Saturday, 6 December 2008

Moving Past the Curse of Black Gold

There is a silver lining in every cloud and it is truly an ill wind that blows no one no good. The international economic recession that is gripping the Western nations and forcing down the price of oil, has forced African nations dependent on crude oil to diversify their economies. Sudan expects its oil revenues to decline by 44% in 2009 and as such is forced to invest in its agriculture and industrial sectors. Nigeria on the other hand is forecasting a growth projection of 8.9% in 2009 led by non-oil industries. If this trend continues it might be the kind of crisis that creates an atmosphere for building a steady development trend to alleviate poverty and stabilise economies.

How is that possible? Because the wealth generated by the oil industries in Africa is enjoyed by a privileged few and used to oppress the impoverished majority- the war in Darfur in Sudan and the injustices suffered by the Ijaw people in Nigerian delta are recent examples. Also, the issue of food security is still a major concern and the President of Malawi, Mr. Mutharika has been commended for transforming his country from a food importer to an exporter in 3 years; from 2005 - 2007. His simple and practical government program for subsidising the price of fertilizer was not supported by the USA or Britain but his critics have been proved wrong. African leaders need to continue to set their own agenda and try out their solutions and policies, that is how we will truly come to enjoy the benefits of a viable nation state.

In itself crude oil is neither a vice nor a virtue but an opportunity to use natural resources for whatever means. However, it has long been used to grease the wheels of mismanagement and the sound of it creaking, plays like music to those whom have had their voices drowned out by its machinations.

Thursday, 4 December 2008

Dr. Okonjo-Iweala: Let's have a deeper discussion on aid

Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, former Foreign Minister and Finance Minister for Nigeria, gave an insightful talk at last year's (2007) Ted Conference held in Arusha, Tanzania. She spoke about the need to have a more sophisticated debate on the role of aid, government, private organizations and African individuals to make progress on the continent. Watch the YouTube Video.

What I found to be of particular interest was her point that African's do not have a voice. After mentioning that she started the first opinion research organization in Africa to find out about the concerns of the people, which are jobs, she went on to criticize external organizations for not seeking out the counsel of Africans in drawing up their plans to donate aid.

This lack of voice has been a recurring theme in my discussions with others about the challenges facing the continent. When leadership is deaf to the needs of the people, or worse still seized by force and coercion, the people lose their representation and the good of the majority is not served.

Dr. Okonjo-Iweala also recounted a powerful story about when she was 15 and her 3 year old sister contracted malaria. She walked 10 kilometers to the nearest physician who was able to provide simple therapies that saved her life. This was made possible through the assistance of aid donors. She also gave for further examples of how Ireland and Spain have used aid from the European Union to develop their economies through infrastructure development.

I agree with the point that she is making. In shaping the future of the African people the discussion needs to be more sophisticated than taking up reactionary positions of pro-this or anti-that. It has to be an inclusive discussion that "leverages the good will" directed towards Africa to build a prosperous and sustainable future, that includes aid, government, private organizations and individuals.