Ditchley and Africa: A Long Journey from 1962

Nathaniel Ocquaye completed his MSc in International Relations at the LSE and is currently a research assistant at the Global South unit of LSE IDEAS. The views expressed here are the authors.

Africa has always been a unique continent: abundant minerals, tropical and temperate zones, exotic wildlife, and a peculiar history. Ditchley has strived to maintain a focus on the African continent for the past five decades (1962-2020), engaging constructively with the problems of Africa through expert analysis and debates.  What does the long journey of Ditchley and Africa look like? The following is a summary of the records of Ditchley conferences on Africa.

The story of this long journey is quite diverse, indeed very diverse and quite difficult to follow. It is not a straight journey. Much of this journey has focused on Southern Africa, and South Africa in particular, has been a much-discussed country. Then the journey turns to other countries and regions like Nigeria and sub-Saharan Africa respectively. In a chronological order, discussions have ranged from Western policies towards the continent, specific interests and prospects for Southern Africa, and general discussions on how to help Africa move up the development ladder.

 Why then is it a long journey? Because the notion of ‘long journey’ resonates much with all African people (both on the continent and in the diaspora) and equally resonates with Nelson Mandela’s ‘Long Walk to Freedom’. To be clear, it has been a long journey because both colonialists and the African people have learned to overcome past historical barriers and have come a long way even to partnership in economic, political, and social terms. Today in Africa, there are many who have benefitted from schooling in Western institutions, there are also many NGOs and civil societies that are either joint partnerships with the West or receiving funding from the West, and almost everywhere Western soft power triumphs in Africa (very much over that of China – see Afrobarometer report on African perspectives on China, 2016).

Ditchley has travelled this long journey with Africa in diverse ways and as the analysis and narrations will show, it has never been easy discussing Africa. This is because it always seems like the discussions, analysis, aid, and initiatives go nowhere but rather the conditions in many African countries keep worsening [For instance, the 1990 conference on Africa: problems and prospects. What is required in terms of political management, development policies and relief aid?’ lamented over the failure of the Structural Adjustment Programmes while the 2017 conference on ‘Investment in Africa: new frontier v old insecurities’ elaborated on the many conditions that trigger backwardness in Africa’s development]. This in part has made the journey a very “long” one to study.  For the past 58 years, Ditchley has played an indirect role (through the discussions on Africa) in the development trajectory of Africa and a role in discussions over the then apartheid South Africa, and more importantly constantly maintained the momentum on discussing Africa, its problems, and the possible solutions for its woes.


The Ditchley conferences and Annual lecture (there has been only one Annual lecture on Africa: ‘Balancing Society and Market: Public Policy and Growth for Africa’ -2006) on Africa has primarily focused on how to achieve positive transformation in Africa’s politics, economy, and society as a whole.


For several decades after the end of colonial rule, political management/leadership and good governance has been a great challenge for many African countries (Ditchley, 1990). There have been several violent seizures of political power through military coups and dictatorship as well as the personalisation of political office in countries like Mugabe’s Zimbabwe and Qaddafi’s Libya. Once in a while, there have been great leaders like Nelson Mandela and Kwame Nkrumah, but their good leadership traits have not, many suggest, been successfully passed on to their successors. Corruption and embezzlement of national funds have been a constant feature of many African political parties in government. However, a country cannot develop without good leadership and/or good governance as has been stressed several times in the Ditchley conferences on Africa (e.g., 1990, 2006a, 2006b). Free and fair elections are crucial for democracy to be embedded in African countries, and the practice of winner-takes-all politics whereby the ruling government allocates positions/resources only to its party faithful and supporters must be put to an end if good governance and democracy is to be achieved. Yet, the notion of good governance has never been easy to define, it is an ambiguous term which allows bad or authoritarian leaders to justify their leadership on certain ‘good’ things they have done for their country like promoting economic growth while repressing/abusing basic human rights. Moreover, an emphasis on free and fair elections only stresses procedural but not substantive democracy. Over and over again, Ditchley conferences have sought to help solve this dilemma by suggesting and emphasizing the role of civil societies and the African Peer Review Mechanism (APRM) as a way of checking the government in power to help promote the right kind of governance that can bring development and progress to society while upholding human rights. Thus, there is the need for ‘some institutionalisation of legal rules and procedures, and a minimisation of capricious autocratic rule must be part of the enabling environment for economic success’ (Ditchley, 1990).


Africa’s economy has always been a headache for both insiders and outsiders. Why is this so? The abundance of natural resources and the dire poverty that coexists in many countries is an enigma and perplexing. The problem is not with the resources in the various countries, but with political management and economic planning (e.g., Ditchley, 1990). No matter how much aid is given to Africa, if there is corruption, favouritism, nepotism, civil wars, poor fiscal policies, and bad governance, African countries will go nowhere. The Annual lecture of July 2006 – ‘Balancing Society and Market: Public Policy and Growth for Africa’ delivered by The Honourable Trevor A Manuel for instance, sought to discuss how to create a system of governance that is capable of delivering economic development and maintaining social stability simultaneously. Yet not all African countries are economically underdeveloped or performing badly; economic development in Africa is ‘unevenly distributed’. For example, South Africa and Botswana are economically quite advanced and as such have high levels of development. The problem however, as indicated by the conferences on Africa, is that despite expert analysis and recommendations for Africa’s path to development, the condition of poor economic growth has been persistent in many African countries. The Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP), the Washington Consensus, and Post-Washington Consensus which all sought to provide financial assistance to African countries along with specific conditions for good governance (e.g., transition to democracy) and sound economic planning achieved no significant progress in many parts of Africa, especially in sub-Saharan Africa.

Why the failure? Part of the reason had to do with the errors of the Bretton Woods institutions. Specifically, the 1990 conference noted that ‘not all policy failings could be laid at the door of African governments. The Bretton Woods institutions were also guilty, especially of seeking to complete the adjustment process over too short a period of time’… and it was also suggested that ‘part of the responsibility for Africa’s indebtedness…lay with the World Bank and IMF, both of which had been guilty of imprudent lending’ (Ditchley, 1990).

Relatedly, another reason for Africa’s failure to grow its economy partly lies in the low level of industrialisation and manufacturing for exports. Yet it appears the reason why Africa cannot undertake manufacturing for export to other markets (e.g., European, and American markets) is that Western countries have made it difficult to do so by not creating an enabling environment for African manufactures. In order words, since for instance, the Most Favoured Nation (MFN) status has been given to China, Africa had no place on the table but to ‘eat the crumbs that fall from the table’…that is to say, Africa must continue producing the primary/raw materials for the industries in Europe, America, and now China. This assertion is hinted from a statement in the conference that ‘for domestic reasons, developed countries might not welcome competition from cheap African exports’ (Ditchley, 1990). To make matters worse for the prospects of Africa’s industrialisation, China has also not been liberal in opening up its markets for African exports and manufactures. Rather, China has sought to develop an African market for its manufactures by increasingly exporting finished goods to the continent in exchange for energy resources like oil (e.g., in Angola and Sudan).

Finally, and more importantly, Africa’s failure to develop had its roots right in the continent. The practical causes of Africa’s failure included the ‘monopolisation of economic and political power, with the opportunities given for excessive profit; irredentism in the form of domination by one ethnic group or the exaggeration of external threats; excessive statism, often enhanced by military rule; the erosion of constitutionalism and the abuse of basic human rights; a lack of openness and the suppression of free speech; absence of pluralism, and the failure to provide for peaceful political succession’ (Ditchley, 1990). These factors have constantly plagued African countries since the end of the colonial era, with either all or at least some of these factors persistent in many (if not all) African countries till today.

What then must be done? As discussed in the January 2006 conference on ‘The G8 Initiative on African Development: how should Africa respond?’, the emphasis for Africa’s development is “implementation, implementation, implementation”. It is not enough to say all the things that can and should be done for Africa to move up the development ladder and embrace the advantages of globalisation without putting these words/analysis/suggestions into action. Specifically, the January 2006 conference argued that it was high time that African leaders and their people take their destiny into their own hands and create/develop African solutions and initiatives to the problems Africa faced. Africans had to ‘prescribe the remedies, not outsiders’ (Ditchley, 1990). Thus, the solutions and/or development path had to be chartered by Africans and then, in part, communicated to external donors to ensure that aid is directed to the right place for the right thing. Moreover, it was also suggested that African political parties ought to have an agreed set of economic objectives to be achieved at a set time, towards which the individual parties should strive to implement regardless of the path they took. This would help converge their efforts at promoting development and not create the scenario in most countries where the next political party in power discontinues the development projects of the previous government to start new ones, thus, leaving the previous projects to “die”. For instance, if a previous government was involved in constructing roads to help connect markets and make transportation of goods easy and convenient, the incoming political party ought to continue and finish that project as the roads will be used by all peoples (regardless of their political parties!) for the same purpose.

In addition, in order for Africa’s economy to grow rapidly, it has also been suggested by the Ditchley conferences, that there should be increased domestic investment and avoidance of over-reliance on Foreign Direct Investment (FDI). The rate of capital flight from Africa to other parts of the world has been remarkably high over the decades, that is, people tend to invest outside of the continent rather than within it. This is also understandable to some extent seeing that both the political and economic environment in most African countries is not attractive. Civil wars, human rights abuses, political instability, poor fiscal policies, undependable legal frameworks, unreliable power supply, as well as poor infrastructural amenities. These conditions mean that domestic investors would rather invest in Dubai or in another ‘safe’ country to secure their chances of reaping profits from their investment. Yet, Africa cannot develop without domestic investment, and to help increase domestic investment confidence, it has been suggested/prescribed that African political leaders remove all the barriers to an enabling political and economic environment. For instance, good economic policies, reliable legal frameworks, reliable power supply and excellent infrastructure to facilitate economic activities can help increase investors’ confidence in a country.

Finally, Western countries should also open up their markets and make it a little easier for African countries to export their products to their markets. This also applies to China, whose manufactures have often flooded African markets and kicked the indigenous businessmen and women out of business (due to the fact that Chinese products are comparatively cheaper).


It would be appropriate in this context to define or see society as the culmination of politics and the economy (indeed one conference noted that ‘the social field (is) the background to both political and economic reform’ (Ditchley, 1990)). If society is the bedrock on which politics and the economy is to be built on, then what must Africa do? One of the key points raised is that Africa has to develop a culture of human rights, and for that matter a positive one. Libya, Zimbabwe, Central African Republic, the DRC, and several other African countries have not performed well in terms of promoting human rights. Human rights abuses have often resulted in civil wars, human displacement, refugees, and the flight of African countries’ skilled labour to other parts of the world (mostly Europe). This has to stop. Ditchley has often suggested the role that could be played by the African Union (AU) and civil societies and NGOs to help improve the human rights records of African countries. In this regard, Western countries could also partner with African civil societies and NGOs to help develop a culture of human rights that would ensure that there is freedom of speech, freedom of association, and the absence of fear of intimidation from state authorities for one’s opinions or views on national issues.

Furthermore, there is also an urgent need to improve the education and literacy rate of African citizens. The rate of illiteracy is very high in many African countries and data on this might not even give us a clear picture of the story on the ground. The West could help African countries in this aspect by forging partnerships with education ministries and NGOs that seek to raise Africa’s literacy rate, supplying of books to fill up libraries, and providing scholarships to African students to study in Western institutions. The old-fashioned culture of not educating girls must also be completely eradicated through empowering girls (women) and increasing affirmative action to help raise the prospects for success in life for girls (women).

Finally, since most African societies are very traditional in nature or have not yet fully embraced modernity, it could be a wise thing to combine tradition and modernity in governance/democracy to reduce tensions between say traditional leaders and modern political leaders. This has been effectively done in Botswana, as was indicated by the September 2002 conference – ‘Prospects for Southern Africa’ - where there is a House of Chiefs in its democracy, thus combining tradition and modernity.

The Long Journey

This section highlights key points in some of the conference papers under three sections: 1: Southern Africa, 2: sub-Saharan Africa, and 3: Africa as a whole.

1: Southern Africa

1. February 1977 US-European relations with the countries of southern Africa

Chair: The Lord Greenhill of Harrow, GCMG, OBE

The conference considered the importance of Southern Africa to the US and Europe in the first section. Trade with south Africa was very paramount to Britain ‘than to the other European countries or the US’ (Ditchley, 1977). This was because Britain was south Africa’s largest trading partner. Also, a factor of great concern to the West was the ‘necessity to balance their investment and trading interests between black Africa and south Africa’ (Ditchley, 1977)

South Africa was also very important to the West for its strategic resource endowments that served as an alternative to the Soviet Union which was also endowed in the same strategic minerals. These minerals, needed for the production of sophisticated weapons, included chrome, industrial diamonds, manganese, vanadium, and platinum (platinum constituted 75% of the West’s production originating from South Africa and Rhodesia) [Ditchley, 1977].

However, the conference rightly forecasted that the ‘convenient access’ that the US enjoyed to the strategic minerals in South Africa’ made it ‘unlikely that the US would support economic sanctions against South Africa in the United Nations’ (Ditchley, 1977). This happened in history during the Cold War period where America was reluctant to support sanctions against the white regime in South Africa because outside of the Soviet Union, South Africa was the only spot to find the strategic minerals that the US needed to manufacture its weapons.

2. December 1985, Change in southern Africa: how substantial is it, where is it leading, and where should it lead?

Chair: Sir John Killick, GCMG

It is interesting to note that James Mayall (then a Reader at the Department of International Relations, LSE) was the conference rapporteur. One of his works include ‘Nationalism and International Society’ (1990). There were also participants from both the black and white communities of South Africa in addition to the usual Western participants (US, UK, Canada, and Germany). The conference produced agreements and disagreements


If a ‘revolutionary outcome to the current political crisis was to be avoided, the issue of black rights and black political participation would have to be addressed as a matter of urgency’ (Ditchley, 1985b). It was also ‘widely agreed that, regardless of the merits of the case for or against the imposition of sanctions against South Africa, the Western powers will find it increasingly difficult to resist domestic and foreign pressures for them in the absence of a serious political initiative by the South African Government’ (Ditchley, 1985b)


The conference ‘could not agree on either the significance and scope of the Government’s reform programme, or on the desirable political shape of post-apartheid South Africa’ (Ditchley, 1985b).

The conference essentially discussed how the white government could promote political reforms (for example through dialogue between the Government and the ANC) to help increase the economic prospects of the country. This ‘most participants agreed…would require the government to dismantle the remaining cornerstones of apartheid (the Group Areas Act, the Population Registration Act, the Separate Amenities and the Pass Laws) to remove the ban on the ANC and other black political organizations, and to release Nelson Mandela and his colleagues’ (Ditchley, 1985b)

The conference concluded that ‘the Western powers should do whatever they could to facilitate such exchanges’ between the ANC and the Government (Ditchley, 1985b)

3. November 1995 South Africa: internal development and external relations

Chair: The RT Hon The Lord Howe of Aberavon

Notably, Mr Jacob Zuma was present at this conference, he was then the National Chairman of the African National Congress (ANC).

This conference was held seven years from the last one (1988) on South Africa. In attendance was the then Deputy President of South Africa, F W de Klerk, who was instrumental in ending the apartheid system during his previous term as last President of the white-minority party in South Africa. The conference began with a look at the ‘democratic leap’ and economic reform that had taken place since the end of the apartheid in 1994; there were high hopes for ‘social and economic betterment’ in the country (Ditchley, 1995).

To facilitate the transitory process to a full democracy, the Government of National Unity had been established to help run the country while seeking to reconcile the animosities between blacks and whites. In this context, the ANC was ‘naturally of central importance in political evolution’ (Ditchley, 1995). Yet an overwhelming majority of the ANC in government could also pose risks like poor accountability and complacency/groupthink.

The system of governance to be practiced in South Africa (SA) at this point in history was also being deliberated on, the conference recorded. For example, would SA be a unitary or federal state? The constitutional and system of governance path to be taken by SA was also highly dependent on the KwaZulu Natal and Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP). This is because they occupied a province with ‘a quarter of the country’s population, and major economic assets’ and their participation in the reconstruction of SA was critical if legitimacy and unity was to be achieved (Ditchley, 1995). Yet, ‘the IFP was proving acutely difficult to engage constructively both on the general constitutional issues and on those specially affecting KwaZulu Natal’ (Ditchley, 1995). However, participants suggested that social influence from the South African business society on the IFP, in the form of pointing out the negative effects of isolation, could help calm their obstinate heads.

Moreover, a few system-crises, as is usually found in a country within transition, were touched on. For example, the bureaucracy was mainly occupied by blacks ‘of low efficiency and unsuitable location’ (Ditchley, 1995). Unemployment was also high, around 40% on official records at the time.

Several recommendations that could help with SA’s development were also given. For instance, greater involvement of the black community in entrepreneurship. Export-led growth and economic liberalisation could also help the ailing GDP rate of about 3% at the time. Reforms in the labour market from rigidity to flexibility could also help tackle the issue of high unemployment.

To end, it was recognised that in spite of all her challenges, SA was bound to be a regional (economic) powerhouse and had also gained a high level of respect in the international community for the great democratic leap it had taken through the abolishment of the apartheid.

4. September 2002 Prospects for Southern Africa

Chair: The RT Hon The Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

This conference was jointly held with The Africa Foundation for Democratic Institutions and Development (AFDID).

The World Summit on Sustainable Development had been held in Johannesburg not many days before this conference was held (26 August to 4th September 2002). Being the first of the summit series, much attention had come to South Africa from all over the world. Correspondingly, the conference noted the great achievements that had been made in the region, in terms of political, social, and economic life. The apartheid was over at the time and though residues of that era remained, it was easier to resolve issues under the current context.

Yet, the issue of AIDS was a big headache for both the people of Sothern Africa and other concerned stakeholders from other parts of the world. The challenges of curbing the virus had great linkage with the economic wellbeing (in terms of productivity) of the region. For example, the loss of growth attributed to HIV/AIDS was at the time estimated to be 2.5% of GDP.

Moreover, the process of globalisation also posed a ‘strategic challenge’ for Africa, as it had to had to position itself in a place worthy of attracting investment and not leaving the international community with the option of ignoring all and trading only with those countries that were endowed with natural resources (Ditchley, 2002).

What then were the prospects for Southern Africa? First, in political and institutional aspects, some countries had performed well (e.g., Botswana and South Africa) while others like Zimbabwe were not on a good track. To help the region move forward in this aspect, some participants argued for ‘democracy which was consistent with traditional African values’ (Ditchley, 2002). A good example is Botswana’s effort at establishing a House of Chiefs in its democracy, combining both tradition and modernity. Thus, there was the need to allow the growth of cultural/country-specific institutions rather than foreign-imposed institutions which ‘risked creating societies which did not believe in themselves anymore’ (Ditchley, 2002). To do this, Africa needed multicultural and dynamic leaders who could not only link their countries to the industrialised world but would also embed their ethos into the institutions within their states to avoid leadership crisis when they are no more. In other words, ‘ideas needed to be anchored in institutions and not just in charismatic leaders’ (Ditchley, 2002).

Civil societies also have a role to play to ensure accountability and the rule of law in African societies. Yet, NEPAD was not ‘grounded in Civil Society’ creating a disconnection between its highly impressive summits and the substantive work that could be achieved had it been deeply linked with African civil networks (Ditchley, 2002). There were several divergent views on the efficacy of NEPAD. While some participants were sceptical, others were critical and yet others were supportive. For instance, some argued that the language used in the NEPAD document was ‘not addressed to ordinary people’ (Ditchley, 2002). However, others felt it was a good idea to help promote the political and economic development of African countries though the ‘efficacy of peer review as a means of pressure on African leaders to live up to NEPAD principles’ was quite doubtful (Ditchley, 2002).

One pressing question was the institutional conflict the NEPAD created in its existence with the African Union (AU) and the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC). This would require more effort to avoid an overlap of responsibilities and distortion of clear lines of authority.

Political institutions and good leadership would all mean little in the absence of economic progress…what economic prospects then did Southern Africa have? There were many things to be done to promote economic growth, but lack of coordination amongst political parties about the path to economic success would ultimately produce disproportionate development. One participant suggested that there was the need to ‘elaborate a set of long-term goals’ to which all political parties in their respective countries could all agree on (Ditchley, 2002). Thus, though there may be different paths to reach the same ends (economic development), there would be one overarching goal that all would strive to achieve.

Next would be sound economic engineering through mechanised agriculture, better road networks, access to financial and technical inputs, good pricing policies, intra-regional trade, empowering the market and the private sector. These developments could not be made without equally ensuring regional stability and security within the Southern Africa region. It was necessary to ensure that conflicts are reduced, and political stability is maintained as these are the very political indicators that could either attract or repel investment in the region. Disturbingly, Zimbabwe and President Mugabe were making the region very unattractive to a large extent. The high level of crime in the region was also another cause of instability and a black spot in the region’s democracy. To help resolve these security/stability issues, ‘a strong pleas was made by one participant for the professionalisation of the armed forces which would both make them more effective in their military role as well as detached and subordinate to the political process’ (Ditchley, 2002). The role of the SADC was also crucial to maintaining regional security and stability though this would require that notions of South African hegemony be erased from the thinking of SADC members.

To conclude, there was much emphasis on implementation, by transforming ‘words into deeds’ to ensure that discussions become a reality and Africa takes on its rightful place in the wave of globalisation (Ditchley, 2002).

2: Sub-Saharan Africa

May 1997 Sub-Saharan Africa: how can the developed world help?

Chair: The Honourable Louis W Sullivan

Professor Ali Mazrui was also present at this conference.

This conference was jointly organised with Southern Centre for International Studies, Atlanta. The opening discussions focused on the legacy of slavery and manipulations of the region during the Cold War era. Sub-Saharan Africa ‘for the past two centuries or more had been reacting to events rather than shaping them’. This was no surprise as the African continent had been carved out to serve the economic interests of the imperialist powers, and as such manipulation was bound to continue either covertly or overtly through neo-colonialism. Moreover, a certain level of dependency in the sub-conscious of many African states’ elite and policymakers still existed (for example, as is the case of the former French colonies).

Most participants ‘admitted to having come with a generalised sense of Africa as nowadays essentially an arena of actual or impending failure and catastrophe’ (Ditchley, 1997). This was not surprising considering the then Rwandan genocide and the general endemic poverty that plagued the African continent.

However, as Ditchley conferences go beyond hearsays and make judgements based on critical analysis, ‘none of (the participants) went away with that same sense (of Africa as a failure/catastrophe) (Ditchley, 1997). There were several indications of successes in Botswana, Benin, Mali, and Uganda; these countries had performed well generally on the economic, political, and social fronts. Yet, the conference noted that it was not expedient to suppose that ‘there was any single “right” pattern…to which African states ought to conform’ (Ditchley, 1997). Thus, ‘action by external partners needed to be country-specific, and sensitive to legitimately differing diagnoses and priorities’ (Ditchley, 1997).

The role of Nigeria as an economic power and leader of the sub-continent, rather than the obvious power of South Africa, was marred by the political chaos and poor system of governance in Abuja. This spurred a discussion on the role of good governance, accountability, and political transparency in transforming the development trajectory of sub-Saharan African states. Notably, the system of winner-takes-all politics meant that opposition parties were side-lined, and nepotism/favouritism divided most African states. This further meant that incompetency was the driver of the bureaucracy in many states which undermined the economic growth and development of these countries, resulting from wastage, poor planning, and embezzlement of national funds for personal aggrandisement.

However, the notion of good governance was often not a clearly defined term used by the West in dealing with African states. The term often connoted broad and unspecified ideals that could be easily subjected to personal definitions and manipulation by corrupt African leaders to create a mirage of good deeds. This lack of clarity in defining good governance also meant that evaluations of the performance of African states were/would be subject to strong contestation as how the West perceived good governance was not likely to be the same as African politicians perceived the term.

This led to a discussion of the role that the IMF and World Bank could play in facilitating democratic reform in sub-Saharan African states. However, as discussed above, the lack of clarity and specificity on the notion of good governance meant that these IFIs had to attach loan conditions based on their own subjectively defined terms on good governance. Yet, several participants ‘regretted that the amounts of aid were mostly falling, notably in the United States’ (Ditchley, 1997). This was a very powerful observation because the US was a key player in the IMF and World Bank, and a loss of interest in giving external financial aid meant big losses/challenges for Africa. Interestingly, the conference noted well that ‘aid was in any event only a modest proportion – typically a fifth or a quarter, overall – of financial inflow to Africa’ (Ditchley, 1997). ‘The great bulk came from private investment’ but investors were hindered from a greater role due to the infrastructural challenges in Africa (Ditchley, 1997). These infrastructural challenges included poor road networks, unreliable energy sources like electricity; and also, administrative challenges such as poor legal frameworks, and corrupt and authoritarian regimes.

The solution? Emphasis was placed on the role of domestic investment, local initiative, support for SMEs and upcoming entrepreneurs, investment in education to improve human resource capacity and general political and sound economic reforms that could effectively help the sub-continent rise to high levels of development like the Asian Tigers. 

On the part of the West, the conference noted that there was the need to create an enabling economic environment that gave ‘Africa fair opportunity, notably in the openness of trade and in its terms, for example in agriculture and textiles’ (Ditchley, 1997). Most importantly, ‘industrialised countries should place more emphasis on listening and on dialogue rather than confident didacticism – on doing things with Africa rather than to or for Africa’ (Ditchley, 1997).

3: Africa

1. January 2006 The G8 Initiative on African Development: how should Africa respond?

Chair: The RT Hon The Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

The year 2005 was quite remarkable, the G8 summit for Africa had been held with the making of many promises and pledges by the developed world to ease the burdens of developing countries in Africa. Equally, the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) had been unanimously agreed upon by world leaders at the United Nations. This conference was therefore strategic and ‘aimed… (to preserve) the momentum on African development’ (Ditchley, 2006).

Specifically, the conference looked at the ways by which Africa should respond to the G8 initiatives of 2005. The analysis of Africa’s problems at the G8 summit was quite outstanding, but words alone could not set African countries on the path to development. This conference hit the nail on the head by bringing out the steps Africa had to take to see to its development.

First and foremost, strong emphasis was laid on implementation. The then Millennium Development Goals was available as a guide as to what countries had to achieve by 2015. The AU, NEPAD, and the African Peer Review Mechanism (APRM) were some of the key institutional means to enforce implementation of jointly agreed on economic and political goals for Africa. The APRM had taken steps to ensure that the quality of governance is improved, the countries that subscribed to it like South Africa and Ghana, had been striving hard to improve good governance and also moved up the Mo Ibrahim index for good governance. More had to be done the conference noted.

In order for implementation to be successful, African countries must also develop the capacity to implement. In developing capacity, the conference stressed the need for ‘Africa, governments, and peoples, to take accountable ownership of development policy, and, on that basis, create partnerships with outside providers’ (Ditchley, 2006). In other words, ‘the root to the solution had to lie in African hands’ which meant that Africans should be given the space and opportunity to develop initiatives, ideas, institutions, and skills that were relevant to the “African condition” (Ditchley, 2006). Empowering women and supporting the growth and freedom of civil societies was also equally important. Investing in education, especially technical skills and science and technology, could also help reduce the illiteracy rate and position African countries in the right spot to benefit from the processes of globalisation. For example, a highly skilled workforce could increase the chances of offshoring manufacturing jobs to say Ethiopia or South Africa. Although, aid was low at the time, the conference also called for donors to increase their giving to the continent while admonishing Africa to take the lead in such assistance to ensure that aid is used in the right place for the right things that could increase development. Yet, it was equally suggested that perhaps it was time for African countries to develop the ‘capacity to create sound fiscal regimes, with growing tax income’ to help Africa move ‘beyond development assistance’ (Ditchley, 2006).

Furthermore, impediments to implementation and capacity development would have to be removed, especially in the area of human rights. Human rights abuses was too prominent in many African countries coupled with the fact that ‘too many African leaders were primarily concerned with the preservation of power’ (Ditchley, 2006). This problem of monopolising political power was indeed very much emphasised as a primary causal factor for Africa’s underdevelopment in the 1990 conference on Africa: problems and prospects. What is required in terms of political management, development policies and relief aid?’.

However, there were times, that Western countries turned a blind eye to bad leadership in African countries once there was a strategic interest in that country. For example, the 1990 conference noted the ‘realisation that governments would turn a blind eye to human rights and other abuses where aid recipients were deemed to be strategic, as in the case of US aid to Zaire, undermined the use of aid as an instrument of political change’ (Ditchley, 1990). Another instance was the US reluctance to punish the white regime of South Africa during the Cold War period for the reason of the latter being a source of strategic raw materials for the former’s manufacture of sophisticated weapons (see the 1977 conference on ‘US-European relations with the countries of Southern Africa’ in section 1: Southern Africa)

Human rights abuses often end up in conflicts/civil wars and tyranny, as a leaders desire to continuously remain in power could cause him/her to oppress the citizens who speak against him/her. There was an urgent need then to remove such impediments and create an atmosphere that is not only politically stable but also economically friendly to attract investment from both within and without Africa. When there is a good record or a good culture of human rights, then investing in the country would be much attractive and democracy and good governance can flourish under such conditions as there would be no fear of being arrested/molested/abused for speaking out one’s views about the government or the economy.

To sum up, enforcing the implementation of development goals, building up capacity, and removing impediments were a great way for Africa to move up the development ladder and embrace the full benefits of globalisation.

[For a similar discussion with much detail on how Africa can build capacity to develop, please see the Ditchley Annual Lecture on “Balancing Society and Market: Public Policy and Growth for Africa”- July 2006]

2. January 2017 Investment in Africa: new frontier v. old insecurities

Chair: H. E. Olusegun Obasanjo

With the support of the Brenthurst Foundation

As has become common in many places in the world, Africa was and has always been painted in a largely dire image: one with high unemployment, civil conflicts, diseases, poverty, and a gloomy future.

Such was the case with the opening remarks of this conference: low economic growth (1.6% for the whole continent); weak and weakening democracies which were largely procedural in nature; civil conflicts in places such as South Sudan and the DRC; high unemployment for the whole continent (50% on an average) with many living on 4 dollars or below a day. Such was the narrative that was juxtaposed with the good old days before the global financial crisis of 2008 when Africa was generally seen as on the rise with strong economic performance in many countries (for example, trade with China had shot up the GDP of many countries like Angola, Sudan, and Ethiopia).

Yet, Ditchley is known for delving deep into issues with sound judgements and there was an indication of this with discussions of the promises of transformation that technology could bring to Africa.

The main agenda of the meeting was to specifically examine ‘the case for linking democracy and development’: how can Africa get back on the path to strong economic growth and equally build stronger democracies to achieve sustainable development? (Ditchley, 2017). To undertake this agenda, the conference examined the current situation in African countries and thereafter made some prescriptions for success.

The current situation

South Sudan, Democratic Republic of Congo, Central African Republic, amongst other countries had become synonymous with conflicts in the form of civil wars. The bad news is most civil wars in African countries account for half of deaths from conflicts. African civil wars are mostly caused by ethnic divisions, xenophobia and to an extent extreme poverty/income inequality. The prospects for inter-state conflicts has however been low due to the unnegotiable territorial boundaries carved by colonial powers that had to be maintained to avoid unnecessary conflicts. The Boko Haram in Nigeria had been contained to some extent though still a threat and the ECOWAS had shown tenacity in managing conflicts within sub-Saharan Africa.

However, remarks like ‘Somalia and Libya remain failed states’ was not well situated in the role of the non-consensual intervention that was implemented by NATO in Libya for example. It is now well known the NATO overstepped its mandate in Libya in 2011 and ultimately overthrew and killed Colonel Qaddafi and imposed a regime change in the country. Was it then not appropriate to consider how mandating the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) could be made more “responsible” and effective in resolving conflicts and not worsening humanitarian crisis? In this regard, there was some biases (some unconscious though) in remarks on conflicts and failed states in Africa.

The role of good governance in under the above circumstances was critical. The conference pointed out and admitted that there had been significant progress since the 1960s. for instance, ‘from 1960 to 1991 there was not a single case of a peaceful transition of power…however, since 1991 there have at least 40 examples’ of peaceful transitions in many countries (Ditchley, 2017). However, the conference noted that since there was less interest from the West in the continent, it was time for Africans to take leadership into their own hands.

An emphasis was put on monitoring elections to ensure that democracy becomes embedded in African countries. This could be done through adopting technologies like biometrics but ‘political will was the most important element’ if such technologies were to be adopted (Ditchley, 2017).  I consider this emphasis on elections to be superficial because emphasizing elections and supporting countries to conduct free and fair elections is just a build-up of procedural democracies. This ignores the substantive part of democracy which demands effective leadership, management, and accountability of the mandate given to politicians to occupy the government of states. Thus, the West ought also to equally emphasise the “substance” of African democracies rather than just sending out organisations and teams to monitor elections in African states.

Going forward, the conference also discussed how civil societies and aid agencies could also play a role in promoting good governance in African countries. To the former, there was the need to invest in education of citizens to develop politically-active societies while to the latter, there was the need for more stringent conditions on loans to authoritarian and partial democracies to put such states back in line with the requirements of good governance.

Nevertheless. ‘democracy demanded a minimum level of economic performance to be sustainable’ (Ditchley, 2017). This leads to the issue of the state of African economies. The growth of 1.6% for the entire continent was not promising at all as this could not sustain the rapidly growing population. There was however a strong potential for economic growth though with many structural barriers. For instance, many African countries are highly rich in natural resources coupled with a youthful population. Yet, the impediments to economic growth and development were significant. Poor road networks that were still a reflection of the colonial road system that sought to connect African states with the outside world rather than with each other. Railway systems too were poor, airports were either only found in the capitals or located inconveniently in many African states. Worst of all was/is the unreliability of energy sources, chiefly electricity, and thus making investment in the continent a highly difficult and unpleasant task at least for many Westerners.

In terms of soft infrastructure like laws, sound economic policies, institutions, and capital markets too, many African states were/had failed and needed to create an enabling economic environment coupled with political stability to attract investment both from within and without their countries. In addition to all this, there would also be the need to create more job opportunities, not just economic growth, to reduce the high unemployment levels in most states.

Interestingly, the hot topic of China in Africa was considered here (the first time that significant attention was given to the China-Africa relationship). The conference rightly noted that ‘China’s relationship with Africa is more complex, broader and deeper than often realised’ (Ditchley, 2017). For instance, while Latin America receives 18% of Chinese FDI, Africa gets only 5%. Majority of this 5% goes into infrastructural projects, most of them with negative impacts on the ecology of local areas. It was suggested therefore that ‘Africa needs a more thoughtful and coordinated approach to take full advantage of Chinese infrastructure investment’ (Ditchley, 2017).

Moreover, there are many Chinese manufacturing companies that are selling to Western markets through the AGOA trade deal. This was/is not helping those African states like Ethiopia as the returns (the large chunk of it) goes into Chinese pockets. To ensure that the China-Africa relationship is a truly win-win game and ‘not a zero-sum alternative to working with the West’, the conference noted that ‘African states should be able to agree deals with Chinese companies that include more technology and expertise transfer’ (Ditchley, 2017). This would help improve the human resource capacity of Africa through tangible skills that can be harnessed for national development. In geopolitical terms, acting in a win-win manner with African states could also help China become a responsible power in the global community. Interestingly, there was only one Chinese participant at this conference, in the person of Dr Jing Gu - Director, Centre for Rising Powers and Global Development, Institute of Development Studies, Sussex (affiliated to the University of Sussex).

At the bottom of all the arguments for Africa’s development was the crucial role that technology could play. First, it was acknowledged that though technology could increase the pace of Africa’s development, this did not necessarily mean that African countries could ‘leapfrog significant stages of development’ (Ditchley, 2017) like had been done in India where the country did not have to go through manufacturing industrialisation by jumped from primary production to service production through IT.

There had been some successes in several countries where there was rapid adoption of technology in for example the financial sector (i.e., the use of mobile money services). Also, technology could be used to improve governance through for example monitoring elections and digitisation of the bureaucracy. However, the major barrier to adopting technology on a rapid scale was access to power and the Internet. In many African countries sections of the country had no or little internet connectivity and unreliable or no electric power at all. This condition could also be attributed to the fact there has been little investment in infrastructure in many African countries, thus making it difficult for tech companies to provide quality and reliable internet service to all parts of the country, especially the rural sides where there is sometimes no electricity. Essentially, tech firms cannot and may not be willing to invest in developing the basic infrastructural amenities necessary for the development of the Internet and thus, will only confine themselves to the capital cities where there is a good level of infrastructural development to allow them to operate at a reasonable cost. It therefore lies in the government’s court to lay down the required infrastructure for Internet expansion and development. This could be done through partnerships with Western countries, NGOs, or private individuals concerned about Africa’s development (i.e., philanthropists).

Prescriptions for Success

Several suggestions that could help Africa move to the next level were given; improve and increase intra-regional trade, better political leadership, investing in Africa’s human resource and empowering women, reducing conflicts, and ensuring political stability and an enabling economic environment to attract investment etc.

However, two of the prescriptions stood out. First, Africa’s engagement with China had to be strategic by prioritizing infrastructure projects to avoid damaging the ecology and also pressing the Chinese to open up their markets for African exports. There has to be a real strategic bargain by African leaders when dealing with China and not just open up African economies for Chinese manufacture to flood African markets and kick local manufacturers out of business. Such was the case in South Africa in the 2000s till the government was pushed by the fierce anger of the South African business community to impose an embargo on the import of textiles from China. Thereafter, the South African government started assisting the textile industry through subsidies and financial support, now SA is able to compete with the Chinese textile industry and most buyers purchase their textiles locally as it is cheaper to do so than to fly to China for the purchase of textile.

This leads to the second critical prescription for African growth: African innovation, indigenous ideas, and initiative. It was time that Africans take their destiny into their own hands and avoid that attitude of always looking to foreign powers for help. African initiative and locally generated ideas could or had the potential to bring solutions that are tailored to Africa’s own problems.


The conclusion of this paper is brief: African countries must strive to develop their own means to prosperity through self-discipline, self-reliance, hard work, tenacity, and strategic alliances and partnerships. The current global order is in much disarray and only the strong thrive, it is therefore up to the 54 distinct states of Africa to work to find out what institutions will work best for them and stay committed to those institutions. Thus, ‘neither a European model, nor the so-called Burmese model (opting-out) is applicable. Each African country or region must establish its own pattern, building on its own traditions and values’ (Ditchley, 1990). Moreover, African countries have been on the journey to development and social stability for far too long. It is high time that differences be put aside, greed and personal aggrandisement be eschewed, and a true sense of unity of mind and purpose to nurtured to help create a society ready with a mindset for progress and prosperity.