Africa's New Realism
By THABO MBEKI
New York Times, June 24, 2002
CAPE TOWN -- A great moment is at hand: a chance for developed countries to make a sound investment while helping to break the cycle of African underdevelopment. This prospect now seems as obvious as it was previously elusive.
The Group of 8 conference of industrialized nations that begins this week in Canada comes as we plan for the World Summit on Sustainable Development in South Africa in September. It follows significant commitments made by the Bush administration and the European Union at a United Nations conference earlier this year in Mexico to increase development aid. The common thread here is the renewed determination among political leaders and civil society to build a humane world of shared prosperity.
The idea gains its momentum not from the desire to provide charity. Nor is it premised merely on fears in highly developed nations of new immigrants or of poor regions becoming so volatile as to pull the rest of the world into instability. The momentum for sustained development, in partnership with the private sector, is based on a recognition that it is possible to revive poor nations, particularly in Africa, through investments for mutual benefit. There is an unprecedented resolve on the continent to turn away from the begging bowl and engage in new efforts to build a better life.
The fact that most African states have held multiparty elections in the past decade is relevant. So is the imminent formation of the African Union, out of the Organization of African Unity, which will occur at a summit in South Africa early next month. Such developments have helped reveal a socioeconomic potential previously obscured, and they have given strength to a new realism.
In this great effort, we Africans seek, and need, partners. On offer to the investors from the highly developed economies are sound prospects in countries whose infrastructures — limited telecommunications systems, poor roads, rail and port facilities, sometimes dilapidated cities — hold the promise of exponential improvement. Where others are approaching saturation, Africa offers rapid growth.
Such cooperation will reward the many African nations prepared to improve political and economic governance. But there could be broader spinoffs. This partnership of equals may lead to new introspection among the citizens of developed countries about themselves; it may rekindle that humanism that should lie at the foundation of global relations.
Such might be the outcome, if the developed nations work with Africans in redefining assistance, fashioning a fairer trade regime and treating Africa as an investment destination. Group of 8 leaders and other statesmen will gather in a remote spot in the Canadian Rockies to hear more about the New Partnership for Africa's Development. African leaders will arrive with concrete proposals on how to get this partnership off the ground.
A central feature of the new partnership is ensuring democracy, human rights and good governance. It sets out independent mechanisms for peer review, with provisions aimed at foreseeing problems and working to prevent their spread — rather than just censuring and punishing when things go wrong. If programs in manufacturing, agriculture, education and health are to succeed, Africans in their millions must take an active part.
Most important, it is Africans who have done and will continue to do the planning. As George C. Marshall noted in proposing his famous plan to rebuild Europe half a century ago: "It would be neither fitting nor efficacious for this government to undertake to draw up unilaterally a program designed to place Europe on its feet economically. This is the business of the Europeans." And so it will be for Africans now.
Thabo Mbeki is the president of South Africa.