28 FEBRUARY 2007

Two years ago, for a brief moment before and after the G8 meeting at Gleneagles, the attention of the world was focused on the plight of Africa. Bob Geldof’s Live Eight campaign had sensitized the populations of developed countries to the crisis in Africa. At the insistence of Tony Blair the G8 rose to the occasion and renewed its intention to address the continent’s crippling burden of debt. It also promised to give consideration again to the iniquitous impact of OECD agricultural subsidies on the economic prospects of the continent.

Since then the media caravan has moved on. The world’s attention quickly shifted back to the war in Iraq; to the devastation wrought by Hurricane Katrina and the accompanying reality of global warming.

But still the crises in Africa persisted – regardless of whether or not the world was watching. The conflict in Dafur remained unresolved; famine continued to stalk parts of the Sahel region. Tensions flared anew in the simmering border conflict between Ethiopia and Eritrea. The looming crisis in the Ivory Coast threatened to erupt once again into violence. In Zimbabwe President Mugabe continued to preside over the systematic dismantling of his economy.

The perception is that Africa is lagging further and further behind, in the global race. Between 1960 and 2000 the human development index in the developing world as a whole increased from 0,260 to 0,655 on a scale where 1,0 represents the highest levels of development. However, in Sub-Saharan Africa it increased only from 0,2 to 0,486.. Between 1975 and 2000 GNP per capita income in Sub-Saharan Africa declined by an average of 0,7% per year, compared with an average annual growth of 2,2% for the rest of the developing world during the same period.

All of this has led to the development of what is called “Africa pessimism”.

However, if we look at Africa with greater discernment we begin realize how unfair this perception is.

There are, indeed, too many countries that continue to conform to the African stereotype of poverty, conflict and tyranny. However, such states conform to the stereotype not because they are African, but because poverty, tyranny and conflict go hand in hand throughout the world and throughout history and not just in Africa. The nine countries in Africa that have experienced the bitterest conflict during the past decade have one thing in common: they are all extremely poor. The average per capita GNP incomes of these countries is less than US$ 200.00.

Poverty and the state of political development also go hand in hand: the average per capita GNP income of the sub-Sahara African countries that are classified as ‘not free’ is US$ 352; that of the countries that are regarded as being ‘partly free’ is US$ 552; and that of the free countries is US$ 2115.

The problem, accordingly, is poverty – and not Africa.

The challenge for the world – and most notably for Africa itself – is to address the root causes of the vicious cycle of poverty, conflict and tyranny in their continent.

It is a challenge that Africa has accepted.

In July 2001, African leaders assembled at the 37th Summit of the OAU, adopted the basic framework document for the New Partnership for Africa’s Development. According to them, NEPAD’s objective was “to consolidate democracy and sound economic management on the continent.” Through the NEPAD Programme, they made a commitment to the African people and the world to work together in rebuilding the continent. They pledged to promote peace and stability, democracy, sound economic management and people-centred development. They promised that they would hold each other accountable in terms of the agreements outlined in the Programme.

Almost six years have elapsed since then. The question is how is Africa progressing with its goals – and in particular – what is the state of governance in Africa today.

The first goal that the African leaders set themselves was to end the conflicts that afflicted the continent. They commited themselves to strengthening mechanisms for conflict prevention, management and resolution at the subregional and continental levels, and to ensure that mechanisms are used to restore and maintain peace.

They chose wisely. The reality is that without peace and stability, there can be no economic and social development; and without economic and social development it is difficult to entrench viable democratic systems and systems of good governance. Without viable democracies and good governance it is often difficult to maintain peace.

These elements – peace, development and democracy – constitute a virtuous circle in which each element reinforces the others. However, if there is any beginning to the circle, it almost always lies in the need for peace and stability, since as we have seen in Africa’s war zones, little can be accomplished without them.

The root causes of conflict in Africa are also not difficult to identify. They lie in
• poverty;
• tyranny, poor governance and inadequate economic policies; and in
• the inability of people from different ethnic and religious communities to coexist within the same societies.

Together, these elements comprise a ‘vicious circle’ which during the past twenty years has led to the deaths of more than 6 million people on the continent and to unimaginable poverty and brutality.

• Most of the countries that have been plagued by civil warfare have also been among the poorest in terms of per capita income;
• They have also had the most oppressive and incompetent regimes; and
• Nearly all the conflicts have been exacerbated by tensions and hostilities between ethnic and religious communities that were artificially lumped together in the same geographic areas by European imperialists.

The way to address the vicious cycle is accordingly to promote the virtuous circle – the cycle of democracy and good governance; economic development and the circumstances necessary to enable different communities to coexist in the same societies.

President Mbeki deserves praise for his tireless efforts to promote peace in Africa. Considerable progress has been made during the past ten years. The devastating wars in Angola and Mozambique have ended. Fragile peace has returned to the Congo and Southern Sudan. The civil wars in Sierra Leone and Liberia have been resolved. Nevertheless, warfare, hostilities and tension persist in too many areas – most notably in Darfur, The Ivory Coast and Somalia. However, in all these areas the African Union – strongly supported by South Africa – continues to work tirelessly to find peaceful solutions.

The second goal that NEPAD set itself was to promote democracy.
African leaders committed themselves to promote and protect democracy in their respective countries and regions, by developing standards of accountability and, transparency and participatory democracy at the national and sub-national levels.

What progress has Africa made with the promotion of democracy?
In fact, much of sub-Saharan Africa has, during the past fifteen years made heartening strides toward democratic government. Freedom House, a New York-based organization which monitors the state of civil and political rights in countries around the world, now classifies 11 of Africa’s 52 states as being ‘free’ multi-party democracies (compared with 8 only a few years ago); another 23 are regarded as being ‘partly free’ and 18 as ‘not free’. Interestingly, despotism is not primarily a sub-Saharan phenomenon: four of the five African countries north of the Sahara are classified as “not free”.

Other aspects of good governance have proved to be more elusive – particularly in the areas of accountability, transparency and macroeconomic stability.

African governments also committed themselves in their NEPAD undertakings to creating an environment in which economic growth could take place. According to Tony Blair’s Commission for Africa, African governments needed to improve the integrity of their legal systems and upgrade their physical infrastructure. They had to address problems of poor governance and corruption and had to stop over-regulating the private sector. They needed to stimulate trade through greater regional integration and the lowering of tariffs and non-tariff barriers.

How have they fared?

Corruption is still a major problem in most African countries. According to a survey conducted by Transparency International in 2006 35% of Africans reported that they or someone living in their household had paid some form of bribe during the preceding 12 months. The comparative responses for North America and the European Union were 2%; for Asia and the Pacific 7%; for the newly independent Asian and European countries 11%; and for Latin America 17%. Interestingly enough, the figure for South Africa was only 5%.
Anomalously, 44% of Africans thought that their current government’s actions in the fight against corruption were effective or very effective compared with only 18% who had the same view in the European Union!
This probably reflects much greater intolerance of any form of corruption in developed countries.

There are also continuing problems with macro-economic policy and good governance.

The Economic Freedom Network carries out an annual assessment of a the full range of governance factors in its annual World Economic Freedom Report. The Report grades countries around the world according to more than 45 different factors, including taxation, trade and monetary policies, law and order, labour flexibility, market regulation and the independence of the judiciary.

According to the 2006 Report Botswana has the freest economy in Africa. Nevertheless, it ranks only 35th in the world. Only three African countries are listed among the 50 freest economies in the world. South Africa is placed 53rd. 19 of the world’s 30 least free economies are in Africa. All this has serious implications for NEPAD’s commitment to good governance and to its goal of promoting development.

There are some facets of economic policy that African countries must address as urgently as possible. They must stop the flight of capital from the continent. Although Africa rightly complains about its crippling debt burden, the reality is that US$ 285 billion left the continent between 1970 and 1996. Each year Africa loses another US$ 20 billion – which means that for every dollar lent to Africa in recent decades 80 cents has returned to the developed world.

Africa must liberalise its own tariffs which are among the highest in the world. It must expand intra-regional trade which now accounts for only 10% of its total trade compared with intraregional trade in Europe and North America which account for 67% and 40% of their total trade respectively.

At the same time there is a great deal that the international community can do to make the economic playing fields more even.

Steps should be taken to increase Africa’s diminishing share in global trade – which has declined from 2% in 1980 to 1% in 1999. Although First World nations are quick to give lip service to the need to help develop African economies, they are often ruthless when their own interests are adversely affected. The tariffs that they imposed on agricultural imports from Africa are four to seven times higher than the tariffs they impose on manufactured exports.

The developed countries continue to subsidise their farmers to the tune of US$ 280 billion per annum. By so doing they make it difficult for Africans to compete in the one area where they have a competitive advantage.

Africa needs two things – a fair break from the rest of the world and the determination to address its own problems.

The new Partnership for Africa’s Development – NEPAD – is intended to do precisely this. It has identified the problems and has prescribed the appropriate remedies. Africa’s main challenge now will be to turn NEPAD’s programmes into the reality of the African Century that has been so passionately advocated by President Mbeki.

However, this will not happen unless greater content is given to NEPAD’s programmes.

• We need more progress with the promotion of democracy. Although we now have 11 fully functioning democracies on the continent, the reality is that there are still 18 dictatorships in Africa.

• We need to apply the Peer Review mechanisms more fearlessly. This will not happen if African leaders continue to avoid criticism of countries like Zimbabwe that are in clear breach of everything that NEPAD proclaims.

• We will not achieve NEPAD’s goals unless African governments adopt policies that will liberate and energise their economies and that will lead to much greater intra-regional trade.

• We will not achieve our goals unless we can ensure basic standards of governance and unless we can root out corruption.

Perhaps the African Union should have followed the example of the European Union and admitted to membership only those states that clearly comply with basic democratic, fiscal and governance standards. This would have entailed a much smaller organisation to begin with – but it would have set clear standards and would have helped to eliminate the gap between real content and hopeful rhetoric.

We cannot allow NEPAD to become yet another empty acronym. The future of our continent depends on our ability as Africans to establish peace and stability; to promote genuine democracy and to ensure basic standards of good governance.