28 Nov 2014

Is the EU-Africa Free Trade Agreement Inimical to Africa’s Economy?

By Emmanuel Iruobe

In recent times, there has been some ‘back and forth’ argument over the legality and long term usefulness of the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) between the European Union (EU) and several African states, according to the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA).

The EPA encourages African countries to open up to 83 percent of their markets to European imports while tariffs and fees are planned to be gradually eliminated. In exchange for this, African states are to receive customs-free access to the European market. While there may be some economic sense here, a number of African countries are not in support of the arrangement, the major concern being that they may lose their competitive trade advantage to European companies.

Kenya was among the countries that refused to sign the deal, and it got significant import tariffs imposed on many of its products for that reason; this reportedly led to numerous layoffs in several African firms. Eventually the East African country caved in to the pressure two weeks ago and signed the trade agreement. This, in the opinion of a growing number of people, might just be called “economic bullying.”

Notable EU officials have criticized this arrangement. One of such is German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Africa Commissioner, Günter Nooke, who claims the EPA counteracts Europe’s development policy efforts. “Economic negotiations should not destroy what has been built up on the other side in the Development Ministry. Germany and Europe contribute large sums of tax money toward various development programmes in Africa, but the economic agreement with African states cancels out these efforts,” he said.

Andrew Mold, UN Economic Analyst for East Africa, believes the African economy will eventually be threatened by the agreement.

“The African countries cannot compete with an economy like Germany’s. As a result, free trade and EU imports endanger existing industries, and future industries do not even materialize because they are exposed to competition from the EU,” he commented.

On the other side of the divide, there are supporters of the deal. One of such is Michael Gahler, a Member of the European Parliament (MEP), who believes the deal offers African countries the chance to strengthen their own markets while also creating flexible mechanisms, as African governments are not compelled to implement precise requirements until after two decades.

“Kenya should use this time to do its homework by building up its infrastructure, strengthening the rule of law and fighting corruption. We Europeans have experienced, first-hand, how much prosperity is brought on by the free movement of goods. We want to help African regions take similar steps,” he concluded.

Understanding that the World Trade Organization (WTO) had declared this kind of “one-sided market opening” unlawful in 2000, another MEP, Sha Keller declared “We are pointing a gun at their chest!”

“Developing countries have a gun pointed at their chest – either they sign or their market access to the EU is restricted, the EPA is the opposite of development cooperation,” Keller added.

Can African governments continue to hold up under such economic pressure from Europe? What will be the final outcome of this deal if successfully implemented? These are the sort of questions expected to be on the minds of many Africans as the drama unfolds.

Emmanuel Iruobe (@EmmanuelIruobe) is Freelance Writer at Ventures Publishing International

This post first appeared on Ventures Africa 

The views represented here are those of the author and not necessarily those of ECDPM

What’s the biggest challenge for Africa in 2015?

By Maria Ramos

Tellingly, this year’s Survey on the Global Agenda 2015 revealed education and skills development as the biggest challenge facing Africa in 2015, followed by building sustainable governance systems and the delivery of hard infrastructure. Almost every stakeholder group ranked education as the most important issue; respondents also suggested that business is the stakeholder that will be most affected by Africa’s educational challenges.

While UNESCO predicts that Africa will soon be home to 50% of the world’s illiterate population, Maria Ramos, Chief Executive of Barclays Africa Group, points to the focus of governments and businesses on creating real improvements through training programmes and scholarships.
“We must make sure that governments remain focused on funding and investing in education and skills improvement, and that they encourage partnerships with donors, business and local communities,” she says.

But given Africa’s rapid increase in mobile phone users – 40-fold since 2000 – it is clear that technology will play a fundamental role. Ramos points to Ghana’s Open Learning Exchange which looks at innovative teaching and learning models, as well as South African experiments with digitizing the curricula and making it available on tablets.

“Apart from the fact that you take away a lot of logistics costs associated with it, mobile technology makes education accessible to young learners in remote parts of the country. It also addresses concerns about the quality of educators because you can upskill teachers quickly and provide them with ongoing support through a range of online platforms.

Education isn’t the only area where African leaders must engage with their people.

Ramos highlights the significant improvements in “governance, fiscal management, macroeconomic management and greater accountability” made in countries like Rwanda. She says accountability remains the biggest obstacle to developing appropriate governance. “When you limit democracy and you have a lack of accountability to citizens, you undermine the basic principles that facilitate economic development and ensure broad political stability.”

While investment in human capital is critical, the need to address the infrastructure deficit is equally important.

Africa is facing infrastructural challenges – not least with regards to the provision of energy – that have an impact on economic development. Countries including Kenya, Tanzania, Nigeria, Ghana, South Africa and Ethiopia have made significant progress in both the renewable and non-renewable energy sectors, but growth and development can only be sustainable with additional targeted investments. And yet the results of this year’s Survey show pessimism around this issue. Almost 40% of respondents doubted that Africa’s infrastructural problems would be dealt with in a meaningful way in the near to mid-term future.

More optimistic observers point to the fact that the build-up of infrastructure is supported through foreign direct investments and trade with other emerging economies – such as the record $200 billion China-Africa trade flows – and agencies such as the African Development Bank and the World Bank. But for Ramos, a significant development is that regional and local investors are starting to chip in. This also helps to shift from traditional investments based on the extraction of natural resources to more “strategic investments focused on a broader set of development opportunities and long term sustainability”.

The Outlook on the Global Agenda 2015 report is now live.

This article was written for the World Economic Forum’s Outlook on the Global Agenda 2015 report, based on an interview with Maria Ramos.

Author: Maria Ramos is Chief Executive of Barclays Africa Group.

Image: Students share a desk during a mathematics class at the Every Nation Academy private school in the city of Makeni in Sierra Leone, April 20, 2012. REUTERS/Finbarr O’Reilly

This Post first appeared on the World Economic Forum Blog

The views expressed here are those of the author and not necessarily those of ECDPM

What are Africa Diaspora doing about Ebola?

by Sadia Sisay

I have been asked this question by both Sierra Leonean and Liberian Diaspora as I am from both of these countries. I also note that the comment pages following Ebola articles are rife with the question – What are ‘they’ doing for themselves?

I will get to what the Diaspora are doing later. The helping ourselves question is a tough one. There is no one I know who would like us as Africans to be in a position where we appear to be so helpless, where our health systems are breaking down, our economies collapsing and our children not being educated due to schools being closed.

Unfortunately, Ebola is a worldwide problem. Yes, we need help caring for our sick but more importantly; western intervention will help stop the spread around the world. So Ebola is not just Africa’s problem, it is the world’s problem.

No matter how much we complain about bad governance in Africa , the fact that western governments were slow to act and what could have been, the situation is what it is today. Every hour 5 more people contract Ebola in Sierra Leone. The talk of what could have been takes time. We will hopefully take that learning forward but for now we need the help of other countries to stop this nightmare that is Ebola.

This leads me to the Diaspora. I cannot talk much for the Liberian Diaspora. I have limited knowledge of what efforts are in place. I can say there are Sierra Leoneans who are incredibly committed and passionate to do their bit for the Ebola crisis. Now I am not saying everyone is doing what is the ‘right’ thing in times like these but if governments and international organisations could not get it right immediately then individuals need to be cut some slack.

There are two sides at play here, many in the Diaspora do not trust what is being done by other Sierra Leoneans. Fighting the Ebola fight can sometimes be met with criticism from our own communities and you are deemed to be jumping on the Ebola bandwagon. This I find strange. Do we say that Bono, Bill Gates or any influential person that has had a cause jumped on a bandwagon? Or is that term only for individuals with a passion to help but do not possess the world stage?

Well, I ask for that bandwagon to slow down and I will jump on it. If giving my time to be part of groups full of of dedicated, passionate individuals from the Diaspora, who give time and effort to Ebola, then I know I would rather be on their side than on the side of apathy. I may not know of all the efforts being made by Sierra Leoneans, particularly in the US but the Diaspora in the UK has not been lethargic to Ebola and there are so many examples of how people have mobilised efforts.

For a start, more treatment centres are being built, more beds are available for sick patients but without health care professionals they are useless. The NHS has agreed to cover full pay and benefits for all NHS workers that take the time to work in Sierra Leone. A team from the Sierra Leonean Diaspora driven by the charity SLWT has tirelessly worked the recruitment drive on.

UK-MED with the help of this team are recruiting for healthcare workers to join the Ebola teams in Sierra Leone. If anyone reading this is a healthcare professional and wants to give a minimum of 4 weeks to go and help, please go to http://www.uk-med.org.

Another example is that a few weeks ago the Sierra Leonean government declared a three day lockdown to ensure that cases of Ebola were found and for citizens to be better educated. No one could go out without a pass. You can imagine what that would be like in the UK even with our fridges and larders.

There are a lot of communities that live on the hustle of daily life. They get food depending on what they do on that day, so a lockdown was going to cause hunger in these communities.

One Sierra Leonean in the Diaspora, Memuna, was not going to let people go hungry. She came up with an idea to provide meals to some of these communities. In less than two weeks she had organised with local charities on the ground, set up a team to cook and deliver food and managed to distribute 2600 meals safely. No mean feat. She worked day and night to get this done. I know because once she told me her idea I joined her cause. (or bandwagon as some might say).

The success of this has led to the birth of Lunchboxgift. We have formed this charity to provide lunchbox meals in time of crisis. Though borne out of the Ebola crisis we aim to grow this into an organisation that can provide lunchboxes anywhere they are needed.

In Sierra Leone the usual practice is for families to bring in food to the sick in hospitals. As you can imagine, that cannot happen in the treatment centres for Ebola. Our next project is one that will feed lunch every day to Ebola patients and local staff in the treatment centres in the Western area of Sierra Leone.

As this requires many hands on board, we have teamed up the diaspora led charity Let Them Help Themselves Out of Poverty who mostly work in Uganda, a country that understands the fight against Ebola. This will enable us to pool resources and skills within the broader diaspora network

If anyone wants to support us getting our lunchboxes to people that need food, a basic requirement to survive, then please go to http://www.mycharitypage.com/LunchBox and find out more.

I could continue with more examples but it will be too long a blog. What is clear is Ebola needs the world to fight it. From large-scale operations only governments can provide to single individuals who can make a difference. 

Sadia Sisay (@2bu_ on) lives in London and is originally from Sierra Leone. She works in the pharmaceutical industry after training to be a cancer nurse. She regularly blogs for Africa On The Blog. 

This post originally appeared on Africa On the Blog

The Views Expressed here are those of the author, and not necessarily those of ECDPM

Photos courtesy of Lunchboxgift.com

5 Nov 2014

AU 2063: Let’s start with good governance

By Mmusi Maimane

Good governance is not just about laws that ensure political stability, it’s a vehicle for changing lives at both a social and economic level. But good governance can only happen when it’s driven by good leadership. Leadership which respects mechanisms which ensure accountability.

Recent events on the continent have shown us the role of strong institutions and Constitutions or what can happen when these are ignored. The political instability in the Kingdom of Lesotho showed us what can happen in the absence of Parliament and its functions. The swift and peaceful transition between Zambia’s President Michael Sata’s death to the swearing in of President Guy Scott showed what a strong Constitution can achieve. The protests in Burkina Faso show that manipulating and disregarding the Constitution can bring a country to its knees.

What we cannot deny is that where strong governance prevails, good follows.

Good governance is not just about laws that ensure political stability, it’s a vehicle for changing lives at both a social and economic level.

Good governance is a conduit for building and maintaining infrastructure that allows for economic growth; it allows for health infrastructure that ensures healthy societies; and it ensures that those elected by voters are held accountable. Above all, good governance ensures that we achieve the targets described in the African Union’s (AU’s) Agenda 2063: The Africa We Want.

But good governance can only happen when it’s driven by good leadership. Leadership which respects mechanisms which ensure accountability.
The continent has produced great men such as Nelson Mandela, but it has also produced corrupt leaders who refuse to be held accountable. Post liberation, they enter into politics of the stomach. Self-preservation, rather than building nations that are they are custodians of, becomes the norm.

They live in R246 million houses while their nations face poverty and rising unemployment.

Critical to this is that leaders must be accountable to strong parliaments. Lesotho is an example of what happens when parliament is suspended, and democracy is suppressed.

Can we honestly say – hand on heart – that Parliament is working?

What example do we set when Parliament fails in its duty to hold the Executive to account?

What kind of message do we send out when our President fails to stick to the rules of the House and refuses to answer oral questions?

President Zuma must follow in the examples of great leaders such as Nelson Mandela who understood that in the fight for democracy, the rules enshrined in the Constitution, must be followed.

Last week, during a Joint Sitting of Parliament, a debate was called regarding a policy document of the African Union - African Union’s (AU’s) Agenda 2063: The Africa We Want.

And yet we cannot even hold a debate with our own president on what is happening right here in our own country.

We owe it to ourselves, the continent and its people to ensure that that good leaders are elected. Leaders who place the needs of the nations and people before their own. We need to do away with the leaders with the “It’s our turn to eat” mentality, and elect leaders who would rather feed their nations.

We have a duty to prove the Afro-pessimists wrong, by doing what is right: building independent judiciaries, accountable executives and strong legislatures, which are guided by the Constitution.

Africa, in my view, is the next economic frontier that will unlock economic opportunities on the continent and the rest of the globe. But, again, we need good governance and good leaders. Leaders who choose trade over aid; leaders who find value on intra-Africa trade; leaders who put trade regulations in place the benefit both the import and export of goods and services.

Africa has plenty of work to do. But the good fight is never easy, and requires a united and coordinated approach in order to work.

Mmusi Maimane (@MmusiMaimane) is a South African politician and current Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly of South Africa. 

The views expressed here are those of the author and not necessarily those of ECDPM.

Photo courtesy of Government of South Africa

This article first appeared in Daily Maverick.

Dr Dlamini-Zuma and the AU’s Agenda 2063

By Chris Landsberg

Dr Dlamini-Zuma’s assumption to the position of Chairperson of the African Union Commission (AUC), was greeted with much controversy. There were widely-held assumptions that South Africa’s bid for this position was driven by ulterior motives, not in the least that it wished to build its international prestige so as to justify its status as an African “Lead” nation, and the more serious charge that it wished to use the Commission as an instrument for Pretoria’s foreign policy ambitions.

In one attempt to deflect attention away from the notion that South Africa was treating the AUC like an extension of her country’s foreign policy, and give credence to the idea that she was a visionary, functional leader, Dr Dlamini-Zuma soon embarked on the expansive exercise of coming up with a new vision for the continent, African Union Vision 2063. This aimed at cementing her reputation as a competent and effective visionary leader, and an organisation's person. She also wanted to bolster her reputation as a Pan-African in her own right after the bruising battle for the position against former Chair, Jean Ping, which left the continent a divided place.

Through the exercise of crafting a grand “fifty-year” vision, Dlamini-Zuma set out to “revive” Pan-Africanism and promote continental integration. She latched on to the idea of Africa “claiming the 21st Century as the African Century”, and that under her leadership, “Africa will promote peace, security, governance and economic development”. But there is little new and novel about these ideas. Since the end of the Cold War, and even before the formation of the AU, African leaders have placed hese goals at the apex of their agendas. Agenda 2063 also advanced the developmental ideas of economic growth, access to education, public health, and consolidation of democratic governance, peace, stability and human development. But these too were not novel ideas, with all Dr. Dlamini-Zuma’s predecessors advancing these ideas. In line with the new developmentalism, Agenda 2063 placed great emphasis on the state playing a prominent role in development through initiatives such as public investment and infrastructure development.

The Dlamini-Zuma inspired Agenda 2063 recognised firstly that there is a need for norm implementation and professionalization of the AU. Indeed, since its inception, the AU has suffered from a deep seated implementation crisis as it shown itself to be good at policy making and norms interpretation, but fundamentally weak when it came to operationalisation of policy and ideas. The idea of professionalisation of the AU staff and diplomatic corps is one that needs to be stressed here. There has often been the idea that many of the continent’s leaders send “dead-wood” diplomats to Addis Ababa, and not taking seriously the need for highly skilled and competent civil servants to serve the continental interests. Indeed, when Dr. Dlamini-Zuma speaks of “professionalisation” of the AU, we must assume that she has in mind overhauling the human resources and capability-enhancing dimensions of the Commission. The Commission remains a weak and moribund institution that can do with greater degrees of efficiency and effectiveness.

But Agenda 2063 is a highly-ambitious, even unrealistic vision statement. The very idea of a 50-year vision statement is somewhat far-fetched. There is of course no gainsaying that the idea is important for Africa to end all wars. But the statement that Africa should end all wars by 2020”, without backing such a statement up with the necessary policy and institutional rigour is almost meaningless. Even the promise by Agenda 2063 to speed up the idea of the Continental Free-Trade Agreement is one that has enjoyed the attention of many policy-makers before the arrival of this new vision statement.

What is needed is for the new AU Commission Chair to show just how much political muscle she has and to try and extract commitment from political leaders to pool sovereignty so as to move the continent to deeper levels of integration. On this score, Dlamini-Zuma’s greater achievement to date has probably been to unlock a series of igh-level talks between the AU Commission and regional economic communities (RECs) such as the Southern African Development Community (SADC), the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS), and others. For years, talks between the AU and these entities were almost like a “dialogue of the deaf”, with little progress being made on the devolution of power and delegation of authority. Many RECs have undermined the AU Commission and other organs as they believed that, given that they were much older than these bodies, they have an inherent right of existence. These breakthroughs notwithstanding, Dr. Dlamini-Zuma and her team has their work cut out to sustain this dialogue and to ensure that it results in the foundations of an African union of States, with greater decision-making powers and authority being devolved to the RECs, in exchange for RECs respecting the authority of the AU Commission more.

In short, the challenge faced by the AU Commission Chair and her team is how to turn an ambitious vision statement that is long on promise and short on delivery into one that is able to translate promise into delivery. For one, we should not work on the assumption that all states are buying into the idea of the vision. Many would pledge their commitment to the vision verbally but fail to back it up in practice. Just as she has to try and ensure buy-in into the new vision, so Dlamini-Zuma also has to work on closing the gap between promise and delivery in Africa. Vision 2063 is correct in reminding us about the need to close the policy-implementation, and the continental divide, and to ensure that continental visions are operationalised. So just as there is a need to get Africans to speak with one voice continentally and abroad, so there is a need to get states to live by continental commitments and provisions. We are desperately in need of the idea of ‘continental sovereignty’ in Africa. Given that Dlamini-Zuma was victorious in defeating Jean Ping, it would be prudent for her to take the lead in the project of building continental sovereignty.

Chris Landsberg is professor and SARChI Chair of African diplomacy and foreign policy at the University of Johannesburg (UJ), and Senior Associate at the UJ School of Leadership

The views expressed here are those of the author, and not necessarily those of ECDPM

Photo courtesy of UNAMID