22.06.2003 Feature Article

Can the "NEPAD" ever change its spots?

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It has suddenly dawn on me that we are almost three years into the much talked about new millennium but the sign of hope the UN Millennium Development Goal (MDG) offered to the people of Africa, Asia, and Latin America appears to be a mirage. I can understand if one begrudges me that it is too early to resign to one’s fate, nonetheless, as the famous confucius maxim suffices ‘a journey of a thousand miles begins with a step’. In a sense, one can hardly postulate with any degree of certainty that the global stakeholders have made a crawling step towards actualizing the MDG blueprint to say the least. This raises the foundation for asking questions like; how can we ensure that Africa in the 21st century will not continue to be preoccupied with survival but becomes a valued partner in global affairs? What does it take to turn the reality and growing sense of despair engulfing Africa into opportunities? Clearly, the radicals would chorus that; lets de-link and let’s depend on ourselves. However, we must be reminded that this radical nationalistic position have been applied over the years but alas has failed to prevail. Indeed, catalogue of initiatives have been considered over the years to reverse the stigma of marginalisation the African continent has been plunged into right from the time of independence to date. Prominent among these initiatives were the formation of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) in the 1960s and seeking among others to unite the continent and coordinate efforts to improve the lives of the African people. The OAU had lacked the requisite institutional capacity and the political will and commitment right from the onset coupled with external factors such as the Francophone-Anglophone dichotomy hence hampering its effectiveness to meet its desired objectives. African leaders disillusioned by the World Bank/IMF’s Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP) have attempted to seek an alternative policy strategy. The best known of these was the African Alternative Framework to Structural Adjustment (AAF-SAP) which was promoted by the Economic Commission for Africa and which had been the main source of technical advice for the development of the 1980 Lagos Plan of Action (LPA). It is however sad to learn that the World Bank and the IMF flanked by western national interests invested considerable amount of resources to make publications and organise seminars to thwart and unpopularise any seeming challenge to their intellectual hegemony especially that of AAF-SAP The new wave of economic globalisation has re-invigorated the leadership of the continent’s penchant for asserting the right image of Africa in the global economic casino (to borrow Sussan Strange’s phrase) in order to envision a hybrid of new alternative approach. The African new resolve is given expression in ‘’The New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD) initiative’’ The new agenda has as its core objectives the accelerated transformation, integration, diversification and growth of the African economies in order to reduce their vulnerability to external shocks and increase their dynamism, internalize the process of development and enhance self-reliance. It is thus founded on the premise of ''a common vision and a shared conviction, that African leaders have a pressing duty to eradicate poverty and to place their countries, both individually and collectively, on a path of sustainable growth and development, and at the same time to participate actively in the world economy and body politic''. The NEPAD crusade is actually isomorphic with Adedeji’s view that what Africa needs is ‘‘a regional agenda of its own, but not an agenda for a region on its own: autonomy but not autarky, for Africa is for better or worse, within the world’’. The NEPAD appears more pragmatic and insightful in relative to the previous initiatives considering its acknowledgement of inter alia; the need for regional integration within the framework of interaction with the global community; the new wave of information and communication technology and economic globalisation generating a global common security and interests (giving currency to the argument for the development of Africa as global public good); the African leaderships' new commitments to democracy and the relative peace and stability the continent has chalked over the past decades (with the exception of Liberia and DR Congo); the new resolve of African ownership of development; and the readiness of the international community to cooperate in a partnership fashion rather than donor-beneficiary relations. It is however instructive to note that the way forward for Africa in the 21st century requires a new development model, one that goes beyond the conventional focus on external/internal either or policy. The NEPAD idea is of course well intended, the problematic however rests on how to move beyond rhetoric and political gimmicks to make NEPAD’s dream a reality. In other words, the challenges that confront NEPAD include; how would this initiative thrive the institutional impediments encumbered by the on-going inequitable globalisation process and the growing inclination towards protectionisms, and episodes of trade wars conditioning the present global trading system coupled with the seeming intellectual hegemony of the BWIs? This is why I ask the question; can the NEPAD ever change its spots? My candid opinion is that NEPAD amounts to nothing than re-inventing the wheel. Suffice to say that the argument for NEPAD is that the paradigm shift in International Political Economy (IPE) antecedent by economic globalisation has meant that the development of Africa is a global public good. In a sense, the assumption is that the western world is now willing to form a NEW PARTNERSHIP with Africa (denoting the name NEPAD). Under the new partnership for example, it is assumed that, trade and investment will succeed where grants and loans have failed. Needless to say that it is not aid, trade, investment or loans that are problems per se, it is the particular social regulation they express and reflect that has been the problem. The writer thus believes that what is going on now at the African development scene in the name of NEPAD is coterminous with putting an ‘old wine in a new bottle’. Indeed, it is superfluous to assume that the West is ready to develop Africa with investment to eradicate poverty and inequality in Africa. My professor Muchie has branded the NEPAD’s contradiction of combining rhetoric of self-reliance with a plea for dependence on international business to pour foreign direct investment as ‘schizophrenic’. Schizophrenic in the sense that corporations are profit-oriented organizations and as such everything they do is profit-driven. If corporations have the zeal to help develop Africa, how come the IMF/World Bank for example is pursuing its development policies in parallel with the NEPAD initiative? Is this the sort of new partnership we are advocating for? The Way Forward I will attempt to give some suggestion with regards to the NEPAD’s corporate economic policy initiative. First on the agenda is Africa and the WTO. In this respect, much was expected from the WTO to see to the implementation of the new round of agreements at the November 2001 Doha WTO ministerial meeting. For instance, the new negotiation resolves to establish a fair and market-oriented trading system through a programme of fundamental reform encompassing strengthening rules and specific commitments on support and protection in order to correct and prevent restrictions and distortions in world agricultural markets, reduce or as appropriate eliminate tariffs as well as non-tariff barriers. These sounds fantastic on paper, but the question is how can this be done?

Suffice to say that we are almost two years into the WTO meeting and one wonders how far it has gone in implementing these reforms. What has to be acknowledged is the fact that trade issues are fundamental national interest issues and as such Africa really needs to go beyond the mondane to make sure its interest at the global trading level is duly taken care of. The NEPAD must at this juncture serve as a buffer by assisting the weak African countries to improve their capacity to negotiate in international trade, and in making full use of their rights. To be competitive at the global trading level, African countries need a more imaginative long-term solutions to overcome their competitive disadvantage deriving from dependence on primary exports, and weak industrial, export-base and technological backwardness. This can be done by building a solidified African economic bloc to relate to the rest of the World on the basis of a Corporate Africa.

On Africa’s debt crisis, I recommend that HIPC must be harnessed with the new African debt eradication agenda. In this sense there must be one comprehensive debt eradication strategy for Africa. Under this new strategy, poverty reduction support must be made to work effectively by trickling down to the poor. This can be done by empowering the poor by way of equipping them with income generating activities other than the World Bank/IMF linear strategy of export expansion. The end goal of poverty eradication at this level must be capacity building by way of creating the missing middle class in Africa.

Finally, under the tutelage of the NEPAD/African Union, Africa must strive to be self-reliant. This means that Africa must as much as possible strive to rely on domestic resources much as it strives to become the owner of its own development pattern. Admittedly, I acknowledge the difficulties in generating domestic resources, nonetheless, it has to be stressed that Africa has not fully exhausted its domestic revenue generation. For example, the tax net in most African countries are not wide enough. What happens is that usually the informal sector is not targeted principally because of lack of proper documentation. I therefore recommend that Africa must prioritise its documentation processes by registering all the small scale enterprises in the informal sector for taxation purposes. Having said this, the government must in return duly recognise this sector by giving them the necessary incentives. Views expressed by the author(s) do not necessarily reflect those of GhanaHomePage.

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