Moving Africa off the Back Burner

Africa, NEPAD, and the G-8

AIDS Africa
Nhoyakhe Madikazi, an AIDS patient in Duncan Village, South Africa, Aug. 12, 2002 (Photo: Anna Zieminski/AFP). 

The recent G-8 conference in Canada included an Africa Day devoted to discussions between G-8 leaders and selected African leaders on the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD). At the end of this interaction, the G-8 leaders presented a G-8 Africa Action Plan, which has come under relentless criticisms from Western and African media, civil society organizations, and professional bodies for being too vague and lacking in ambition in terms of resources and commitments. It is important to ponder what’s next for the triangular relationship between African leaders, NEPAD, and the G-8.

I begin by stating without reservations that Africa and the G-8 countries need each other for many reasons. The G-8 countries need Africa as a bulwark in the war against terrorism, for access to oil and gas reserves to meet the voracious needs of their industries and middle class, as a last frontier for profitable private-sector expansion, and to continue the spread of democracy.

Africa, on the other hand, needs the G-8 for accelerated new financial investments, for deep and sustained debt relief, to complement poverty-alleviation efforts, for infrastructure development, and—very importantly—to win the war against HIV/AIDS. The idea that a continent of more than 700 million people may be left in the lurch in an increasingly global political and economic system is wishful thinking.

The G-8 Action Plan for all intents and purposes can be seen as a “G-8 Intention Plan.” This reading is best captured by the wily President [Olusegun] Obasanjo of Nigeria, who stated in his address to G-8 leaders in Canada, “For us in Africa, the journey is just beginning....We are hopeful that, now that you have embarked with us on this long journey, you will continue with us to the end, and that we can therefore continue to count on your support whenever we might need it.”

African and G-8 leaders are already aware that the triangular partnership with NEPAD is a long-term proposition. The key is to ensure that short-term steps are taken now to maintain the momentum of the partnership. These short-term steps should be completed within the next two years, with some as early as the end of the year.

Short-Term Action Steps for Africa and NEPAD:

1. African leaders should obtain wider support for NEPAD. Civil society organizations, professional bodies, community-based organizations, the legislative branches of government, the private sector, and students are not yet on board regarding NEPAD. I have no doubt that the G-8 leaders, all seasoned politicians, are aware of this anomaly.

2. NEPAD must focus on a development emergency in Africa: HIV/AIDS. I fail to see how NEPAD can become sustainable in the face of a deadly onslaught from HIV/AIDS in Africa. The Joint U.N. Program on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) estimates that more than 19 million Africans have died of AIDS, and by 2020, 55 million more Africans, mostly men and women in the prime productive ages, will die in the absence of concerted treatment and prevention programs.

3. The new African Union should become a magnet of ideas on Africa’s renewal rather than a dumping ground for retired, tired, or out-of-favor politicians and bureaucrats. The role of NEPAD in the African Union should be settled as quickly as possible. Regional integration issues should become a major focus of the African Union.

4. Democracy and peaceful transfer of power should become rote in Africa. The triangular relationship between Africa, NEPAD, and the G-8 rests on strong democratic systems and seamless transfers of political power. The ongoing crude attempts by some African leaders to perpetuate themselves in power after decades of personalized leadership will not only hurt their countries but also have ripple effects in Africa.

5. The private sector and civil society should become trusted partners of the government. Today, governments in Africa remain the most lucrative entity in their societies. But the Africa-NEPAD-G-8 partnership requires a robust, respectful relationship between the private sector, civil society, and the public sector. It is highly unlikely that the public sector in Africa will create all the new jobs that will see Africa trade or work its way out of poverty. It is also unlikely that the public sector can serve as the ultimate watchdog of its own activities.

6. Scarce resources should be managed prudently and with accountability. The triangular relationship between Africa, NEPAD, and the G-8 may rise or fall on this premise. African governments cannot create a situation whereby their citizens or international partners will lose confidence in their capacity to manage national and international resources effectively.

7. Organize and tap the expertise of Africans living in the West. I believe that G-8 leaders are aware of the skills and expertise of Africans living in the West. Discussions on technical and even financial expertise are likely to gravitate to the potential contributions of these Africans. Leaders should see the expertise of these Africans as strategic assets to be tapped immediately.

Short-Term Action Steps for the G-8 Nations:

1. Cancel or substantially reduce the debts of African nations. The US$1 billion stated in the G-8 Action Plan toward the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) initiative is a good step forward, but not enough by a mile. The G-8 nations should end the 2001 situation in Africa where more than 16 African nations spent more on debt repayments than on health care, according to UNAIDS. In addition, UNAIDS indicates that several African countries with HIV prevalence above 20 percent are not eligible for the current HIPC initiative. Debt relief for Africa will be a significant test of the G-8’s commitment to Africa’s renewal.

2. Assist African governments to repatriate looted monies. President Obasanjo estimates that Africa has lost at least US$140 billion through corruption since the 1960s. The G-8 can accelerate the return of some of these monies to Africa for verifiable investments in health care, education, and infrastructure development.

3. Increase development assistance to Africa. The G-8 plans to devote half or more of new development assistance (about $6 billion) to Africa by 2006. Why not sooner, to help jumpstart the NEPAD initiative? The G-8 leaders say they are committed to the principle that no African country will be denied the chance to achieve United Nations Millennium Development Goals through lack of finance. Why not, in addition to accelerating the promised development assistance, increase the aggregate amount of aid by the next summit in 2003?

4. Meet the required financial outlay for the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria. The G-8 should fully fund the Global Fund to the tune of $10 billion a year as requested by the U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan. So far, about $2 billion is available over a number of years, with roughly $800 million available to the fund for this year.

5. Decrease agricultural subsidies in the West. Massive agricultural subsidies inhibit African farmers from accessing European and North American markets. The G-8 leaders in Canada committed by 2005 to “reductions of all forms of export subsidies with a view to their being phased out, and substantial reductions in trade-distorting domestic support.” Again, why not make strides in this vital area sooner rather than later?

In conclusion, Africa and the G-8 nations are joined in a mutually beneficial, triangular relationship with the NEPAD initiative. The 2002 G-8 meeting set the ball rolling on this long-term relationship. The road ahead will definitely have its twists and turns. In the interim, both Africa and the G-8 have some serious work to do in order to sustain the partnership.