Will West aided NEPAD deliver anything?

Lovemore Ranga Mataire
Despite the fanfare and promise that accompanied the launch of the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD), there is nothing realistically tangible that the initiative has delivered on the ground.
Instead, the West still remained marginally interested in Africa save for the extraction of its resources for their continued enrichment and development. Africa is still saddled with poverty, lack of development, aid dependence, crippling debt, corruption and civil wars.

The NEPAD concept which arose out of the October 2001 meeting at Abuja, Nigeria, when African leaders reviewed the dangers of terrorism, has once again reinforced the duplicity of the West in seriously becoming genuine development partners with Africa.

At the meeting in Abuja, African leaders discussed the New Africa Initiative (NAI) that had been formulated in July 2000 at the final OAU summit in Lusaka, Zambia. It was at that meeting that they agreed to rename NAI as NEPAD and established its headquarters in South Africa.

The then South African President Thabo Mbeki was very enthusiastic about the initiative, which he pushed forward with his African Renaissance project. Mbeki declared that Africa’s time had come and that NEPAD was to be the springboard for rapid transformation of the continent.

At its launch, African leaders came up with three fundamental commitments; clear accountability and open government, an end to gross human rights abuses, and an end to African wars and the consummation of the African peacekeeping force.

While the ideals envisaged by NEPAD were lofty ideals that were to take Africa in a different positive direction, there was something inherently manacled about the West’s input. It was envisaged that in return the West would provide more aid for infrastructure development and education as well as increased investment and the lifting of existing trade barriers. It was really a shock that 40 years after the continent had dislodged colonialism, African countries were promising to “behave” in return for more aid. Even slain Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi derided the whole initiative as nothing but blatant neo-colonialism: “We are not children who need to be taught. They (the colonial powers) made us slaves, they called us inferior but we have regained our African name and culture.”

Gaddafi was right. Instead of Africa deciding to disentangle itself from colonial hegemony, it decided through NEPAD to maintain those ties. It surely would have made a lot of sense for NEPAD to have advocated for the end of the US and European Union subsidies for their farming sectors to open their markets to African agricultural products in the same way that then US President George W. Bush asked Africa to open its markets to the more advanced Western economies.

It was essential from its conception for African leaders to have considered what EU and the US really want of Africa. It was critical for African leaders to have noted that aid has been the West’s principal means of manipulating African economies since independence.

Is it not historically instructive that donors only recognised the value of aid after African countries gained independence? British specialist on Africa-Europe relations, Guy Arnold put it succinctly when he said aid became a weapon of economic management of donors while for recipient rulers, it relieved them of responsibilities to their people that could not be avoided without aid.

Writing in The Making of the African Nation edited by Mammo Muchie, Arnold says: “The results of decade of aid has been to create aid dependence on one hand, and mountains of debt on the other that between them deprive African countries of any freedom of economic choice.”

It is extremely naïve for anyone to think that a Western funded NEPAD would become a panacea to the continent’s problem when the same aid has for the past 40 years failed to change the fortunes of most African countries, which are now worse off than they were at independence.

At the G8 summit of July 2002 in Canada, the then South African President Thabo Mbeki and former Nigeria President Olusegun Obasanjo were invited to attend where they got a firm pledge of an additional $1 billion. Seriously, this kind of attitude by African leaders literally begging the West spells doom for the future of Africa. Africa cannot continue acting like Oliver Twist — always asking for the benevolent hand of the West to develop.

It seems as if NEPAD is simply legitimising the already existing skewed relations that currently exist between the global north and the global south. How does Africa reconcile the West’s demand for what George Bush called “compact development”.

Compact development entails that the US aid will only go to countries that rooted out corruption, restructured their economies and opened their markets. There is nothing wrong with the first condition, but there is everything wrong with the third requirement, which simply demands of Africa to open its markets without fortressing themselves against the vagaries of a brutal one-sided global economic system.

A lot of people will also remember that as soon as NEPAD was born, some overzealous British MPs suggested that Britain needed to exert pressure on Mbeki to convince President Mugabe to step down. This was a clear sign on the unflinching condescending nature of Europe’s foreign policy thrust since the Berlin Conference.

Africa would be expecting too much to expect any President of the United States to remove subsidies on agriculture products so as to allow African agricultural products to penetrate the huge American market. It would also be naïve to expect any US President to end subsidies on cotton which is undermining African cotton production.

Another nagging question that NEPAD needs to deal with is the constant pressure exerted by Western nations to privatise strategic national entities with the full knowledge that such a move in a poor country only result in some Western companies buying shares in those companies as locals are unable to do so.

It is clear that globalisation and NEPAD are not compatible. If NEPAD is to be a credible vehicle for economic transformation, it must make concerted effort in altering the balance between the poor and the rich and not meekly coerce Africa to accept a skewed economic order.

Again in the words of Guy Arnold; “There have been too many uncritical African responses to globalisation as though the process is inevitable when, in fact, it is nothing of the kind.

There appears to be something of a consensus in Africa: if you cannot beat it, join it. It is an instrument for controlling it so as to ensure that it is used to bring about greater social equity.”

While most Africans find it difficult to locate the concrete successes of NEPAD its executive officer, former Niger Prime Minister Ibrahim Assane Mayaki, thinks otherwise. In a recent interview with Africa Renewal magazine, Mayaki said the agency has achieved a lot since its birth.

Mayaki is the CEO of the NEPAD Planning and Coordinating Agency which has now been constituted within the structures of the AU. He thinks that a lot of people are unaware of NEPAD’s achievements because of indoctrination by the West.

“There are three major ways in which NEPAD may be assessed. First, NEPAD is the only development initiative available on an African scale. It has been with us for the past 10 years, yielding conclusive results in areas such as science, technology, agriculture and infrastructure.

Ten years on, the initiative has just been relaunched with its recent integration as a development agency in the structure African Union. I am not aware of any other African initiative that has lasted this long and relied on a formal, institutionalized framework such as this one, with a mandate focusing on issues of implementation.”

He said NEPAD has since its inception been responsible for the key development strategies in agriculture like the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP), infrastructure through the Programme for Infrastructure Development in Africa (PIDA).

The third most important achievement of NEPAD, according to Makayi, is the effectiveness of the Africa Peer Review which he said had been effective in evaluating political or economic governance in countries that are willing to be assessed.

However, despite Mayaki enthusiastic assessment of NEPAD, the agency still remains more of an abstraction yet to make meaningful impact in their lives. Unless and until the AU continues to advocate for the reform of the global economic system, NEPAD’s effectiveness will remain and illusion.

What is lacking in Africa particularly in NEPAD is a conceptual framework on how to bring an integrated and comprehensive structural transformation of Africa.
It is a framework that senior research associate at Oxford University Mammo Muchie says needs “moral clarity, intellectual confidence and political commitment to assist ordinary Africans to be the main beneficiaries of Africa’s wealth, resources and environment.”

December 2015
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