360° Analysis

Old Wine in New Bottles for Africa?


March 04, 2014 05:45 EDT

Unless real change occurs in Africa, poverty is here to stay.

Most of the world’s poorest countries are located in sub-Saharan Africa. Since the region escaped from the shackles of colonialism, numerous development and reform programs have been implemented.

However, all but few have failed to deliver the expected results. Paradoxically, while Africa harbors "immense natural and human resources" — despite its rich cultural, economic and ecological status — it remains largely underdeveloped.

Eradication of poverty requires a global solution. To achieve this, the European Union (EU) claims it is necessary that the world "addresses the inequality within and among nations." 

The Paris Declaration on Aid Effectiveness and the Accra Agenda for Action contained a similar justification regarding the need to tackle extreme poverty. In agreeing to the content of this "holy book," ministers of both developed and developing countries, as well as heads of multilateral and bilateral development institutions, acknowledged their collective responsibility in promoting development and in taking "actions to reform the ways [they] deliver and manage aid." This was to be done through measurable mechanisms that would ensure aid effectiveness through "efforts to strengthen governance and improve development performance."

Behind the Rhetoric

In their attempts to tackle avoidable abject misery and dire poverty, national and international institutions have set a brilliant agenda. It is clear that poverty has taken the larger part of the world’s population hostage in the midst of increasing global affluence. Although there is not a shadow of doubt that the initiatives are laudable and timely, the promising and hopeful statements mentioned above are not new.

In the eyes of the world's poor, it must feel weary, sickening and, at best, annoying to realize the incongruence between the international community's never-ending rhetoric and the paltry progress we have made by turning words into action.

The inaction of the international community is perhaps most clear in unfair trade practices like tax evasion and tax havens, especially by multinational corporations which relish the opportunity to avoid payments to African governments. The ongoing diplomatic saga over combating illicit financial flows contradicts the wonderful pledges made at the Paris Declaration, while it perpetuates abject poverty, mortality and disease.

Between tax evasion and the World Trade Organization's failure to stop affluent states from heavily subsidizing their local producers, and their pursuit of protectionist policies, one must wonder if the world really wants to fight poverty.

What's Needed for Real Change?

In academic circles, the capabilities and failures of African states are often discussed. Talk of rampant corruption and weak institutions harming growth is often on the cards, while one is encouraged to question global order. In fact, the numerous reforms that different economies and government institutions have undergone over the last century — all in the name of enhancing good governance and alleviating poverty — are frequently mentioned.

However, until today, the same old story is being told and written about everywhere. The famous and ill-informed structural adjustment initiatives are one such example of how global policies deceived Africa — the impact of which has done nothing but damage African economies.

The need for cooperation between developed and developing countries was reechoed by speakers and participants of the European Development Days last November in Brussels. The slogan, "A Decent Life for All by 2030: Building a Consensus for a New Development," was used. 

But is history not just repeating itself? Judging from historical antecedents, attitudes and realities in Europe and the world at large, how can this vision be considered anything but an unrealistic dream?

Europe is still a continent in which posters of miserable black Africans begging for aid are paraded on advertisement boards. Surely, this should be called "rich eating the flesh of the poor," as the better part of this money solicited on behalf of the African poor ends up in the pockets of fundraisers and in African bureaucrats’ briefcases.

Does the increasing apathy and rhetoric in the fight against poverty stem from the fact that many powerful actors, institutions, and businesses are sustained by ongoing poverty of most of the world's population? Or is it because donor countries are discouraged by the misappropriation of their tax payers' hard-earned money by corrupt and greedy African leaders?

During the European Development Days, the president of the European Commission acknowledged that the EU is the leading trade partner and the biggest donor for Africa.

While this may be true, it is also neglects another aspect of European-African relations: the damaging effects of trade barriers to Africa. Are we ignoring the fact that Africa needs fair terms of trade and a fair global market place rather than handouts? Since numerous reforms prescribed for African governments have failed to achieve the desired results, is it not wise to look elsewhere for the causes and solutions of poverty?

Or rather, while they reform and fight corruption, embezzlement and mismanagement, can the world not look inward and assess the global order as an avenue for reform? Or is the international community immune to reform?

It is high time for the world to realize that more than half of its people are living miserable lives, due to the infrastructure of global trade and policy. Unless we are willing to make meaningful and necessary changes to the rules of the game and the way powerful institutions do business, poverty is here to stay.

The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.

Image: Copyright © Shutterstock. All Rights Reserved


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