February 29, 2020

Article at Wilson on Authory

Tony Blair and His Report Of The Commission for Africa, A Cursory Look.

By Wilson Ometan Editor: Conscience Magazine, International. 2004

Perhaps Tony Blair, the British Prime Minister and his Kitchen Cabinet of the Commission (Gordon Brown and Hilary Benn) are more conscientious about Africa than Africans themselves. Even so, his comment that Africa is a scar in the conscience of the world is not out of place. But while people of conscience are voicing out their concerns about Africa, some Britons are being arraigned in courts in South Africa, Zimbabwe and Equatorial Guinea for an attempted Coup to change the latter’s government for its rich mineral deposits of Oil.

Coup is one of the troubles plaguing Africa in recent times. It is therefore not surprising that Tony Blair’s pet project “The Commission for Africa” launched on the 24th of February 2004 was received with both suspicion and cynicism by Africans as another white-elephant project. Nevertheless, Tony Blair should be commended for his initiative and effort.

The Commission was intended to take a fresh look at the challenges which Africa faces and over the following year, it will be engaged with discussions on the key challenges to Africa Development and eventually produce a document/report in the spring of 2005 in order to eradicate poverty.

The Commission which drew its inspiration from Brandt Commission for Africa and Marshall Plan for Europe met on the 4th of May to consider specific themes to be addressed and the allocation of work and pattern of meetings. Following this, the commission began consultations by collecting inputs from a wide range of groups including NGOs, and the civil society with a focus on ways the commission can make a difference but having a relation with groups such as UN, G8, AU and EU. At this embryonic stage, there was a general consensus among the commissioners that themes like “The economy of Africa, Investment in People, Conflict and building of peace, Health, Environment, Governance, Culture and Participation shall be the key subjects to be addressed for a comprehensive report to be submitted in the spring of 2005.

Truly, the Commissioners of 18 members in their individual capacities drawn from both Africa and the rich world with Tony Blair the Chair worked assiduously to produce a report in the given deadline.

The report gave a thorough analysis of the challenges facing Africa and provided some clear recommendations on how to turn around Africa’s present predicament- poverty. The Commission recognises that Africa must drive its own development while rich countries of the world should support their efforts because it is in the common interest of the World- a euphemism for fear of Violence, Terrorism, Genocides and Cataclysms.

THE REPORT

The report published in the month of March 2005, takes cognisance in its introduction the basic ironic comparisons in the two worlds of the rich and poor, the healthy and the unhealthy, very skilled and the poorly skilled or unskilled. Hence in a world with enormous wealth in the hands of many, Africa still wallows in abject poverty with children hungry, malnourished and with stunted growth. A world where medical techniques and medicines have eradicated diseases yet same cannot be confidently said for Africa where children die before the age five each year. Yet 250,000 African women die each year due to complications in pregnancy or childbirth.

25 million Africans carrying HIV and Aids are amongst the world’s carriers where the advance of the disease is controlled with retroviral drugs but Africans cannot afford it nor are drugs readily available for those able to purchase it hence 2 million carriers dies every year. Also, there is this grotesque comparison of subsidy of nearly US$2 enjoyed by the European cow which doubles the average daily income of Africans while the Japanese cow daily subsidy doubles the European cow with nearly US$4.

The Commissioners embarked on a consultation through Africa and major cities of the rich world and came up with heavy baggage of challenges which be-devils Africa and Africans. They includes incompetence, mismanagement, conflict, skewed policies of the developed world in their biased trade arrangements and debt relief designed to further their political interests, corruption, bad governance, poverty, natural disadvantages, bad communication infrastructure designed by the colonial masters for their purpose of produce extraction, slavery, dependence on single or two commodities with the result of fluctuations in world price etc. These and many more were addressed in the report. Though, it is not all bad news in Africa. A good number of African countries have made in-roads in Democracy as against dictatorship in the last 20 years.

Pan-Africanist group OAU has evolved into AU with its NEPAD project, and shift from non-interference in individual member states domestic Affairs to participation in conflict resolutions, peace enforcement and peace building. The World Bank policies were also seen by the commissioners as one of the causes of Africa’s failures. Indeed, the combined stifling policies of IMF and the World Bank from the 70s to date had been stumbling blocks to Africa’s economic growth. No growth-no investment in infrastructure, education, health and agriculture to the detriment of Africans. Others are G8; Club of Paris and other rich nation’s policies of subsidies and trade barriers of taxes on goods going into developed nations from African Nations are well in place, etc.

LACK OF LEADERSHIP SKILLS

The main issue which underlines Africa’s difficulties in her quest for economic and political freedom in the last 40 years according to the report had been the weakness of governance and the absence of effective state. In summarised definition, “Governance: the inability of government and the public services to create the right economic, social and legal framework which will encourage economic growth and allow people to participate in it”. That, establishing an economic environment will encourage investment which is at the heart of proper function of government. This means basic functions such as: providing security, setting sound economic policies under law, collecting taxes, and delivering adequate public services such as health and education. It also means seeing that physical infrastructures are in place such as good roads, railways, water, electricity and telecommunications, including other abstract forms of infrastructure such as legal systems to protect basic property rights, human rights, and respect for contracts, to uphold order and act as a check on governments. It is these governance systems and the capacity to make them work that Africa lacks and badly needs.

THE COMMISSION’S RECOMMENDATIONS

For Africa to be free from poverty, the Commission demands that Africa’s debt should be out-rightly written off and Africans themselves should handle the development of Africa but must be supported by the rich world/nations. That, the best way rich nations can render support is to put aid in form of grants into African Government budgets and let them prioritise and have transparent spending of it but with a proviso of controlled/monitored accountability and a clear development strategy in place. But where governance system is too poor for donors to have confidence in sector-wide approaches, aid may best be paid into specific projects run by agencies or other non-governmental organisations. That, Africa’s trans-national organisations e.g. AU and its NEPAD programme needs a strong support. Advice was given to world bodies such as World Bank, IMF to shift more resources to Africa and must provide assistance as grants rather than loans with stringent rules and restrictions attached to them. IMF on the other hand could help by assessing and publicising information about developing countries budgets and accounts thereby enabling citizens to hold their governments accountable as well as supporting external assessments such as those for debt negotiations. Also, the World Bank, IMF and WTO management must prepare strategies for Africa to reflect the points suggested in the full report.

The Commission proposes that the rich nations should have it as a commitment to donate annually in order to realise the Millennium Declaration objectives to right the greatest wrongs of our time but having in mind the importance in finding ways of increasing accountability by donor institutions to their shareholders and clients. An option is to create a monitoring group to assess the quality of donor assistance and how these donations are spent in each country and on both sides of the divide i.e. donor and receiver sides who could produce a short, open and focused annual report. In the full report, recommendations were given on governance and capacity building, corruption, peace and security, conflict eradication, investing in people; education, health, water and sanitation, HIV and AIDS. Protection of vulnerable people, growth and poverty reduction, environment and climate change, trade and the costing of the Commission’s recommendations.

AFRICA’S DEBT SERVICE

The report is an in-depth consultation, analysis and recommendation which when fully implemented will be far reaching in eradicating poverty in Africa. But cynics doubt the intentions as another white-elephant project. Some ask, what about USA, WTO and the other discordant tones coming from Europe, what about other world financial institutions with different policies of interest towards Africa. A chorus Bob Geldof, the indefatigable philanthropist of Live-Aid for Africa is singing. Well, time will tell.