No. 165: Africa: from rhetoric to action / Dawn Nagar, Elizabeth Otitodun / The Star

Since Africa largely freed itself from colonial rule in the early 1960s, it has created a series of action plans and blueprints that aim to foster co-operation between countries on the continent in pursuit of greater socio-­economic and political development.

During the 1980s in particular, the policy frameworks came thick and fast: the Lagos Plan of Action and the Final Act of Lagos of 1960; the African Priority Programme for Economic Recovery of 1985; the African Alternative Framework to Structural Adjustment Programmes for Socio-­economic Recovery and Transformation of 1989; and the African Charter for Popular Participation in Development and Transformation of 1990.

However, despite the political consensus that many of these plans achieved, they remain largely in storage today and the prospect of African countries working together to forge common economic/developmental and political paths remains elusive.

Indeed, in recent years several African countries have pursued their economic goals, increasingly isolated from their neighbours and sub-regions.

For example, many African economists have criticised the signing of interim economic partnership agreements between individual African states and the EU, claiming that these weaken the power of sub-regional blocs to negotiate multilateral trade deals that would better benefit the regions.

To counter isolationist trends and in a concerted attempt to renew interest in some of the key pan-African development and political frameworks that have been developed over the past 30 years, a group of more than 40 leading African scholars and practitioners — including former presidents Joaquim Chissano of Mozambique and Amos Sawyer of Liberia — met in Ijebu-Ode, Nigeria, in December. Organised by the, Nigeria-based African Centre for Development and Strategic Studies, the seminar critically assessed the continent's present socio-economic and political condition and Africa's various development paradigms.

In particular, the seminar celebrated the career and achievements of Nigerian political visionary Professor Adebayo Adedeji, who is widely regarded as the father of African integration.

Adedeji, who attended the meeting after, at the age of 80, recently announcing his retirement from public life, was instrumental in creating the Economic Community of West African States, the Economic Community of Central African States, and the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa.

The conference stressed the importance of such sub-regional frameworks in bringing together African countries to implement effective pan-African socio-economic and developmental strategies.

The meeting also emphasised the need for Africa to move away from short-term, "firefighting" plans to the development and implementation of long-term strategies. It stressed that relations between states and their societies should be addressed, in particular, the gap between elites and masses, and advised that forms of participation that bring people into the development process should be crafted.

Since independence over the past 50 years, Africa's relationship with democracy and governance has remained ambivalent, even though 30 states have signed up to the African Peer Review Mechanism of 2003.

The seminar stressed the importance of taking the mechanism's reports more seriously in order to make governments more accountable. It also considered the need to redress male dominance and traditional patriarchal practices that oppress women, deny them basic family and property rights, and limit their political representation and participation.

Turning to economic development issues, the seminar focused on the need for African leaders to address the importance of food and agriculture — a sector that must be seen as central to Africa's social and economic transformation, since 70 percent of the continent's population find their major source of subsistence in agriculture.

The meeting analysed what has been widely described as Africa's "development problematique": a coincidence of seven devastating deficits — demography, drought, desertification, dependency, disequilibrium, debt and destabilisation — that has caused multiple debilitating crises on the continent.

On the international stage, Africa should continue to strengthen the Peacebuilding Commission and Human Rights Council — both created by the UN in December 2005. The importance of crafting strategies that will enable the continent to meet the UN Millennium Development Goals, which includes halving poverty by 2015, was also stressed. In relation to these and other developmental efforts, particular concern was expressed about Africa's "brain drain" after almost two decades of advice from the Bretton Woods institutions — the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) — to African governments to reduce spending on education and health.

As a result, Africa's research output ranks as the world's lowest. Human capacity must be therefore fostered by providing home-grown and people-centred approaches to training and the development of youth leadership.

Africa, the summit advised, has to address its research, scientific and technology gap.

Africa clearly faces great challenges in its mission to chart strong development in the present economic climate.

The global financial crisis of 2008/2009 has damaged the continent, and could reverse some of the gains it has made towards meeting the Millennium Development Goals. Africa's trade continues to suffer overall: its share of world trade has declined from 5.6 percent of the total global figure in 1980 to just 2.1 percent today.

However, Africa has the benefit of having learnt some difficult lessons — experience that those at the conference believed should enable the continent to take the lead in its own development agenda.

Africa, the meeting asserted, can learn from the failure of the structural adjustment programmes imposed by the World Bank and the IMF in the 1980s.

It can also take on board lessons from Asia's development.

In addition, the summit saw the advantage for Africa if it clearly defined its own interests when being wooed by suitors such as China, India, and Brazil.

Dawn Nagar and Elizabeth Otitodun are researchers at the Centre for Conflict Resolution in Cape Town.

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