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Report Urges Strong Action to Spur Development in Africa

  • Serena Parker

The Commission for Africa - appointed by British Prime Minister Tony Blair - has issued a study assessing the challenges the continent faces and outlining a series of steps the world can take to further development and progress. The Commission lists good governance as a top priority without which lasting progress is unlikely.

Many of the problems plaguing sub-Saharan Africa are not new and date back decades. So why get involved now? Nick Stern, the director of policy research for the Commission for Africa, says change is already underway in Africa and that progress demands a response now.

"Africa in terms of its basics, its foundations in governance and peace and security, really has changed," he said. "And the results in terms of economic growth are starting to come through. We all know that's partial. We all know that it's fragile. But it's real. And strong support from the outside now can make the difference between real success and disillusionment. And I think it's very important that we recognize this moment."

Indeed, African economic data suggests change is underway. Inflation in Africa is down from 50 percent in 1990 to single digits today. Fiscal deficits have been cut in half and there are 16 countries in Africa with growth rates of four percent of more.

The Commission's report emphasizes the need for Africa to deepen efforts to build capable states based on strong foundations of good governance where peace and security are maintained. Such states can promote and protect human rights and democracy and deliver further economic growth.

Commissioner Ralph Goodale, the Canadian finance minister, says it's durable economic growth that is crucial to Africa's lasting success.

"Africa needs more internal, indigenous economic growth," he said. "One of the ways this can be accomplished is through a strong, indigenous private sector to create jobs, raising living standards, fostering a vibrant, successful, middle class - a middle class that drives domestic consumer demand and market development as well as democratic development at the same time."

The report says one way Western countries can foster economic development is by supporting infrastructure projects that encourage intra-regional trade opportunities. Africa's present infrastructure was built to connect natural resources to ports to ship goods to Europe and beyond. The industrialized world can also invest in tertiary education and rural development.

Mr. Goodale says there are two major obstacles in the path to Africa's economic growth and the development of a middle class. One of these is debt.

"Too many resources in Africa are being soaked up to pay for the debts of the past when they should be invested in the kind of social and economic initiatives that can lead to a better quality of life tomorrow," he said.

Although the industrialized world has instituted some forms of debt relief for the poorest countries, Commissioner K.Y. Amoako, executive secretary for the U.N. Economic Commission for Africa, says more needs to be done.

"On debt, we have also gone further in our recommendations by calling for 100 percent multi-lateral debt cancellation for sub-Saharan Africa," he said. "And we want to include all sub-Saharan African low-income countries, including those excluded from current schemes. It should cover multi-lateral and bilateral debt and reduce debt service by up to 100 percent."

The report also cites disease, particularly HIV/AIDS, as a second major barrier to economic progress. Commissioner Ralph Goodale says the disease has ravaged the continent to such an extent that businesses cannot stay at full capacity because of the effects of the illness on their staff.

"The impact of diseases like HIV/AIDS is so devastating that it is no longer a social issue," he said. "It has economic ramifications that are quite literally destroying some of the basic instruments of a market economy."

The report urges donors to increase their contributions to the fight against HIV/AIDS in Africa to at least $10 billion a year. Current global spending to address the crisis is far below this, at about $3 billion.

The commissioners say they hope this report galvanizes international opinion around a common effort to promote African development. Nick Stern, the Commission's director of policy research, says it is in the West's self-interest to act now.

"An Africa in turmoil will be an Africa which makes the whole business of stable fuel supplies much more difficult," he said. "An Africa in turmoil can spread disease as we've seen in HIV/AIDS. An Africa in turmoil and failed states could be bases for terrorism, and we've already seen terrorism against the United States in Africa. An Africa in turmoil will raise big problems in migration, particularly of course for Europe, but beyond. An Africa in turmoil is above all bad for Africa, but it's in nobody's interests. So we all have a very powerful interest in Africa's development."

The commissioners says the risk of not acting is too high.

You can read the full Commission report at www.commissionforafrica.org

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