Africa: Who Speaks for Africa?

2 June 2010

An excerpt from a report by the British think tank, Chatham House:

Whether it is in the G8, G20 or other forums, there is considerable ambiguity over who speaks for Africa and to what extent it is possible and desirable to present a common African position.

... In the early days of NEPAD a few self-selecting African leaders articulated a strategy for the continent. Indeed there was much criticism that three principal champions of NEPAD – South Africa, Nigeria and Egypt – were also the three largest recipients of FDI in Africa, and therefore had the greatest interest in African states merely aligning themselves with an economic plan that disproportionately benefited these three. Similar criticism has been levelled at the African Development Bank, given its non-African members.

Other prominent non-governmental vehicles for African aspirations, such as the Africa Progress Panel, are either based outside Africa or funded by donors (or both). The African Monitor, established in 2005 by Archbishop Njongo Ndungane, the former Anglican Archbishop of Cape Town, is perhaps the nearest thing there is to a truly African civil society voice. Its governance (with the exception of Mary Robinson) is entirely African, and it is based in Cape Town. Yet its funding is almost entirely non-African. The Coalition for Dialogue on Africa, launched in 2009, is still in its infancy, but its backing from UNECA [UN Economic Commission for Africa] offers it some independence from donors.

Arguably the African Union remains the most constitutionally sound articulation of continent-wide positions, yet its capacity is limited, and it receives significant external funding. The same is true for the vast majority of African civil society organizations.

The need for a strong and wholly legitimate continent-wide representative voice in international negotiations should not be assumed, and indeed regional economic institutions such as the Southern African Development Community and the East African Community, and financial groupings such as the C10 [a newly-established committee of key African finance ministers and bankers] are likely to gain increasingly important international profiles.

However, on some issues, such as climate change, a common position is important, and in such situations, while external organizations and campaign groups have an important role to play, ensuring a genuine commitment and sense of African ownership is crucial. In this context,greater support to allow the AU to improve its capacity to fully represent, articulate and develop continental positions is required.


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