10 June 2017

Africa: Help for Africa - All Talk and No Action?

Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel is set to host African leaders ahead of the G20 summit. Berlin would like to see the G20 focusing more on Africa. Past initiatives for Africa have seen only moderate success.

In 2005, then British Prime Minister Tony Blair hosted the G8 summit in the Scottish resort of Gleneagles. The meeting of the wealthy industrial nations, was supposed to be about forgiving massive debts as well as coming up with additional aid for the African continent. The participants agreed on a development aid package of an additional 25 billion US dollars (22.3 billion euros) every year that in effect would have doubled development aid funding until 2010.

The G8 nations also emphasized the need to guarantee fair world trade practices. The limitations on market share for African exports to the West, and government subsidies for Western exports to Africa in the agricultural sector in particular, were supposed to fall.

Prior to the summit, Blair had established the so-called "Africa Commission", a motley group of government leaders, artists and activists. The 17-member commission had prepared a report that was meant to become the basis of the G8 talks.

Lofty goals, no action

"It's hard to say what influence the commission had," said Helmut Asche, an economics professor at the Institute for Ethnology and African Studies in Mainz. There was a correlation between the commission's initiatives and an increase in development aid. Whether and to what extent real improvements truly materialized, is difficult to prove. "I'm skeptical about that," said Asche.

The G8 promised much more than it could deliver. The Paris-based Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) established that Africa had received barely11 billion US dollars of aid money promised. Other donor countries , including Germany, had not kept their promises.

'Europe fails to act on its promises'

It's part and parcel of the "mystery of the international political process" that politicians get together and keep promising an infusion of more money in the double or triple billion digits and in the end only a fraction of that aid actually materializes, says Asche. He thinks the leading industrial nations seem to believe that their statements of intent have a mobilizing effect.

"Otherwise the whole summit process would be pointless and absurd," Asche said, adding that just as little progress has been made in terms of Europe acting on its promises with regard to trade policy.

Furthermore, the international financial crisis meant serious cutbacks and diverted US and European priorities elsewhere.

"There's been mixed success. We've had the narrative of Africa rising years ago. It was seen as a real positive development, even after the financial crash of 2008," said Steven Gruzd, head of the global politics division at the South African Institute for International Affairs (SAIIA)

Self-monitoring mechanisms through NEPAD?

What remains is the need for self-initiatives. In 2001 former South African President Thabo Mbeki had already called on other heads of state from Nigeria, Algeria, Egypt and Senegal to create the "New Partnership for African Development" (NEPAD), which is now fully integrated into the African Union, making all 55 member states participants in the project.

Good governance is the foundation of this strategic economic initiative. A system has been set up that oversees the progress of African governments in achieving common goals, so that individual states that have a long way to go in terms of leadership can monitor themselves.

Financial dependence remains

NEPAD can make legitimate claims to certain achievements though, especially with regard to infrastructure, with the building of cross-border transportation links such as railway lines and paved roads, as well as setting up internet connections.

"One factor is certainly Chinese involvement," said Gruzd. China had started small-scale investment on the African continent 17 years ago and has "become one of Africa's major trading partners now,"

However self-initiatives in opening up global trade have only been partly successful. Not least because NEPAD is not standing on its own feet either. Financial backing behind the project still comes from a coalition of donor countries from the West.

Equal Partners?

Multi-lateral initiatives are still effective in spite of NEPAD's critics, said Gruzd. "When African countries are involved in setting their own priorities, negotiating with development partners in a respectful and equal manner is more effective, but that's not always easy to achieve."


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