Africa needs the capacity and donor aid to react swiftly to deal with a potentially large-scale outbreak of bird flu, a conference of experts from 19 African countries heard yesterday. "Africa needs a rapid response to the disease and must draw up practical measures to control and prevent the disease," Malawi's Agriculture Minister, Uladi Mussa, said on the opening day of the conference in the capital, Lilongwe.
Health equity in economic and trade policies
Tony Blair is running out of time on achieving the third and most controversial part of the 'Marshall Plan for Africa' he promised earlier this year: trade justice. With just weeks to go before critical World Trade Organisation talks in Hong Kong, Europe and the US are in deadlock over how far they should open up their markets to farmers from poor countries - and what they will demand from the rest of the world in return.
The Rockefeller Foundation, the African Development Bank and the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa convened in December 2014 at the Africa Forum on Inclusive Economies, a Pan African convening aimed at bringing together key thought leaders and policy makers to closely interrogate and propel forward, thinking around the theme of advancing inclusive economies. The convening aimed to focus new ideas and narratives towards the advancement of an inclusive economies approach with key African institutions and influencers and to provide a platform to further enhance thinking and critical debate on the issue of inclusive economies. Reports, videos and a blog from the convening can be found on the website.
Africa is still held captive by colonial borders and has failed to collectively leverage benefit-sharing agreements that result from multinationals’ commercial pursuit of indigenous knowledge, said speakers at the Africa Intellectual Property (IP) Forum, held in South Africa in February 2013. The issue of applying intellectual property rights to indigenous knowledge, in order to protect holders of this knowledge from exploitation while at the same time leveraging it for development was a vibrant thread of debate throughout the conference, which was themed ‘Intellectual property and economic growth in Africa’. Opening speaker Carlos Correa from the South Centre recommended flexibility in drawing up national IP policies. He told delegates that historical evidence has shown little or no support for the view that intellectual monopoly is an effective method of increasing innovation. Other speakers warned of the threat of biopiracy in Africa, and highlighted the role of academic researchers in contemporary biopiracy, who function as intermediaries between the commons (public cultural knowledge) and pharmaceutical companies looking for patents. A number of African countries have already adopted IP policies and plans, namely Liberia, Mozambique, Rwanda, Senegal, Seychelles and Zambia.
The report Honest Accounts 2017: how the world profits from Africa’s wealth explores how Africa’s wealth is effectively “stolen” from the continent and “calculates the movement of financial resources into and out of Africa and some key costs imposed on Africa by the rest of the world”. Nick Dearden, director of Global Justice Now, writes that although there is money coming into the continent in the form of remittances, there is a larger amount leaving the continent in the form of taxes, “repatriate[d]” profits and illegal trade. A 2014 estimate suggests that rich Africans were holding a massive $500-billion in tax havens. Africa’s people are effectively robbed of wealth by an economy that enables a tiny minority of Africans to get rich by allowing wealth to flow out of Africa. With few exceptions, countries with abundant mineral wealth experience poorer democracy, weaker economic growth, and worse development. The author raises that to prevent tax dodging, governments must stop prevaricating on action to address tax havens.
"Africa is rich, but we steal its wealth". That's the essence of a report from several campaign groups released in May 2017. Based on a set of new figures, it finds that sub-Saharan Africa is a net creditor to the rest of the world to the tune of more than $41bn. It reports that there is money going in to sub-Saharan Africa the tune of around $161bn a year in the form of loans, remittances from those working outside Africa and sending money back home, and from development aid. There's also $203bn leaving the continent. Some of this is direct, such as $68bn from taxes foregone, such as when multinational corporations legally organise flows to indicate that they are generating their wealth in tax havens. These flows are asserted by the author to amount to around 6% percent of the continent's entire gross domestic product and three times what Africa receives in aid. The report estimates that $29bn a year is being lost from Africa through illegal logging, fishing and trade in wildlife. Given these and other sources of loss the author asserts that if African countries are to benefit from foreign investment, they must be allowed to - even helped to - legally regulate that investment and the corporations that often bring it.
The idea that Africans have never had it so good is rapidly becoming economic orthodoxy. This article comments that foreign investors, media and politicians from William Hague to Jacob Zuma have championed a narrative usually summed up in two words: "Africa rising". However the author asserts that the majority of Africans themselves feel that the picture is far less rosy, complaining that the continent's much vaunted economic growth is failing to trickle down to their daily lives, according to the biggest survey of its kind. "After a decade of growth in Africa, little change in poverty at the grassroots," is the title of a report by the Afrobarometer research project, covered in the article which questioned 51,605 respondents in 34 countries from October 2011 to June this year. He reports critics who have warned that the boom is benefiting only a narrow elite while leaving the poor and jobless behind, exacerbating inequality and potentially sowing seeds of unrest. The wave of "Afro-optimism" should be qualified, they argue.
Even though Africa’s mineral resources are fuelling growth and development in many industrialised and emerging economies of the world, Africa still remains poor, under-developed and dependent on external funding, according to Jean Noel Francois of the African Union’s Department of Trade and Industry. He was speaking at the opening of the second conference of African Ministers responsible for mineral resources and development held from 12-16 December 2011 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Mr Francois said the 21st century’s commodity boom has alerted emerging global players to link mineral resource exploitation to infrastructure development, but Africa has yet to seize the opportunity to extract better benefits from its mineral resources to promote broad-based and integrated growth and economic development. Another presenter, Stephen Karinga, expressed frustration that Africa has not benefitted from the dramatic increase in prices for minerals since 2003 due to a number of structural weaknesses in its mineral sector. According to Karingi, in 2010, net profits for the top 40 global mining companies grew by 156% to US$110 billion, prompting countries like Australia and India to increase taxes on windfall earnings, yet Africa has been hesitant to do the same for fear of driving away mining companies.
Sub-Saharan Africa needs to double its infrastructure spending to US$93 billion a year, 15% of regional output, to drag its road, water and power networks into the 21st century. Research compiled by the Infrastructure Consortium for Africa (ICA) identified the continent's woeful electricity grids as its most pressing challenge, with 30 countries facing regular blackouts and high premiums for emergency power. Despite the gulf between its target figure and the $45 billion spent now, the report said governments could narrow the funding gap to $31 billion by making $17 billion in relatively simple efficiency gains, such as making more electricity users pay their bills. The report added that infrastructure improvements to date, mainly in telecommunications, had accounted for more than half of the rapid growth rates of recent years on the poorest continent. But frequent blackouts and poor roads still cause headaches and unnecessary costs for business and trade. In most African countries, particularly the lower-income countries, infrastructure emerges as a major constraint on doing business, depressing productivity by about 40%.
According to this report, Africa’s economic outlook is positive in some respects, as the continent is home to seven of the world’s fastest-growing economies, with 70% of Africa’s population living in countries that have averaged economic growth rates in excess of 4% over the past decade. However, the report also records that most countries are not on track to achieve the Millennium Development Goals by 2015, flagging slow progress in areas such as child nutrition, child survival, maternal health, and education. The need for equitable growth is all the more critical, the report states, because of Africa’s profound demographic shift towards youth, as well as high levels of population growth. It calls for a greater focus by policymakers on jobs, justice and equity to ensure sustainable, shared growth that benefits all Africans. Failure to generate equitable growth could result in rising levels of youth unemployment, social dislocation and hunger. Africa’s governments and development partners must urgently draw up plans for a big push towards the 2015 Millennium Development Goals, the report says.