Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Africa must take charge of its development agenda

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In 1993 when Japan organized the first Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD) only five African leaders attended. But 23 years later nearly 40 African heads of state and government participated at the sixth TICAD conference held in Nairobi last week. 

What began as a foreign policy strategy with the sole purpose of enabling Japan to acquire the status of great power in a post-cold war world is now a global convening of significant repute. Moreover, the sixth TICAD could not have been timelier. The year 2016 is considered the first year of implementation of the SDGs and Africa’s Agenda 2063. 

Agenda 2063 is commitment to action by African leaders to join hands and build a prosperous and united Africa over the next 50 years. A 50-year development-planning horizon is odd and inspires little confidence about the sense of urgency or seriousness among African leaders. 

Virtually every major global power has hosted or hosts a regular forum to gather Africans to talk about their interests and how they plan to enable Africa’s development and prosperity. In 2014, the US convened the first US-Africa Leaders Summit. China, India and Europe have regular conferences. 

Obviously, your guess is as good as mine.  The purpose of such meetings is to discuss how to deepen trade and economic ties with the African continent. Such meetings are often used by the conveners to reassure Africa of their friendship as well as make all kinds of promises including pushing for reforms with the United Nations to create a permanent seat for Africa in the UN Security Council. 

Africa is considered as the “final frontier” of the world economy. All consequential global players, including Israel, want a piece of the action. So any interest in Africa’s development or prosperity is rolled neatly into deep and undisguised in economic and foreign policy interests. What baffles me is why African countries as a collective, are not clear-eyed and more discerning of the intentions of the so-called development partnerships. 

Honestly, I think that TICAD from the first conference in 1993 up to the sixth one held in Nairobi in August 2016 has been a sorry comedy of empty promises and grand posturing. Pledges about Japan’s commitment to ensuring every African child attends and completes school are unmet. Now there is a fresh pledge to support investments in the power sector, agriculture and health.   

China recently pledged $60 billion in aid. At TICAD, Japan promised $30 billion in development aid. This is petty change. In my view this is such little money, given that Africa’s combined GDP is about $2.4 trillion.
Mobilizing external resources and building economic and trade ties is great for Africa. However, it is time for Africans to take charge of their own development. Africa must mobilize taxes and domestic savings more aggressively so we can prioritize and finance Africa’s progress.

Africans must take themselves seriously. And these perfunctory development conferences must end. We are not poor and we must not be treated as needing charity.

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