Africa needs people power

By Jerry Rawlings

[Flight Lieutenant Rawlings, a former president of Ghana wrote this
piece for The Guardian of London, on July 14.]

Before I comment on the G8 summit, first I must condemn the terrorist
attack on London and express my deep sympathy for the bereaved
families, the wounded and the British people. The atrocity inevitably
diverted the attention of participants and public, and it is
impossible to know what the G8 would have produced had the shocking
events of July 7 not occurred.

We in Africa have been calling for debt cancellation for two decades.
Responsible African governments have endeavoured to keep up their
debt obligations and have at times been paying out a lot more than
they receive. Therefore even selective debt cancellation is welcome.
The debt-relief debate has, however, engendered the false impression
- dangerous for Africa's development prospects - that the G8
concession means access to more foreign, and free, funds for national

The reality is that no funds are coming from external sources. Debt
cancellation means the removal of the obligation to transfer
financial resources to the creditor. This belief might lead to an
unfortunate situation in which governments abdicate responsibility
for sustainable economic development, assuming that debt cancellation
is a panacea for their country's problems.

As one of the few African leaders to resuscitate a collapsed economy,
I would have preferred unconditional debt cancellation for all
sub-Saharan Africa, with a monitoring system to ensure that the
released funds go into basic infrastructure, health, education and
provision of good drinking water - and are not deposited in banks in
donor countries. Why should some of the most deprived people continue
to suffer just because they have governments that do not
qualify  for selection? Perhaps these people, if they had the basic
needs of life, would have the strength to gain justice from their

Indeed, it might even be the case that a few of those beneficiary
governments would welcome debt relief as a way to replenish funds and
entrench their power, violating their citizens' human rights and
corrupting the moral fibre of society. Paradoxically, debt relief
based on perceived good governance could inflict worse governance
practices. In Ghana the economy collapsed due to
mismanagement and tyrannical rule. This led in effect to the revolt
of 1979, enabling the nation to exorcise some of its anger. But you
can't get the best out of people who feel enslaved and exploited; and
fortunately, with hardwork, we managed to channel the energy of anger
into productivity.

Out of that revolt emerged a government under my leadership that was
accountable and transparent, and maintained a high level of
integrity. We did not empower ourselves at the expense of the people.
On the contrary we empowered the people, through political and
economic decentralisation.

Working with the World Bank and the IMF, my government halted Ghana's
decline; we inherited a near collapsed state and built a five per
cent growth rate before handing over to the present government. This
would not have been possible

if I had presided over a corrupt, dictatorial and exploitative
government. In other words, true democracy works - you can't go wrong
when the people become part of the decision-making process and take
equal responsibility for successes and failures.

At the G8 I would also have preferred to see some discussions on fair
trade, rather than aid, to create sustainable development. On
subsidies the outcome was weak - comforting words, but little real
agreement or commitment to substantial action. Meanwhile, in Ghana,
for example, textile factories are closing down, the poultry industry
is in crisis, and our farmers cannot compete with cheap imports.
Thousands are losing productive jobs.

I may appear to have a rather jaundiced view of Gleneagles, but there
is cause for hope. Africa's battle to overcome poverty is due to the
pressure from African nations and the wave of international support,
especially from personalities such as Bob Geldof. These forces have
sent a clear signal to the G8  leaders that their own electorate
expect them to address global poverty.

At the same time, we in those 24 African countries that will benefit
from debt cancellation have a responsibility to ensure that our
governments put every single dollar that would otherwise have been
consumed by debt repayment to work in the interests of the poorest of
the poor: not through selective handouts, but by empowerment,
education, and the provision of power and clean water - enabling our
people to work and to live in conditions of human dignity and