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Africa Priority Shifts from Aid to Empowerment
Forum panellists agree to boost primary education, remove agricultural trade imbalances

27 January 2006 - Davos, Switzerland

Several leading world figures in the development debate today sought to shake off “poverty fatigue” and follow through on the momentum and “mountain of good will” generated from 2005 toward the goal of eradicating poverty in Africa. At the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting, they committed themselves to “this year give direction and purpose” to a new effort.

Top priorities for pragmatic action, they agreed, include: getting global trade talks back on track, exposing corruption both by givers and recipients, investing heavily in long-term primary education in Africa, and taking aim at “sacred cows” of European, Japanese and American farm subsidies that make it impossible for African herders to compete.

“We (in affluent countries) used to talk for centuries about what we could do for Africa,” said Gordon Brown, Chancellor of the Exchequer of the United Kingdom, who pushed for, and received, a commitment from his panellists to strive for universal free primary education in Africa. “But the real question is about empowerment, and what Africa can do for itself.”

One of the things Africa is showing it increasingly can do for itself is to govern accountably, pointed out Olusegun Obasanjo, President of Nigeria. “Not all our problems have disappeared, but last year elections took place in Liberia successfully, a change in government in Tanzania successfully, in Burundi successfully, and in Guinea Bissau successfully. Wow. Twenty years ago that was unthinkable.”

Yet good governance alone cannot eliminate poverty without strategic investments and fair trade, panellists agreed. And the three most vital investments, they said, must come “in capital infrastructure, physical infrastructure and human infrastructure.”

Nigeria won praise from Bono, Musician, DATA (Debt, AIDS and Trade in Africa), United Kingdom, for strengthening its financial infrastructure by spending its oil revenue windfall on “buying back debt service from the world”. But Bono put a new spin on an old expression, warning, “They say it is better to teach a man to fish than to give him a fish, but it is even better to teach a man how to sell fish. Africans are very entrepreneurial people and want to grow their businesses. Let’s get out of the way.”

Getting out of the way, panellists agreed, meant removing the “illiterate” Common Agricultural Policy subsidies, under which European cows are “paid” US$ 2 a day and Japanese cows US$ 7.

“Africa is poor because Africa hasn’t grown,” said Niall FitzGerald, Chairman, Reuters, United Kingdom; Member of the Foundation Board of the World Economic Forum. “And it can only grow when it is allowed to trade freely and openly and fairly. That means these trade distorting subsidies must be removed by 2010, but we are nowhere near that.”

Yet even with fair trade, the ability to “sell fish” will require physical infrastructure – roads and ports and electricity – to get to market in the first place, observed Paul D. Wolfowitz, President, World Bank, Washington DC. “The Bank is trying to get back into infrastructure projects” while avoiding “mistakes”, red tape, environmental impacts and “white elephants” that often do as much harm as good.

Beyond compassion, panellists mentioned several motives for empowerment and poverty eradication that involve global self-interest: build trust in free trade, avoid the risks of religious instability, slow migration and secure oil sources. “In Africa we are emerging,” said Obasanjo. “We have taken responsibility, and know change is required so … that we can be empowered in the way of human and capital infrastructure. And then America and Europe and ourselves will be the better for it.”

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Last updated: 28 January 2006
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