Tajudeen Abdul-Raheem gives us an analysis of the Commission for Africa Report
Last Friday the British Prime Minister's Commission for Africa Report was published amidst fanfare, even bluster and brave talks about new beginnings’ and great windows of opportunity.’ It never seizes to amaze me how we are supposed to settle for windows when we have a whole continent full of gates, fields and mountains of opportunities!
The reaction has generally been mixed whether in Africa or globally including Britain itself. This is largely because Africa and her momentous challenges has never lacked focus but has always been short-changed, if not surcharged when it comes to concrete action to realise the often declared good intentions either declared by ourselves or by others to us.
As someone who has been critical of the Commission as an unnecessary project; a waste of time / energy / money that could have been put to better use; and a diversion from what Africans are doing and want to do for themselves, there is not much in the report to make me lose my scepticism. It has actually triggered more questions.
In its description and Analysis of the problems it has nothing new to say and modestly makes no pretence to doing so. It is a good summary of what we already know. Perhaps it is in some of its recommendations that nuanced tactical if not strategic shifts can be discerned. I say tactical because both the analysis and the suggested solutions are essentially still within the same Neo-liberal market-only ideological hegemony of these times. It is still seeking to adjust Africa to global forces despite timid recognition in sections of the report that trade liberalisation, privatisation and Donor-driven market mantra have hugely contributed to the collapse of infrastructure, social lives and great deprivation in Africa. Just like we had dubious notions of adjustment with a human face’ to offer palliatives for the atrocities inflicted on victims of IMF/World Bank SAP policies in the 80s the Blair Commission may turn out to be offering us globalisation with some human faces’.
But even in these there are doubts as to the concrete action that will follow the 100 or so recommendations. I don't think anybody believes that all the recommendations will be acted upon but a number of key ones will remain focus of action. They include increase in Aid, Debt Cancellation, Trade distortions that prevent Fair trade, Corruption, Good governance, Peace and Security and others.
Out of these even fewer may emerge dominant. Aid will remain very high because it will satisfy the instant gratification of wanting to do something "and doing it now. Yet doubling or quadrupling Aid is not the issue for as long as Africa and other poor countries are trapped in the structural iniquities of trade, commerce and financial strangulation by the richer countries. The truth also must be told that some countries in Africa especially mineral or resource rich ones like Nigeria, DRC or Angola do not need Aid, they need a functioning government. Indeed all of the countries will be better off with fairer trade than any volume of Aid. Aid will only strengthen the hands of the new missionaries of Western NGOs and humanitarian interventionism in Africa and their retinue of experts, consultants and fellow parasites in the professionalisation of our misery. By no means are they going to be foreigners alone. A number of Donor-friendly African NGOs and NGIs (ie, Non Governmental Individuals) both in Africa and in the African diaspora in Britain will get their share of the crumbs from the Master’s table too. We should be seeing the grotesque jockeying for the ear of the Master that characterised the so-called consultations (really PR exercises) on the Commission’s work reach a sad crescendo now that the report is out.
There will be a lot of talk about reforming the unfair international trade and financial system but when the crunch comes self interest of the richer countries may not allow any serious movement.
Debt cancellation for all may become more fashionable in the discourse but Debt relief with conditionalities may turn out to be what will be achieved since the US government (which is not alone but its convenient to hide their own culpability behind Bush universally taking the flak)is not likely to support the necessary reforms that may mean it is not able to punish its enemies and reward its friends. Yet universal debt cancellation will give every country equal chance of a fresh start.
The other issue that may get more money thrown at it will be support for regional and sub-regional institutions including the African Union especially on Peace and Security Issues. This may not necessarily be due to any new commitment for lasting peace in Africa but because they are cheaper and politically less volatile for Western countries whose governments are not willing to risk lives of their citizens in far away’ places like Africa. It is a return to praetorian functions of the African state at a multi lateral level. Otherwise why is the new love and admiration for Africa's role in Peace and Security Issues not extended to include our right to self-determination in economic issues and how we govern ourselves?
The taste of pudding’ the English say, is in the eating.’ Therefore it is in the national and international action that the Commission's report is able to provoke that will make critics like myself to either, (happily) eat humble pies or claim pyrhic victory in saying we told you so’.
Even on the day of the report itself the omens were, contrary to the feel good about Africa’ spin of the sponsors, not all good. For a report that took the bold step of acknowledging that there was nothing African about corruption and admits that it is systemic and has both African and non African actors and perpetrators it was very ironic that its activities were held at the British Museum. A place that has been a major beneficiary of looted historical and aesthetic assets from all over the world especially Africa. Tony Blair could have shown some genuine remorse and willingness to really change things for the better by handing over some of these stolen treasures as a symbolic gesture that business will not continue as done before.
And this for me is the core of the matter. The Commission's report will get more buy –in if Britain leads by example instead of sermonising and lecturing the rest of the world on being good or fair towards Africa. It can race fast to meeting its own Millennium Development Goal target of 0.7% of GDP as a contribution to global Aid. At present it is hovering around 0.4 and hopes to reach 0.7 by 2015! So why set new targets if you cannot reach existing ones?
Should charity not begin at home by a fundamental shift in the way Africans who are already here are being treated?
It should certainly take more than a photo opportunity call at Downing street by a select elite of the Diaspora and few Seminar / Workshop grants to turn this around. Our people say if you want to give me a gift of a dress I should first look at the one you are wearing. The conditions of Africans here should be an index in measuring British commitment to Africa.
The Museum of London may be a depository of looted historical treasures but the city of London itself is a major player in the systematic looting of Africa: direct theft by companies and corrupt African leaders, money laundering, fictitious transactions, etc. Britain can show real leadership by being the first country to implement the recommendation of the report that calls for repatriation of such looted funds to the countries they were stolen from and also punishing businesses, banks and finance houses that aid and abet bribery and corruption in Africa. If Britain can do this, a course of action that it does not need the support of anybody to embark on, it can then challenge other countries to follow its good example.
This leads us to the challenge of all challenges that the Report faces. It is based on the assumed influence of Britain this year as the country heading both the EU and the G8 countries. But that influence will itself depend on how credible Britain is. Thus the personal standing of Mr Tony Blair cannot be divorced from the matter. It is no secret that he suffers enormous international credibility deficit as a result of his uncritical support for Bush who has so far given him nothing back in return. His credibility may improve if Bush could help him out on this but we cannot hold our breath. So who will listen to Prophet Blair in his new missionary activity in Africa? Even a significant proportion of the British people who had twice elected him and his party and may well do so again (there being no reasonable alternative) no longer trust him. His credibility among the Africans he now wants to save, is even less. For sometime President Thabo Mbeki, The Renaissance Man, of South Africa was a close ideological soul mate but the relationship fell apart both over unrealistic pressures to be poodle to Blair in Zimbabwe and disappointments over NEPAD. Nigeria's Mr Know All, General Obasanjo, who also liked to see him as a chum is more circumspect these days, again due to hurting knees from KNEEPAD and Western reluctance and British lack of co-operation in getting Abacha’s stolen Billions. To many African leaders Blair is viewed either with suspicion or incredulity or both. Many are wont to question his interest in Africa, the Messianic tone and his perceived arrogance (which is not difficult for many of them to see since they are infallible’ in their countries too)! For Blair therefore it is not just that the prophet has no honour in his village even outside his village not many trust him.
There are a number of spins around the report, which I find most disingenuous and risk the backlash that over kill salesmen or women get from wary customers. One, it is constantly dropped on you that a majority of the 17 commissioners are Africans. This is supposed to confer African ownership on the report. Do they not know that majority of the colonial officials and the Slave captors and buyers before them were Africans? Two, attention is also drawn to the fact that two serving African leaders participated in the Commission. Someone should tell Blair that signing up to good intentions has never been an issue with our leaders. Action is where the challenge is. Many of them will jump at any opportunity to show a grateful nation that their Dear Leader is respected internationally and has friends in Washington, Paris or London! The same leaders signed up to AU, NEPAD and somehow manage to forget to mention that when the call came through from 10 Downing Street that Blair wants to have a word!. What is the point in agreeing on the Vision, Mission and strategic Plan of the AU and accepting NEPAD and yet rushing to sign up to another report? It is like being invited to your own funeral. Many of these leaders will still say yes whenever another call comes through from some other do-gooders especially from outside Africa. It is a cynical circus of mutual gratification between leaders.
Finally, this year is presented as a Make or Break year’. Does that mean that any African who wakes up on 1st January 2006 would have made it? In spite of all the apocalyptic scenarios a majority of our peoples will still be alive that day and going about their survival in the best way they can and I bet it will not be because of Blair’s commission.