08 May 1997 - 10 May 1997

Sub-Saharan Africa: How can the Developed World Help?

Chair: The Honorable Louis W Sullivan MD (USA)

Jointly organised with Southern Centre for International Studies, Atlanta

The renewal of cooperation between the Ditchley Foundation and the Southern Center for International Studies began its discussions by acknowledging the burdens and distortions - from slavery, from the colonial scramble and from external Cold-War rivalries - which meant that for most of the past two centuries or more sub- Saharan Africa had generally found itself reacting to events rather than shaping them. Proper perspective should recall analogous periods of difficulty in the histories of Europe and Asia. Appraisal of the re-building process (and the “re-” was in itself a reminder that, for example, population growth had still to recover past levels which research into pre-intervention eras had revealed) needed to recognise the importance of the time dimension, even if in some respects the late-comer’s advantage of learning fast from experience elsewhere might be available.

Several participants admitted to having come with a generalised sense of Africa as nowadays essentially an arena of actual or impending failure and catastrophe; perhaps over-exclusive media concentration upon calamities like Rwanda or Zaire had contributed to this. But none of us went away with that same sense. There were indeed massive problems, and a few apparent basket-case countries. Overall assets - including a great stock of human talent - however plainly exceeded liabilities, as one comment put it; “nothing overwhelms Africa”, said another, and we heard the word “renaissance” applied. There were widespread gains and clear successes to be seen and applauded.

There was, many participants suggested, a steady rise in Africa’s indigenous confidence (including cultural confidence, based on rich, live and distinctive traditions). African countries should, and justifiably could, increasingly feel their destiny to be in their own hands, with solutions their own responsibility whether individually or collectively. There was evident scope, for example, for joint African effort - perhaps helped by logistic or similar support from “Western” countries - in peace-keeping or in the (admittedly formidable) task of coping with failing states.

We reminded ourselves continually of the unwisdom of supposing that there was any single “right” pattern - whether of political, economic or social structure - to which African states ought to conform. Action by external partners needed to be country-specific, and sensitive to legitimately-differing diagnoses and priorities. There were widely different traditions and starting-points, and examples could be found for or against almost any particular feature. Diverse aspects of encouraging success could be found, for instance, in Botswana, Benin and Mali, as well as most obviously in South Africa. Uganda too had extensive progress to show, though one or two participants wondered whether its one-party form could be other than transitional. Kenya’s present political configuration was arguably not to be admired, but it could point to a thriving non-governmental sector.

We wondered about the scope for special cooperative groupings within the continent One view, urging that state boundaries need not be regarded as sacrosanct, saw merit in the idea of new political federations to help dilute the problems of some severely disadvantaged countries. Most of us were inclined to doubt the feasibility or acceptability of this; but there was wide agreement on the merit of strengthening regional frameworks of economic cooperation, especially where this could be based upon harmonised frameworks of law and regulation.

The importance of South Africa to the continent, both politically and economically, was evident, though we were warned against excessive focus or reliance. Nigeria - the other major economic power - was a different and mostly depressing story; it was in no condition to play a part as leader or constructive catalyst. The prime need there, several participants urged, was for genuine democracy (and we were warned against accepting at face value claims by this or other authoritarian regimes about economic achievement or social progress).

We perceived good governance as a key condition of secure progress almost everywhere; and in this regard the picture was uneven. Transparency and accountability in administration, partnered by an impartial judiciary overseeing the rule of law, were important both to domestic social stability and to external confidence, for example among investors. There remained however still too many examples of governing élites protected by distorting privilege from incentives to change. The habit of winner-take-all, with no respect for the dignity of opposition, marred political civility and tolerance, and worked against the social cohesiveness needed if governments were to make and sustain necessary hard choices. In some countries excessive expectations of the state’s power and responsibilities persisted alongside poorly-paid civil services in respect of which considerations of patronage and employment-creation rated above economy and effective competence.

How far could or should external helpers, whether individual states or collective institutions like the International Monetary Fund or the World Bank, seek to enforce reform in such regards through attaching conditions to the giving of aid? There were, we knew, no neat formulae to be had, and we doubted whether even a checklist of desirable features could be applied automatically in every instance, especially in the presence of extreme poverty. There was, for example, often a tension between the needs of long-term economic reform and the near-term populist pressures which open democracy would generate; judgement would need to weigh also the contrasting arguments for open conditionality as a stimulus and even a help to change, and those for quieter and more discreet leverage which avoided overtly challenging local prestige and so blocking the flow of aid. We were however clear that aid donors must stand robustly by their own core values in respect of issues like torture or rampant corruption.

Some comment noted that there remained more to be done in respect of debt relief - in a few countries the burden of debt service (mostly to lender governments rather than to private banks) still absorbed a cripplingly massive proportion of public revenue. On external financial aid generally our views were mixed. We noted, and several of us regretted, that the amounts of aid were mostly falling, notably in the United States (where - entirely contrary to popular myth - levels were already, in pro rata terms, a long way down the international league table). On the other hand, aid was generally more knowledgeably targeted than in the past. We observed that multilateral aid was usually healthier than bilateral - application of the latter was too often distortingly tied - and that it ought not to be over-concentrated on desperate situations where the conditions for using it well were in grave doubt.

Aid was in any event only a modest proportion - typically a fifth or a quarter, overall - of financial inflow to Africa. The great bulk came from private investment; and that was a more durable basis for economic success, though its relative level was still lower than in other segments of the developing world. Impediments included poor urban infrastructure, fear of crime, and the incidence of corruption - though external investors could themselves play a constructive part in this last respect by less acquiescent practice; the US Foreign Corrupt Practices Act might be a salutary model.

It was powerfully urged that the true root of economic success must lie in stronger domestic investment, especially in small and medium-sized businesses exploiting African entrepreneurial talent. Savings ratios were still low, and too much capital actually flowed out of the continent. Confidence in currency stability, reasonable tax regimes and dependable patterns of ownership were needed to rectify this.

The emphasis on small-business enterprise indirectly brought us to another theme : the importance of locally-focused resource and initiative. With central government sometimes limited in its reach and penetration, this was often the most effective level of action, exploiting knowledge of specific on-the-ground reality and stimulating grass-roots participation and confidence.

The theme of education - including civic education - echoed constantly through our discussions, as the key to unlocking Africa’s vast human assets. This applied with especial force to the potential of women. Aside from the well-established relationship between their education and the management of population growth, mobilising them more effectively in public life, whether in government or in wider civil society, was likely to have a widely constructive effect Current practice and possibilities varied across the continent, with Islam a limiting force in some countries; the colonial era, with the habits of nineteenth-century Europe which it imported, had itself in several settings curtailed pre-existing roles and patterns of women’s influence, and independent empowerment at the political level remained the exception.

Our discussions of agriculture and the environment recognised how closely the two interacted with one another and indeed with wider aspects - especially rural poverty, and health - of the tasks facing Africa. External pressures had in the recent past too often skewed agriculture towards cash crops rather than effective subsistence, but the balance had now mostly improved. Relatively modest levels of training in skills such as forestry, drought prevention and land use could yield big dividends, especially when it built upon local know-how already in existence. The increasing degree of global interdependence meant that the West had a keen self-interest in helping in environmental and related effort (such as the provision of clean water, to reduce avoidable disease). Investment in exploiting Africa’s rich biodiversity should be structured so as to share benefit fairly between outside firms and local people and to ease the pressures towards short-sighted waste which severe poverty often imposed. Poverty lay also, we knew, at the root of much of the crime that disfigured some societies and deterred economic advance.

We found too little time to explore adequately the contribution of non-governmental organisations, though we noted the scope for external NGOs in encouraging indigenous ones with advice and networking. We paused on the particular contribution of the churches; their achievement was perhaps not universally admirable, but they had mostly been important educators and value-setters for civil society, and indeed in some situations where societal breakdown threatened they had become crucial last-resort providers of necessary services.

What could and should industrialised countries be doing to help Africa master its challenges? One major need was to provide an external economic environment that gave Africa fair opportunity, notably in the openness of trade and in its terms, for example in agriculture and textiles. In the diverse forms of aid, we agreed, the 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. The “visiting fireman” model of help needed to be sparingly handled (we heard of one small and poor state that in a single year had had some five hundred “economic-mission” visits). External contribution had also been too often marred by non-awareness - not just among governments, but sometimes among worthily-motivated NGOs or “green” pressure groups - of African possibilities and traditions.

We suspected that the European contribution, whether through the Union or otherwise, had been impaired by Francophone/Anglophone tensions. We heard suggestions that these were now abating; in any event, we were sure that Europe could do more and better. A significant element of impediment to that was, once more, inadequate public grasp of Africa’s realities and potential. And this theme of Western ignorance, many participants strongly urged, applied with even greater force in the United States, especially in the absence of any powerful pro-Africa constituency to compete with (say) Latin America or ex-Communist Europe in seizing Congressional attention and support. A major and sustained informational and campaigning effort would be needed if this was to be redressed.

We were conscious, as our time ran out, of many aspects on which we had hardly touched The media, for example; and still more the issues of peace, security and the reduction of military spending. There were undoubtedly further problems and disappointments to be found there. But they would scarcely have removed the conference’s overall impression not that of a desperate Africa in need of the industrialised world’s charity and imposed order, but of an Africa offering twenty-first-century opportunity which that world should in its own interest recognise and help develop.

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

Chairman : The Honorable Louis W Sullivan MD (USA)  
President, Morehouse School of Medicine, Atlanta, 1993-, US Secretary of Health and Human Services, 1989-93

Dr David Black
Assistant Professor of Political Science, Dalhousie University, Halifax, Nova Scotia
Mr Jacques Crête
Director of West and Central Africa, Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade
Dr Roy Culpeper
President/Chief Executive Officer, The North-South Institute, Ottawa

Monsieur Pierre Dhonte             
Deputy Director, African Department, International Monetary Fund         

Professor Ali Mazrui      
Albert Schweitzer Professor in the Humanities and Director, Institute of Global Cultural Studies, State University of New York at Binghamton

Dr Abiodun Alao             
Lecturer, Department of War Studies, and Research Associate, Centre for Defence Studies, King’s College, University of London.
Mr Emmanuel Ezeazu   
Executive Director, Community Action for Popular Participation and President, Democratic Alternative

Mr Vusumzi Moyo
PhD Candidate, Clark Atlanta University : research on the international relations of Southern Africa post-apartheid and post-Cold War

Mr Alastair Bradstock   
Projects Director (UK), Farm Africa
Mr Peter Cadbury
Deputy Chairman, Deutsche Morgan Grenfell      
Sir Michael Caine
President, Royal African Society; Chairman, African Emerging Markets Fund; Chairman, Booker plc 1979-93
The Rt Hon Baroness Chalker of Wallasey PC
Life Peer (Conservative); Minister for Overseas Development, 1989-9
Mr Richard Dowden      
Africa Correspondent, The Economist     
Lord McNally    
Life Peer (Liberal Democrat); Head of Public Affairs, Shandwick Consultants
Professor Jack Spence
Lately Director of Studies, Royal Institute of International Affairs

Mr Ahuma Adodoadji   
Acting Director, African Governance Program, The Carter Center of Emory University, 1994-97; Director, International Programs, MAP International
Dr Gloria Alibaraho        
Visiting Associate Professor of Ethnic Studies, University of California at Berkeley; Management/Technical Advisor, World Health Organization 1993-96
Mr H Brandt Ayers         
Editor and Publisher, The Anniston Star 
Mr Timothy J Bork        
Resident Associate and Senior Adviser, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
Dr Christopher Brown
Research Director and Latin America Specialist, The Southern Center for International Studies
Ms Regina Brown
Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, Department of State
Dr Herschelle S Challenor
Dean, School of International Affairs, Clark Atlanta University
Dr Vivian Lowery Derryck
Senior Adviser, Africa Leadership Forum, Nigeria, Ghana and New York
Colonel MacArthur DeShazer
Executive Director, National Summit on Africa
Mr Vincent Farley
Diplomat-in-residence, Africa Initiatives, The Carter Center, formerly Deputy Chief of Mission, Nouakchott, Mauritania, and Abidjan, Ivory Coast
Mrs Jeanne Ferst
Member, Advisory Committee on Voluntary Foreign Aid
Dr Charles Finch III
Director, International Health Program, Morehouse School of Medicine, Atlanta; Principal Investigator, USAID-funded projects in Senegal, 1989-95
Dr Virginia Davis Floyd
Director, Family Health Branch, Georgia Department of Human Resources; Principal Investigator for World Health Organisation Collaborating Center in Perinatal Care and Health Services in Maternal and Child Health
Mr Wayne Fredericks
Counsellor-in-Residence for Africa, Carnegie Corporation of New York, 1995-96; Institute for International Education, 1989-95
Mr Clark Plexico
Vice President, Law and Government Affairs, AT & T
Dr Monique Seefried
Curator of Near Eastern Art, Michael C Carlos Museum, Emory University, Atlanta
The Rev Frank C Strasburger
President-elect, Medical Education for South African Blacks
Dr Cedric Suzman
Vice President and Director of Programming, Southern Center for International Studies
Mrs Julia Johnson White
Co-Founder, Vice President and Legal Counsel, Southern Center for International Studies
Mr Peter C White
Founder and President, Southern Center for International Studies

Monsieur Christophe Guillemin
Director, United Nations Industrial Development Organisation Service in France

Mrs Thelma Awori
Deputy Assistant Administrator and Director, United Nations Development Programme Bureau for Policy and Programme Support; Resident Representative, Zimbabwe