Foreign Prescription Sending Africa to its Death Bed

Published on 13th December 2005

The G8 summit, which met in Gleneagles in Scotland from 6-8 July 2005, put Africa at the top of its agenda. The Commission for Africa that was set up by Tony Blair also called for another $25 billion for the next three to five years and unveiled the results of its Millennium Project, which called for a doubling of aid worldwide. The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) were set up in the year 2000 and target 2010 to be achieved. They include halving poverty and hunger, arresting disease and environmental degradation, helping newborn babies survive infancy and educating them in childhood.


The Commission for Africa’s plea for $ 25 billion represents just 0.08 per cent of the 22 richest donors’ national income. The Millennium Project ambitions require donors to raise their worldwide spending from just 0.25 per cent of GDP to about 0.5 per cent by 2015.


Considering the current economic growth rate, Africa will meet none of these goals. In many countries on the continent, income per head has yet to regain levels reached in the 1960s. Life expectancy is in the decline. The continent is burdened by disease. According to the studies available, Africa accounts for 1.2 million deaths from malaria and 75 per cent of the deaths globally from AIDS in 2004. Besides, Africa is geographically disadvantaged for less than a quarter of sub-Saharan Africans live within 100Kms of the coast thus attracting and amassing very little capital. Africa’s national savings were just 16 per cent of GDP in 2003 compared to East Asia’s 42 per cent. The West has spent $450 billion on foreign aid to Africa over the past 40 years.


Most parts of sub-Saharan Africa have a level of human development that would have been familiar to pre-industrial Europe in the 18th and 19th centuries. Only 12 per cent of the roads in Ethiopia are paved. Life expectancy in Mozambique is 38 while Eritrea’s is 55. The average yearly income per head in Sierra Leone is about £86, Eritrea’s is $ 230 while Ethiopia’s is $110.


Many countries in Africa got their independence at least a decade to four decades ago but the development path seems to be very slow. What kind and how much investment is required to develop the poor countries of Africa to replicate the success stories of Asia particularly, China, Singapore, Thailand, Taiwan, South Korea and India? It is impossible to develop a country or continent without pain and/or hard work.


Instead of increased aid and debt relief, improved trade conditions and governance is needed in the continent. The key word here is partnership. Africa’s biggest challenge is to compete in the global economy. Is its deficit in human capital formation? It is a known fact that economic strength depends on size or command over natural resources and also on the quality and skill of the labor force. Besides, the ability to cope with complex production techniques and technological changes that are cropping up in global arena, Africa requires a healthy and educated workforce.


Life expectancy has been falling in much of sub-Saharan Africa over the past decade because of HIV/Aids Malaria and tuberculosis. Africa needs a million health workers by 2015. With education, the picture is equally bleak. More than 100 million African children are not in school; only a small proportion goes to secondary school. Girls are less likely to be in class than boys though development experts say female education is critical to health improvements.


The priority is ensuring that things do not get worse - hence the emphasis is given to minimize HIV/Aids in countries like Uganda, Botswana, and Eritrea. However, investment is also needed in physical infrastructure. Lack of roads and railways is inhibiting intra-Africa trade; let alone access to international trade. It is reported that Africa requires an extra $10billion a year for infrastructure until 2010, and $20billion a year in the following five years.


The concern among many economists is that what Africa needs, are not resource-hungry, large-scale farms producing cut flowers for the West, but policies supporting the poor - such as credit being more widely available particularly to the rural people, investment in rural roads, and support for small-scale enterprises.


Developed countries must realize that their future growth depends on developing nations. For example, mobile phone industries in developed countries must reduce mobile phone prices by more than 50 percent, to sell the phones in developing countries particularly in Africa. When the customers in Africa get the affordable right, this would certainly increase the market by 20-30 million customers a year for the coming 5-10 years. Partnership with African countries is imperative to support the global economic development.


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