26 January 1990 - 28 January 1990

Africa: Problems and Prospects. What is Required in Terms of Political Management, Development Policies and Relief Aid?

Chair: Dr Stephen Low

The hum of a generator, I am assured, is familiar to anybody who has lived in Africa: thus, the previous day's storm having cut our electricity, participants felt at home when they assembled on the Friday, by candle-light until the hired generator took over an hour later.

Unfortunately, of our five African participants, two with­ drew two days before the conference started and one left in the course of Saturday.

As intended, apartheid and South Africa were not discussed, apart from a reference to the effects on the Front-Line States.

Our agenda was broad. Everybody agreed that it was impossible to generalise about Africa. Equally, however, the work of the three groups showed that political, economic and social issues overlap and that, while a country­by-country approach is necessary, a wider regional approach must often supersede colonially-imposed frontiers. The recent report by the World Bank, From Crisis to Sustainable Growth, was much quoted and, despite some reservations relating to savings and growth rates, was seen as the key document for the next decade.

Why should the rest of the world concern itself with Africa? Various answers, apart from the basic humanitarian one, were given: most persuasively, that increasingly Africa had a place in the world market and an important role in the management of the global environment, to the benefit of all.

Since Nkrumah's dictum, "Seek ye first the political kingdom, and all things will be added unto you'', what had gone wrong? In much of Africa, little had been added after independence, and the political kingdom was often flawed. It was generally agreed that there was a connection and that certain minimum characteristics were essential in a political system if prosperity, the aspiration presumably of Africans as of others, was to be achieved. Thus, some institutionalisation of legal rules and procedures, and a minimisation of capricious autocratic rule must be part of the enabling environment for economic success. In practice failure sprang from a number of causes: the monopolisation of economic and political power, with the opportunities thus 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; the absence of pluralism, in whatever form, and accountability; and the failure to provide for peaceful political succession.

All agreed that it was for Africans, not for outsiders, to prescribe remedies. However, while some felt that 'conditionality' was difficult and risked the charge of neo-colonialism, others argued strongly that donors had responsibilities to tax-payers; and that they could properly apply criteria and exert influence. It was unacceptable, for example, to apply different criteria in East Europe and Africa. Non-donors could also exercise influence.

The essential criteria, it was suggested without challenge, were the degree of insulation of rulers from the consequences of their decisions and from the ruled; and the levels of corruption and of respect for basic human rights, in a word accountability. The fear was expressed, probably rightly, that events in East Europe would not only divert attention from Africa, but also aid, more particularly because the constituency for aid to Africa in donor countries was small and ageing.

In channelling aid, it was important to consult not only governments, but the people affected. "Partnership" should be the watchword though, as with political criteria, economic criteria were justified, though not in the technical detail imposed by the IMF and World Bank, whose practice came in for some criticism. Non-governmental organisations (NGO's) had a particular role, especially if there were indigenous NGO's to act as interlocutors. Neither a European model, nor the so-called Burmese model (opting-out) was applicable. Each African country or region must establish its own pattern, building on its own traditions and values.

Education at all levels was crucial; even though the production of good and wise rulers could not be guaranteed. The decline of African universities was deplored. The role of broadcasting, both sound and television, was of growing importance.

Debt, though not absolutely large, constituted a crippling proportion of GDP. Some way, adapted to each debtor's circumstances and the type of debt, must be found to '' wipe clean the slate". Most creditors were governments: political solutions should be possible if the ingenuity of financiers was harnessed. The rigid rule of the IMF and World Bank against re-scheduling, must be overcome, e.g. with fresh loan money, or changed. While import substitution in the food sector was essential, through the encouragement of agriculture, manufacture, both for import substitution and to earn foreign exchange, must not be neglected. Some however warned that, for domestic reasons, developed countries might not welcome competition from cheap African exports. The foreign exchange impact of investment (e.g. for spares) must be taken into account in considering aid; and aid donors should co-ordinate their efforts (as they already do) to tackle cross-border challenges, such as the seriously degraded road and rail communications, or the spread of the Sahara.

As in the political field, African economies would benefit from openness and accountability. Greater expertise and involvement in the relevant world commodity markets would help. Above all, African governments must encourage the private sector and private inward investment, by simplifying bureaucratic and financial procedures. The role and independence of central banks was touched on in providing the right environment for business and encouraging saving.

In the social field, the background to both political and economic reform, the role of women was crucial. It was women, largely, who farmed, so that attention there could boost food production. The education, status and legal rights of women were the principal factors, over time, in regulating the birth-rate, which had to be reduced if population growth was not to swamp economic growth.

Another factor in well-being was health. Reduced infant mortality was likely, in time, to lower fertility rates. There was some discussion of the impact of AIDS, but data was lacking for firm conclusions. There were other more traditional killers, e.g. measles or dysentery. The possibility of a future drugs threat was noted.

Again, the importance of education and training came through strongly.

Finally, there was discussion of the environment from both the African and global points of view, e.g. the importance of rain forests, and of prudent use of fuel. Africa and the rest of the world were interdependent co-operation, both political and financial, was essential. Regionally, environmental changes had traditionally produced two responses: populations sat out short-term changes but migrated in the face of the long-term. That pattern would continue. With the formalisation of frontiers, it would tend to cause tension. Strategies for managing such changes were needed.

The role of the military and of military assistance was discussed. In general, the military were perceived as privileged and over-ready to take power. Some special cases were admitted (e.g. Mozambique or Angola, or for the control of poaching); and some accepted that, as a necessary evil, the military could serve to train managers and craftsmen. Nevertheless, expenditure on armed forces was generally a waste of resources. The point was also made that for every buyer, there was a seller: a remedy might lie in controlling supply. (The same was true of corruption, which in any case some felt was not a major problem.)

The conclusions reached seemed to be:

1. Africa ''mattered" to the rest of the world primarily for humanitarian and environmental reasons.

2. Concern for Africa in Europe and the US (apart from apartheid, famine and wildlife) was small, and would be further reduced by events in Europe. Interest might be roused by emphasising environmental arguments.

3. Education and training were vital.

4. Aid donors should plan programmes in partnership with the recipients, not only with governments.

5. Donors and non-donors should not be too reticent in pressing political and economic criteria.

6. Health and population growth were long term problems, requiring targeted programmes and education.

7. Import substitution was important, as was African involvement in relevant commodity markets.

8. The private sector must be encouraged.

9. Above all, the debt burden must be cleared, and African governments must adopt greater openness and accountability.

This Note reflects the Director's personal impressions of the conference. No participant is in any way committed to its content or expression.

Conference Chairman: Dr Stephen Low
Director, The Johns Hopkins Bologna Centre, Bologna


Mr A J Bennett

Chief Natural Resources Adviser, Overseas Development Administration (ODA), Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO)
Mr T Bryant
Deputy High Commissioner, British High Commission, Nairobi
Sir Michael Caine
Chairman, Booker pic; Deputy Chairman, Commonwealth Development Corporation
Professor R H Cassen
Director, Queen Elizabeth House, International Development Centre, University of Oxford, and Professorial Fellow, St Antony’s College
Dr Jonathan H Frimpong-Ansah
Managing Consultant of J H Frimpong-Ansah Co Ltd, London; Senior Consultant, Standard Chartered Bank, London; Member of the World Bank’s Council of African Advisers; Fellow, Development Economics Research Centre, Warwick University
Ms Ann Grant
Communications Director, Oxfam
Sir Martin Le Quesne KCMG
Member, States of Jersey (Deputy for St Saviour’s parish); Member, Council, Royal African Society; Trustee, Southern African Studies Trust, York University
Mr Paul Mayes
Senior Adviser, Bank of England
Miss Emma Nicholson MP
Member of Parliament (Conservative), Devon West and Torridge
Mr Ivor Stanbrook MP
Member of Parliament (Conservative) for Orpington
Mr W R Tomkys CMG
Deputy Under Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO)
Mr R S Walker
recently retired as Non-Executive Director, Rio Tinto Zinc (RTZ) (1989), (Executive Director RTZ until 1985 (30 years in Zimbabwe as Head of Location, RTZ))
Mr Bowen Wells
Member of Parliament (Conservative), Hertford & Stortford; Member: Foreign Affairs Select Committee, British Caribbean Group; Secretary, All Party Overseas Development Group
Mr Nicolas Wolfers
Group Adviser, Midland Bank Group; periodic travel to Africa, North, West, Central, East and Southern through involvement in project and export finance, and public finance advisory work; Member, Council, London Chamber of Commerce and Royal Institute of International Affairs; Member, UK-Japan 2000 Group, where involved in discussions between Britain and Japan on global co-operation in Overseas Development Assistance

Professor Timothy Shaw

Professor of Political Science, Dalhousie University
Robert F Taylor
Area Co-ordinator, West and East Africa, Shell International Petroleum Company Limited

Mr Peter Unwin CMG

Deputy Secretary-General (Economic), Commonwealth Secretariat, London

Frau Ursula Eid MdB

Member of Parliament, Green Party, Bonn
Dr Harald Ganns
Head, West and Central Africa Department, Auswärtiges Amt, Bonn
Dr Winrich Kühne
Director, African Affairs, Stiftung Wissenschaft und Politik, Ebenhausen.

Mr Hiroshi Hashimoto

Minister and Head of Chancery, Embassy of Japan, London

Professor Dani W Nabudere

In exile and teaching at International People’s College, Helsingør, Denmark

Dr Bertram Collins

Special Adviser to the Executive Director, UNICEF, and Director, Secretariat of the Steering Committee for the UN Programme of Action for African Economic Recovery and Development

Mr Robert J Berg

President, International Development Conference, Washington DC
Ms Vivian Derryck
President, African-American Institute, New York
Mr Tener R Eckelberry
President, AMSCO (African Management Services Company) BV, Amsterdam
Mr Frank Ferrari
Senior Vice President, African-American Institute, New York
Mr Wayne Fredericks
Counsellor-in-Residence, Institute of International Education, New York
Mr John Gerhart
Deputy Vice-President, Developing Country Programs, The Ford Foundation
Professor Richard Joseph
Asa G Candler Professor of Political Science and Director, Institute of African Studies, Emory University; Fellow for African Studies, Carter Center, Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia
Professor Carol J Lancaster
Assistant Professor, African Studies, School of Foreign Service, Georgetown University, Washington DC
Mr George Lindsay
Resident Partner (former Presiding Partner), Debevoise & Plimpton, New York; Vice President, Carnegie Institute for International Peace; Member, Board of Directors, the American Ditchley Foundation
Mr Patrick J O'Farrell
Executive Director, African-American Labor Center, Washington DC
Mr Jeffrey L Schmidt
Managing Director, Triolet International Inc, Boston
Mr Maurice Tempelsman
Chairman and Senior Partner, Leon Tempelsman & Son, New York
Professor Peter Vanneman
Senior Research Fellow, Fulbright Institute of International Relations, The University of Arkansas

Professor Tony Hawkins

Professor of Business Studies, University of Zimbabwe