“Let’s help Africa to help itself” – Article by Italian’s Foreign Minister Frattini

For too long the world has looked at Africa as a problem, as a continent plagued by poverty, disease and endemic conflict. The time has come to look at Africa from a different and more sophisticated perspective. Above all, we need to consider Africa as an opportunity says Frattini (22.08.2009).

In addition to being a major supplier of natural resources and a 900 million consumer-strong market, Africa is a young continent, with enormous human capital potential. The continent’s international importance has increased significantly. Africa is a key player in energy security—Angola and Nigeria are among the world’s 10 most important oil producers—and is an indispensable partner in meeting global challenges that range from the environment to the fight against terrorism. In this interdependent world we cannot ignore the need to include African countries as full-fledged partners in a system of world governance. This was the clear and strong message that the Italian G8 presidency decided to launch at the recent L’Aquila summit. For the first time a significant number of Africa countries—South Africa and Egypt, NEPAD countries, the African Union presidency and Angola—were invited to participate in the summit as fully-recognised political players. Concrete decisions were made at L’Aquila on resolving a series of crucial African problems such as access to water and food. In particular, industrialized countries and emerging economies pledged 20 billion dollars to better contribute to food security in Africa.

Naturally, the G8 summit did not put an end to Africa’s problems. Africa is late compared with other developing countries. Direct foreign investments in Africa amount to only 4% of the world total and the economic crisis has significantly reduced growth forecasts for 2009. Nevertheless, the foundations have been laid for building a better future for that continent. A better future requires a new “pact for Africa” between African countries and industrialised countries and emerging economies. This pact should be founded on two essential principles: “intelligent” aid and African ownership. Traditional, paternalistic development assistance is in the past. Assistance now needs to aim at fostering structural growth and the sustainable development of African societies, concentrating efforts in a four-pronged approach. In the first place, we must continue to invest in democratic institutions in order to strengthen good governance and political stability. Bad administration and political instability are no longer tolerable: the cost of armed conflicts from 1990 to 2007 has been calculated at 284 million dollars—a sum equal to the total aid supplied by the main donors in that same period.

Therefore, we have to invest more and better in African human capital, in sectors such as healthcare and education, with special emphasis on technical and economic education. It is necessary to sponsor new and ambitious projects for building schools and universities; African students need to be given more opportunities abroad. Thirdly, agriculture needs modernizing, as this sector employs two-thirds of all employed Africans and remains key to the continent’s development. Food security and innovation in agriculture will be the themes of the 2015 Expo in Milan. Obviously, plans for modernizing agriculture and improving its productivity must be accompanied by the renewed impetus of industrialized countries to open their markets to African products.

Finally, economic integration and the creation of a vast internal African market: the experience of the European Union could set a useful example. Quality of aid must not replace the quantitative pledges that industrialized countries have been making to Africa since the G8 summit at Gleneagles, and which must be fulfiled. In order to boost “intelligent” aid, however, there needs to be more creativity in mobilizing resources and players both in Africa and internationally, in order to strengthen synergies among governments, local institutions, the private sector, NGOs, universities and the African diaspora. Another key element in the new pact lies in African ownership. African leaders and civil societies need to be encouraged to take responsibility for themselves.

As President Obama said to the African people during his visit to Ghana, “your destiny is in your own hands”. Ownership means local responsibility: Africans and the civil society must be given the choice of controlling how their aid is spent and of encouraging internal reform. From this standpoint, the New partnership for Africa’s development (NEPAD), a programme for socio-economic development of the continent sponsored by Algeria, Egypt, Nigeria, Senegal and South Africa, and adopted by the African Union, should be entirely supported. The African continent is on the move, and a renewed international political desire to help Africa help itself came out at L’Aquila. This is an opportunity to be seized in a new spirit of equal partnership.

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