12 March 2005

Africa: 'Hard-Hitting' Report Needs Grass Roots Support To Turn Bold Recommendations Into Policy, Amoako Says

interview

Washington, DC — Declaring the living conditions for most Africans to be "intolerable and an affront to the dignity of all mankind," a commission of imminent international figures established by British Prime Minister Tony Blair has called on wealthy nations to double aid to the continent over the coming decade. "There can be no excuse, no defence, no justification for the plight of millions of our fellow beings in Africa today," Blair said while launching the report of his Commission for Africa in London on Friday.

"On the edge of this new century, in an age of unprecedented wealth and economic progress by all continents, it is unacceptable that Africa drifts further from the rest of the world, unseen in its misery and ignored in its pain," the Commission said in a declaration accompanying the 450-page report.

"African poverty and stagnation is the greatest tragedy of our time," said the report of the commission, which includes Blair, the British ministers of finance and international development; several African leaders, including Tanzanian President Benjamin Mkapa, Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi and South African Finance Minister Trevor Manuel; former U.S. Senator Nancy Kassebaum Baker; and Bob Geldof, an Irish rock star who has become a prominent campaigner for African aid.

"For its part, Africa must accelerate reform," the Commission added, saying that African leaders must take responsibility for improving accountability and for preventing and managing conflict. "Bold comprehensive action on a scale needed to meet the challenges can only be done through a new kind of partnership," the report concluded.

"This is the first time in my experience of reports on African development - and I have been involved in a great many - in which all sides really take responsibility for what has happened to our continent," commissioner K. Y. Amoako, said at the launch of the report in Addis Ababa. Amoako, an economist from Ghana with a Ph.D. from the University of California at Berkeley who is completing his second five-year term as executive secretary of the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa, was interviewed by telephone from his office in the Ethiopian capital about the commission's major findings and the steps that are required to make the recommendations a reality.

You called the report "a very significant document." Why is it different from previous efforts to study Africa's problems, most of which have had little, if any, impact on solving them?

First, we went back and reviewed the past. We studied all the other reports and recommendations and in some cases we came to the same conclusions and we make some of the same recommendations. But even in those cases, I think we pushed the envelope a bit more. On the issue of debt, on the issue of trade, we put greater emphasis on some of the recommendations than the other efforts. I think that is significant.

Let me give you one or two examples. I'm not aware of any report of this type that has come out with such a strong recommendation on the need for infrastructure and investment in infrastructure as critical for growth in Africa. Second, we recognize, like other reports, that basic education is important, but we also say we need to make an equal push for higher education, science and technology, because growth will be critically dependent on having the capacity for economic development. I think those are very, very significant recommendations that we have made.

Look at the emphasis we placed on the responsibility of our development partners. I'm not aware of any report that is as hard-hitting as this report on issues of what the developed world has to do and that they have been part of the problem.

Let me give you one specific example: the whole discussion on corruption. We say corruption is an African problem, but we also say it's a problem for our development partners. We come out with recommendations for them also to fulfill their responsibilities.

By acknowledging shared responsibility, are you hopeful that developed country partners are going to follow through with the needed resources?

It's going to be a very important process that we need to engage in. We hope that will be the outcome. But we still have a lot of work - not just the commissioners but all those who believe in Africa, who believe in seeing progress on the continent and who think that by doing these things we can turn things around and reduce poverty.

What do we have to do? We recognize that this is a first important step. Over the next couple of months, we need to ensure that there are discussions around the world - both in Africa and in the north - have debates and discussions, involve civil society, involve Parliamentarians. Most of all, we need to involve our policymakers.

We need to ensure that the African Union, through its own processes, will get behind this report. In that context, I think the timing of the report is important, with the G8 Summit [in June in the United Kingdom], with the Millennium Development Goals report [issued in January] and the September meetings [World Bank and International Monetary Fund] and the December meeting in Hong Kong on trade.

This report will give impetus to all that. I hope it can generate the support and therefore translate into the availability of resources that will be required. But we have our job to do.

Is there a certain level of additional support that you hope will flow to Africa as a corollary of this initiative?

We say let's double aid to an additional $25 billion by the year 2005 and then increase that by an additional $25 billion beginning in 2010. The question is the modalities and where the money is going to come from.

Was that beyond the scope of the commission or was it discussed?

It's also discussed in the report.

So, really, you're talking about a political process in Africa and on the international front?

Not just a political process. We need to get grassroots support behind the recommendations - civil society, the media - to put these issues on the table. We need to do that at the regional level in Africa and at the level of the G8 and the European Union. So we need political support at all levels and also the support of technicians and the practitioners of development.

The report advocates a 100 percent multilateral debt cancellation for sub-Saharan Africa. What kind of difference would this make for Africa's future?

There are two figures we used in the report. Debt service in Africa today is more than the health expenditures that African countries can afford, which means that debt relief is still an issue.

We also say in the report that of every $2 that enters in the form of aid, almost $1 goes out. When you put it in that context, you realize the significance of debt cancellation and debt relief. It will bring more resources for Africa for development.

Are you hopeful that debt cancellation will come about?

On the debt issues, I think we've made quite a bit of progress, not only in getting the HIPC and some of these other initiatives to give debt relief. But I think there is also a recognition that it hasn't gone far enough. I think there is a consensus at all levels that we need to do more.

The recent meeting of the G7 finance ministers in London - if you look at the communiqué and the discussions, I think it is clear that they all agreed that we need to do more on debt relief, including multilateral debt.

What is still not fully agreed are the modalities and how to achieve that, and I'm hopeful that in the coming months and by the spring meetings of the World Bank and IMF, some work has been done to come up with a concrete proposal that hopefully everybody can agree on.

Is HIV/Aids an apocalyptic problem for Africa if it's not tackled more forcefully and do you think more action will be forthcoming?

The answer to both parts of your question is yes. On both sides, we need to do a lot more because when you look at the dynamics and the demographics, the numbers and the trends, it's pretty scary.

We have made some efforts, and some progress has been made. The recent UNAIDS report came up with three possible scenarios, including the "doomsday" scenario and the "hopeful" scenario. They declared that the outcome will depend on the level of efforts that are put into prevention, treatment and care.

These efforts will also require a significant increase in resources, and we made specific recommendations on that also.

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