Africa Can't Produce Economic Tigers Without Quality Political Leadership

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Where is Africa's Lee Kwan Yew who transformed Singapore

[Letter from New York]

(Benchmarks in Africa's struggle for economic development since the 1970s).

The decade of the 1960s was devoted principally to the de-colonization of the continent facilitated by the Organization of African Unity (OAU), which was founded in 1963, and its Liberation Committee. It was the predecessor of the African Union (AU).

By the beginning of the 1970s, the focus had shifted to economic and social conditions in Africa. The shift was triggered by "..the ever-deteriorating economic positions of the developing countries...and the consistently widening gap between the developed and developing countries" as well as "...the ineffectiveness of the measures adopted during the past decade to combat under-development and by the inability of the international community to create conditions favorable for the development of Africa (OAU 1973).

This declaration was followed by other conferences and summits of African leaders, experts and nongovernmental organizations such as the Kinshasa Declaration of December 1976, the Monrovia Strategy for the Economic Development of Africa of July 1979 and the Lagos Plan of Action and Final Act of Lagos of April 1980.

The main idea was that Africa should principally be responsible for its economic and social development using its abundant human and natural resources.

However, the global adverse developments of the 1970s characterized by stagnant economic growth, rising inflation and unemployment (stagflation) together with the oil crises of 1974 and 1979 and the subsequent global recession made it difficult for Africa to implement these programs.

Stabilization and Structural Adjustment programs (SAPs) imposed by the IMF and the World Bank on African countries beginning in the 1980s failed to produce the desired results (Sean Moroney 1989).

By 1985, the deteriorating economic and social situation forced African governnents to take action. At their summit in July 1985, they once again expressed their deep concern at the "continuing deterioration of our economies which have been affected by the deep economic recession and penalized by an unjust and inequitable international economic system". They adopted a declaration titled "Africa's Priority Program for Economic Recovery" (APPER) covering the period from 1986 through 1990.

While reaffirming that African governments and peoples have primary responsibility for Africa's economic and social develooment, they called on the United Nations and the international community to extend a helping hand. In response, the United Nations General Assembly convened a special session in May 1986 to consider the critical situation in Africa. They adopted a program titled the "United Nations Program of Action for African Economic Recovery and Development (UNPAAERD)" covering the period from 1986 through 1990. The international community was called upon to mobilize $46 billion to complement Africa's efforts (Sean Maroney 1989).

Notwithstanding these efforts, a review of Africa's performance up to 1990 showed a deterioration in economic and social conditions. The UN Secretary-General observed that "Over the last five years, economic and social conditions in Africa actually deteriorated... The goal in 1986 to reverse economic decline and institute sustainable recovery in Africa by 1991 had not been achieved" (Bread for the World 1993).

A successor program titled "United Nations New Agenda for the Development of Africa" (UNADAF) in the 1990s was launched in September 1991. It noted that the adverse conditions recorded in 1986 were still valid in 1991.

The review of Africa's performance in the year 2000 revealed that "the continent had the largest share of people living on less than $1 a day. The average income of the region's poor as a whole was only 83 cents per person per day. Africa also had the worst income distribution..." (Yearbook of the United Nations 2000).

The 2000 Millennium Declaration that included Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) devoted a section on "Meeting the Special Needs of Africa" inter alia "To take special measures to address the challenge of poverty eradication and sustainable development in Africa..." (Millennium Summit September 2000).

During the implementation of the MDGs from 2000 through 2015, Africa was expected to reduce poverty in half. To this effect the OAU was transformed from de-colonization to African Union (AU) in 2002 to focus on peace, security and development with the assistance of its technical arm, the New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD).

To complement Africa's efforts, the United Nations created the New York-based Office of Special Adviser on Africa (UNOSAA) in addition to the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) based in Addis Ababa.

Further, a UN program on practical interventions in the implementation of the MDGs was launched under the title of "Millennium villages" in selected Sub-Saharan African countries.

In spite of all these efforts, poverty remained a serious challenge by the end of the MDGs in December 2015. It was noted that "However, in Africa, the MDGs have played a far more significant role in helping to end a long period of stagnation and rising poverty and to begin a period of falling poverty, improving health and more rapid economic growth" (Jeffrey D. Sachs 2015).

Why have all these efforts at the national, continental and global levels failed to tackle the poverty challenge in a continent that is vastly endowed with minerals and natural resources?

There is increasing recognition that what is missing in Africa is quality leadership. Africa, therefore, needs leaders with a clear political and economic vision that includes listening to the people to determine national interests, inclusiveness, personal security, tackling corruption, sectarianism and mismanagement, retention and proper utilization of human capital and, above all, ending illicit financial flows (IFF) estimated at between $50 to 150 billion a year (The Africa Report April-June 2007).

Kashambuzi is a New York-based international economist and human rights commentator.

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