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Our Common Interest: The Report of the Commission for Africa - A Review

James Bernard Quilligan
April 15, 2005

The Africa Plan

A new North-South panel – the Commission for Africa – recently issued a 400-page plan on development in Africa. The report, Our Common Interest, sets out a series of proposals for the poverty-stricken continent that will be discussed this year at the G-8 and European Union meetings and other international conferences. Authored by Prime Minister Tony Blair, along with politicians and economists from nine African and five Western nations and China, the Commission for Africa report is a milestone in international development. Stressing the need for new leadership and participation in Africa, Blair’s Africa Plan calls for a global partnership to end poverty and conflict, and increase economic growth in Africa during the next decade.

While many parts of the world are impoverished, the only region that is actually poorer than it was 30 years ago is Africa, where 43 of the 53 nations still suffer from chronic hunger and low-income levels. The reasons for Africa’s economic regression seem endless. Famine and drought periodically plague large areas, leaving farmers overly dependent on good rains and good harvests. Mineral resources are often extracted by foreign companies that do not invest their profits back into the communities where they operate, resulting in weak economies and incompetent governments in many regions of Africa. Without responsible administration, people are driven to violence, ethnic conflict, and civil war. Life expectancy across Africa has fallen to 46. Although 45% of Africans are under the age of 15, their productive potential is diminished by hunger, cholera, yellow fever, malaria, tuberculosis, polio, and HIV/AIDS. Many boys who manage to escape the ravages of starvation and disease become soldiers, while healthy but uneducated girls have little choice but to raise large families and become poor farmers. Africa’s share of global trade has been declining for several decades and the continent is increasingly dependent on foreign aid. The population – about 850 million – will increase to 1.9 billion by 2055, and, given current economic trends, in fifty years Africa will still be unable to produce enough food or earn enough money to import the agricultural products needed to feed itself. There is no denying that Africa has suffered immensely from the economic instability, endemic poverty, and collapse of infrastructure resulting from Western colonialism – and the utter failure of post-colonial attempts to help Africa during the past half-century.

Yet, as the Blair Report has noted, there are signs of hope. The internecine wars that have plagued the continent are declining. Dictatorships are also disappearing. In the past five years, 2/3 of the nations in Africa have held multi-party elections (some, admittedly, more free than others). Domestic investment in productive capacity has increased in recent years, resulting in 5% economic growth for 24 African countries in 2003. Africa has a young labor force that is willing and able to realize its earning potentials, given the chance to thrive with adequate food, better healthcare, increased education, and decent jobs. Africa’s mineral wealth is vast and largely untapped. The continent has the ability to double or triple its crop yields, feed its people, expand its access to global markets, and even emerge as a strong exporter of agricultural products in a few decades. Many of its nations are committed to a new collaborative effort for economic progress – involving government, business, labor, civil society, and faith organizations – that is sensitive to Africa’s religious and cultural beliefs, community needs, and individual rights. Many have also begun to organise grassroots development programmes, build cohesion through the continent’s ten regional economic associations, and strive for trans-national unity and mutual accountability within the framework of the African Union and the New Partnership for Africa’s Development.

Our Common Interest calls for a cooperative agreement between Africa and the global community for long-term development at all levels and across all sectors of African society. To meet its end of the bargain, African nations would commit to establishing accountable governance, initiate democratic reforms, root out corruption, end local and regional conflicts, strengthen the rule of law, guarantee human rights (especially the rights of women), provide free primary education, improve health services, expand the use of fertilizer, improve soil health, double the area of irrigated land, ensure clean drinking water and sanitation, build economic infrastructure (including housing, roads, railways, airports, electrical and telecommunication networks), increase its administrative capacity to absorb international capital flows, encourage entrepreneurship, and expand intra-regional trade.

If Africa begins to organise these programmes for internal development, says the report, the international community will support Africa with major external reforms. Developed nations will:

  • cancel the debts of all nations in sub-Saharan Africa
  • increase development assistance to 0.7% GDP, raising the annual flow of aid to Africa by $25 bn before 2010, and an extra $25 bn by 2015, with another $25 bn to be generated within Africa after 2015
  • boost investments in health ($10 bn per year), education ($8 bn per year), and infrastructure ($10 bn per year)
  • increase spending on fighting HIV/AIDS to $10 bn per year by 2010
  • create an International Financing Facility (IFF) to raise additional development funds on world capital markets
  • encourage public-private partnerships to expand investment in Africa
  • eliminate $365 bn in agricultural and agribusiness subsidies for farmers in developed nations by 2010, including an immediate end to cotton and sugar subsidies
  • lower trade barriers and other protectionist measures that restrict African goods from foreign markets
  • return illegal funds invested in international accounts by African regimes, and ensure more transparent business arrangements to eliminate bribery
  • negotiate an international arms treaty by 2006 to stop Western arms sales in conflict zones
  • fund at least 50% of the peacekeeping budget of the African Union and improve the capacity of the United Nations to prevent and resolve conflict
  • consider African representation on the decision-making boards of international financial institutions

Financially, the Africa Plan breaks down this way: if Africa contributes 1/3 of the necessary investment, the global community will contribute the other 2/3 through aid, investment, and technical assistance. As a result, says the report, Africa would increase its share of world trade in a few years, achieve an economic growth rate of 7% by 2010, and meet its Millennium Development Goals for poverty reduction and development by 2015.

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Our Common Interest: The Report of the Commission for Africa - A Review

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