Thursday, July 30, 2009

Africa and the G8

THE G8 Summit of eight most advanced countries of the world (United States of America, Germany, France, the United Kingdom, Canada, Japan, Italy and Russia) recently had its periodic meeting at L'Aquila in Italy and confronted as usual the world's most pressing problems, significant among which were the current global economic crisis, global warming, Iran's nuclear programme, global poverty and food security to mention just the issues. The environment was less rancorous compared to the meeting in Gleneagles in 2005 but decisions were less far-reaching. Africa's mention was significant for the recount of failed pledges and promises of the past and these were appropriately highlighted by critics and development observers.

The Summit agreed among other things that farm aid and development assistance will be boosted by $20 billion over the next three years. It is doubtful whether the international community is taking the G8 seriously after their negligible performance following the Gleneagles failed promise of increasing annual aid by $50 billion, a significant amount of which ($25 billion) was ear-marked for Africa. Africa got on the alert and expectedly the crusade against corruption was swung into high gear and good governance got a boost in preparation for a golden age of development assistance. Promises of mouth-watering aid package are normally accompanied by a renewed period of great expectations in governance and growth, the likes of which substantial and widespread debt forgiveness of the last decade brought about.

Although the developed countries so represented by the G8 failed dismally on their promise, it should be noted that when they do deliver, governance and economic growth change dramatically in favoured countries, an example of which the Ghanaian success story represents. The Gleneagles promise that was expected to consolidate the gains of debt forgiveness was dashed and developing countries particularly can only take solace in giving less weight to L'Aquila's pledges.

African countries in particular must wake up to the realisation that the promised goodies by G8 are not what is badly needed for their development, but as President Barack Obama intoned, countries must face up to the challenge of vastly reducing corruption and ensuring political stability, paying careful attention to the abiding link between good governance and enhanced prosperity. Indeed, even if the promises and pledges materialise, without these issues at the forefront of development agenda, an enduring progress will be hard to come by. The bell of self-reliance continues to ring loud and clear and only those countries that listen to it and apply the message will get to the promised land of development.

It is difficult to get any country to give another country its hard-earned resources to squander like developing countries do. It is true that some countries still give aid despite this observed scenario, but it is only because they in the process expect a much larger return to their own economy. This is the story of aid in Africa and other countries that harbour a high deficit of political instability and poor governance. The donor only pretends to be interested in the country's progress. Some donors, if not most, are of this mould and it means that African leaders should act wisely and push for self-development of their countries rather than push for aid, with cap in hand.

The more righteous donors among the G8 realise and believe that aid must have a moral tone in addition to the consideration that it guarantees the security of the entire world. African countries should therefore be selective in their search for aid and should not open their doors to 'cash and carry' donors. The development programme self-established by African countries seeking aid should be the starting point and focus of this search. The departure from this principle has not only derailed the development process in Africa countries, it has engendered corruption in the polity. It is difficult to imagine that for all the decades of so-called development assistance what can be seen in most of Africa is declining per capita income. The donors blame this on population growth in Africa but evidence continues to show that their use of aid to derail development in Africa in pursuit of their own agenda is largely to blame.

A disproportionately large percentage of the aid goes back to the donor countries in payment for the import of their goods and services in addition to the employment of experts from their own countries even when such experts are available in the recipient countries. It is a truism that no country, however poor, totally lacks experts in the world of today and some of the donor countries even have a worse profile of experts than some of the host countries. Even when experts are lacking in one country, they can be sourced from another, yet some donor agencies pretend that a whole region is lacking in a particular expertise.

African leaders must be at the driving seat of any aid that comes to their country and be fully alert to issues surrounding aid because in most cases the aid is not as useful as it is meant to be. Some donor agency staff nurse misgivings before coming to Nigeria, yet they become so fascinated by the allure of existence in Nigeria and try to prevent their transfer from the country. Leaders must realise that only when these nuances of aid are actively fought can countries benefit from it. It is on this note that the promises and pledges made at the last G8 Summit must be welcome and steps taken to realise them within the time-frame.