Ibrahim Seaga Shaw

AFRICA: Hopes and Concerns for 2003 and beyond - 04/01/2003

 Expotimes - Paris. France 

 As we begin a new year, it is necessary to reflect a bit on the trials and hopes of Africa, a continent still struggling hard to gradually, if not quickly, move away from the willing recipient of relief aid to a more active partner in the global political economy. The early part of 2002 no doubt ushered some bubbling hopes for the continent with the birth of the New Partnership For Africa's Development (NEPAD) initiative on October 23, 2001.

The NEPAD initiative, the brain-child of Presidents Mbeki of South Africa, Wade of Senegal, Obasanjo of Nigeria and Boutlifika of Algeria, has the tall objective of achieving development for Africa at a growth rate of 7 per cent per annum for 15 years. During this period, NEPAD hopes to claw in about US$65 billion to finance the execution of the various programmes under the initiative. The initiative sounds very good and has, as expected, gained wide support by governments across the continent. And what is more, the International communinity, including the international financial power houses (the Bretton Woods Institutions), is strongly backing the initiative.

But over a year on, NEPAD which is still to take off the ground, is visibly bugged down by a number of stumbling blocks such as the slow response of the international community in raising the funds needed to prop up the initiative and the doubts and fears expressed by observers and NGOs working in efforts to develop Africa. One such NGO is the Third World Network-Africa (TWN-Af) engaged in advocacy on issues related to development, environment and North-South affairs. It has recently criticised the ineffectiveness of NEPAD as a tool to push Africa's development a step forward. It has expressed fears that NEPAD will be driven by the Bretton Woods Institutions (the IMF and the World Bank) with very serious implications for the continent's struggling people. Another fear seriously expressed in the media is that this whole NEPAD initiative was a strategy of western powers to encourage African leaders to mellow down on their earlier energy at transforming the Organisation of African Unity into the new African Union, fearing that it may soon become a powerhouse capable of posing a major challenge in the politics of the global economy.

But with all these obstacles and concerns, NEPAD is poised to stay and wobble on. We only hope that the founders and implementors of this initiative would heed the concerns raised as a way of avoiding the worsening of an already volatile situation in efforts to turn things around.

This brings us to another important milestone in the history of the continent-the founding of the African Union from the ashes of the now defunct Organisation of African Unity. This developement no doubt offers hope to all Africans and well-wishers for a continent that is now more than ever showing that it is ready for business on equal footing with the rest of the world. Again it is hoped that our present crop of leaders would take advantage of the present mood and implement all the provisions of the AU, and resist all the external and internal forces that seek to sabotage efforts of the Union to put make the continent one of the best in the world.

However, it is not all good news in Africa in 2002 as a bloody war broke out in Ivory Coast in September sending shock waves and suffering in the West African sub-region. The burning issue of the ethnic and religious riots in Nigeria recently causing numerous deaths and destruction of property and the eventual denial of that country to host the Miss World Pageant has also not been a welcome news. Another omen is the famine which is afflicting the southern part of Africa and threatening to hit millions again in Ethiopia although the British Development Secretary Claire Short recently played down the latter as an empty fund-raising ploy by corrupt politicians and NGOs. The next few months would show who is telling the truth.

The fact however remains that civil conflicts and natural disasters have proved to be among the leading causes of Africa's slow pace in catching up with the rest of the developed world. The recently signed peace accord to end the civil war in the D R Congo also offers fresh hopes that all is not lost in efforts to make Africa a peaceful and promising continent.

On the democratic front, the peaceful democratic elections in Sierra Leone in May, and in Kenya in December also offer hope that the continent is gradually coming to terms with the reality of ensuring smooth transfer of power which is a sine qua non for political stability needed for economic development.

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