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UN Panel Recommends Adopting New Economic Plan for Africa - 2002-06-12

An independent panel of experts appointed by the United Nations has found the 1990s were another decade of poor economic performance in Africa and recommended more flexibility among the world's major industrialized countries. A report was issued Tuesday, shortly before leaders of the world's eight biggest economies, or G Eight, hold their annual summit.

A special U.N. decade for development in Africa, launched in 1991, is over, and the results are very disappointing. A group of experts led by Kwesi Botchwey, a former finance minister of Ghana, has determined that economic growth in Africa has fallen far short of expectations.

The region grew at about two percent per year, much below the six percent goal the international community set for Africa back in 1991.

The independent panel concludes that the plan of action adopted by the U.N. General Assembly has failed miserably and should be scrapped in favor of one approved last year by several African countries. This plan, called the New Partnership for Africa's Development, or NEPAD, would allow African governments to devise their own development strategies. It aims at improving political and economic governance, in exchange for more debt relief, better trade terms and more outside investment.

Former Ghanaian finance minister Botchwey says one of the big lessons of the past decade is that development driven by free-market forces and privatization is limited and can even be counterproductive. He would like the G-8 countries to acknowledge this during their meeting this month, but is not very hopeful.

He said, "I think already that President Bush, for instance, has made additional U.S. resources conditional on more faithful adherence to more market-liberalization and improved governance. Now if this is interpreted to mean a return to the same old evaluation policies, specifically, immediate and full liberalization, removal of all subsidies and so on, I think we will have a problem. I think it will be regrettable also if the G-8 just latches on to the political governance issue and somehow neglects the importance of the trade, debt and aid policy issues that are all part of the NEPAD.

The panel of experts also was critical of the United Nations, which it believes should play more of a coordinating role to ensure the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund operate in a more relevant fashion in Africa.

Some 80 million Africans live in poverty today, much more than when the U.N. plan for Africa was adopted over 10 years ago. The U.N. appointed experts concede Africa bears a lot of responsibility. HIV/AIDS, wars and persistent corruption and leadership squabbles, blocked any chance for substantive progress.

At the same time, development aid from the rich countries dropped more than 40 percent on average during the 1990s, with prospects for improvement not especially bright.