people involved in project implementation.

NEPAD is not just about liberalising economies, it is about laying foundations, the market access issues, the infrastructure issues, the human development issues. It is a response to the negative consequences of globalisation. It also focuses on enhancing and coordinating the negotiating capacity of African governments so that the can influence forums like the WTO.

Responding to a question about limiting the number of terms that African leaders serve he pointed out that the situation has changed. In the Cold War world openness and transparency were not needed to get aid but that has changed. Democracy is deepening, and people are demanding their rights. He supported the limitation of terms but some developed countries do not observe this so there is no global standard. NEPAD is suggesting two terms but cannot prescribe.

NEPAD has adopted the MDGs but they will be linked to goals set in country specific integrated development plans. Overall it accepts the target of 7 per cent growth per annum for Africa.

Minister Short pointed to lessons from experience showing that programmes that don’t let people set their own priorities do not work. Effective programmes need decentralisation, consultation, transparency and accountability.

On the gap between rich and poor countries she said that the picture was not one of the unremitting growth of poverty. Rapid growth that reduces the gap between rich and poor countries is possible. This is essential not only for moral reasons but also to make the world a safe place to live in.

Private sector investment plays an important role even in developed countries, for example Japan is a major investor in the UK. The transnational corporations, properly managed and regulated, provide access to modern technology across the world.

On OK initiatives Minister Short noted that the EU negotiates as a unit at the WTO. As a membership based organisation, the WTO gives the developing world the chance to dominate. The UK has helped to strengthen negotiating capacity and Doha is evidence of that starting to work. The UK has also supported the legal advisory centre that helps poorer countries to finance trade lawyers, and is working to improve representation for countries in Geneva. The UK wants to reform agriculture but has to work through the EU where some countries want to retain protection.

On making globalisation more positive she pointed out that it has been going on for a very long time and you cannot stop the world from integrating. The poorest countries have been those that have closed themselves off. The worst scenario, and on that is not impossible, would be a marginalised Africa. Some people lose out in the rapid change that has characterised recent globalisation and governments and international institutions must protect people and help them to get training and new jobs. Another aspect of globalisation is increasing consumer pressure for fair trade and manufacturing processes that respect labour and environmental standards.

The full transcript of the workshop has been posted on SARPN’s web.

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