Relaunching African development

OECD Observer
Page 44 

What does the future hold for European development co-operation in Africa? That was the keynote question Michel Rocard addressed at an informal seminar held in February by the OECD’s Development Centre. The Observer invited the former French prime-minister to sum up his views.

The year 2000 will mark the 25th anni-versary of development co-operation between the European Union and the ACP (African, Caribbean and Pacific) countries. To date, the results have been mixed. In volume terms, the -latest agreement on the Lomé IV Convention signed in 1995 re-presents an overall commitment of some $15 billion over 5 years, which despite being divided between 71 nations is nonetheless a substantial sum.

Mauritius is the only nation to have succeeded in using European development co-operation to promote its own economic growth. The Mauritian economy has now taken off, thanks to continuous democratic government and the intelligent use made at local level of the country’s matching contribution. Furthermore, the Sugar Protocol has enabled Mauritius to diversify its activities and double its GNP within the space of ten years.

The fact remains that none of the other ACP economies has really taken off. They might have been worse off without development aid, but the relevance of that aid is still a burning issue. Should European assistance be redirected to the poorest countries? We would then run the risk of addressing poverty on the basis of national statistics, which gives a completely false view since the worst poverty-stricken areas in Africa are not only Mali, Niger and the Comorosh but also the cities of Lagos and Abidjan. We should also bear in mind that, if the Lomé Convention were to disappear, these countries would slide back into isolation.

For development policy, the present geographical framework remains valid, with the possible addition of two more countries, South Africa and Cuba. South Africa is already attending the Lomé negotiations as an observer. As for Cuba, it is high time that it improved its relations with the rest of the world and was helped to introduce a more democratic regime.

The greatest shift in European policy on development co-operation has been the determination to add a policy dimension to the Lomé V Convention. This will cover three areas: security, human rights and good governance. Civil war, coups d’état, corruption, bad governance and ethnic or tribal conflicts are far greater obstacles to development than isolation, drought or flooding.

Crisis prevention is an important aspect of security. It can save not only money, but also human lives. The Euro-pean Parliament has therefore proposed setting up units to monitor regional tension. The British government has also taken the welcome initiative of persuading EU Member States to discuss a code of conduct for arms exporters. This provides a good opportunity to raise the issue of a code of conduct for the continents that receive development assistance. Training for those who carry arms (police, army, special services), with instruction in the process of law, human rights and interrogation techniques, could also receive the backing of the European Union.

With regard to human rights, Europe’s development co-operation should include education in good governance and training programmes targeted at lawyers and journalists. However, I fear that Europe is drawing the ACP countries into what I would call a rush for democracy. It is quite understandable for us to be increasingly demanding about how our funds are spent. It is certainly unacceptable that a third, if not more than a half of EU funds, should end up lining the -pockets of a local head of state. True, a growing number of African heads of state are now democratically elected, and -Africa is clearly moving towards greater protection of human rights. But it is not moving as fast as some in Europe would like.

Having started out in politics as a militant protesting against the colonial wars, I am now beginning to speak out against those who seek to lecture others on civilisation. Because they live in countries with a well entrenched culture of democracy, in some cases going back 200 years, they demand that African countries achieve the same level of democracy quickly. They are even ready to suspend aid when those countries fall short.

This attitude is quite unrealistic. Democracy is a lengthy process and there are bound to be slip-ups on the way. A balanced judgement means taking a long-term view.

With regard to the economy, our main concern should be to help ACP countries gain access to world markets. While Africa’s share of world trade has dropped from 6% to some 2% since 1950, its rate of growth has been approaching the 5% mark since 1992–1993. So the idea that these countries can improve their performance, notably on exports, must not be ruled out.

Promoting regional common markets to encourage trade is a good idea, but it is not enough. Africa is divided into two broad areas, WAEMU in the west with three French-speaking nations, and SADC in the south with 14 English- and Portuguese-speaking nations. Three of the SADC countries are at war with four others and some countries are almost hopelessly isolated.

Until now Europe has conducted an asymmetrical policy of regional pre-ferences, but these are prohibited -under the new WTO rules. In the course of international negotiations, we might have requested a permanent waiver since the 71 ACP nations and 15 EU Member States hold a majority in the WTO. But this option would have meant complying with a WTO rule whereby all waivers are reviewed annually. The outcome would have been tariff volatility, which would be highly damaging to African development. The Euro-pean Commission has accordingly asked the WTO for a 5-year transition period. We in the European Parliament, however, have wisely re-quested a 10-year transition period, since many isolated African countries use high duties (up to 60%) to protect their economies and could not withstand such draconian changes over so short a period of time.

The importance of foreign trade should, however, be viewed in context, since development is above all endogenous. Developing countries have a tremendous need to import the tools for capital goods that they cannot produce themselves. But they must at all costs avoid creating local pockets of over-development; Africa, for instance, has been landed with large, self-contained manufacturing plants with very few spin-offs for the surrounding area, and these merely foster two-tier development.

Debt is stifling almost two thirds of all African countries. Debt only becomes more or less tolerable if it absorbs no more than 40% of export revenue. If we create a situation whereby countries can borrow money knowing full well that they will never be able to pay it back, development will grind to a halt. These countries must therefore be allowed to pay off a substantial portion of their debt in local currency, either as capital for private enterprise – the IMF has already accepted this idea – or as financing for development projects.

The fact that priority must go to the private sector needs to be acknow-ledged, but the public sector should not be overlooked. We should not forget that education, healthcare and roads are government issues. Africa’s main problem lies in communications (railways and roads); once that has been solved, the continent will be half way along the road to development. We must therefore defuse the debate and view it in a more technical light.

Growth is not enough

Growth has never succeeded in eradicating poverty. What are needed are specific tools that can address the problem directly. This means promoting decentralised co-operation of the kind provided by our cities, regions and NGOs in Europe. It is better at tackling problems on the ground and because it provides smaller amounts of funding, is less prone to corruption. We should also back the development of micro-enterprises, since the grassroots economy does, after all, provide a living for 70% of the population on the African continent.

Scientific research aimed at eradica-ting poverty needs to be more closely targeted. It might focus on developing new species of food crops and livestock, for instance, or experimenting with drip irrigation for smallholdings. In shantytowns, roofs are made from food packaging. Why not develop research into watertight packaging? Africa imports 98% of its pharmaceuticals. Yet it is the continent with the richest flora in terms of active principles. And none of them are processed domestically.

Of course I have some concerns about Africa’s future, but we should not overlook the political progress it has made. Apart from the crisis in the Great Lakes area, almost two-thirds of the continent is stable. Mauritius and South Africa are two remarkable examples. Nor should we write off the countries that are just beginning to emerge. If Kenya maintains its political stability when power is handed over, if Uganda plays all its cards well without being too preoccupied with military imperialism in the region, and if Côte d’Ivoire is careful to foster good governance and transparency, then development can really take off.

©OECD Observer No 216, March 1999 

Economic data

GDP growth: -9.8% Q2/Q1 2020 2020
Consumer price inflation: 1.3% Sep 2020 annual
Trade (G20): -17.7% exp, -16.7% imp, Q2/Q1 2020
Unemployment: 7.3% Sep 2020
Last update: 10 Nov 2020

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