BY RICHARD A. JOSEPH
Richard A. Joseph is professor of political science at Northwestern University and
director of the Program of African Studies. He directed the African Governance Program
at the Carter Center from 1988 to 1994
NewsDay, July 3, 2005
The annual summit of leading industrialized nations takes place later this week in
Gleneagles, Scotland, hosted by British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who has placed at the
top of the Group of 8 agenda a global commitment to increase development assistance to
The dire features of the African predicament are widely known: low growth, high poverty
rates, destructive conflicts, pervasive corruption and a declining share of global trade and
investments. Also, weak health care, education and other public services, the failure to
contain the AIDS pandemic and devastation by preventable diseases such as malaria and
Blair and the United Kingdom’s chancellor of the exchequer, Gordon Brown, backed by
rock stars Bono and Bob Geldof and their Live 8 concerts, are promoting massive
increases in financial aid. However, many African countries are not only impoverished
and indebted but already receiving a great deal of international aid.
At the core of the continent’s problems has been the failure to effectively use and
distribute resources, whether they come from inside or outside. The G-8 leaders can
double, triple or quadruple aid to the continent and strike from their books billions of
unrepayable loans. But unless such largesse can prompt fundamental transformations in
the way African institutions work, or do not work, these efforts will produce only another
decade of deep frustration.
Ultimately, whether Africa is turned around and sustains rates of economic growth
sufficient to lift its distressed populations out of poverty will depend on what happens
within the continent itself.
All over Africa, new tendrils of development are sprouting. They must be appropriately
watered, not drowned by cascades of foreign aid. As it is, in many countries grants being
received to combat HIV/ AIDS are going underutilized because the relevant public
institutions have the capacity to absorb only so much money.
Blair’s Commission for Africa is calling for increases in official development assistance
that could reach $75 billion annually by 2015. But whatever the final sums agreed at
Gleneagles, the commission has identified what really matters: “Without progress in
governance, all other reforms will have limited impact.”
How will a transformation in how these countries are managed, which would be little
short of revolutionary, occur in sub-Saharan Africa?
With few exceptions, countries evolve their own systems of governance which enable
them to build institutions that serve rather than stymie the public welfare. This vital
process can take place under quite different political systems: autocratic capitalist
regimes in Singapore, South Korea and Taiwan; liberal pluralist democracies in
Botswana, Barbados and Costa Rica; and even modernizing Communist Party rule in
today’s China and Vietnam.
Only a few African countries have experienced this fundamental transition. It is not just a
lack of aid that is hindering development in democratic Ghana and Kenya, and semidemocratic
Uganda, but a tradition of treating public and private institutions as troughs
from which resources can be endlessly siphoned.
We know from the African record that democratization is necessary but not sufficient for
advancing growth and development. Without democracy, there is little to hold rulers and
political elites accountable for how they use public resources. But while democratic
institutions can be copied from other countries, institution-building cultures do not easily
How, it must be asked at Gleneagles and beyond, will this process be accomplished?
Alongside increased aid and reduced debt obligations, African governments can tap into
other, non-monetary resources in their campaign to reduce corruption and inefficiency.
These include cultural institutions usually identified with particular ethnicities or clans.
The strength and resilience of these institutions, and the moral power they exert, continue
to be a remarkable feature of African societies. In recent years, a profound religious
resurgence also has occurred within Africa and many religious entities have emerged.
These are institutions that, once engaged, can mobilize important constituencies.
At the same time, within the fast-growing African diasporas (at least a million strong in
the United States), individuals are imbibing institution-building behaviors that enable
them to be highly successful in their host countries. In many American cities can be
found hundreds of African professionals gainfully employed as doctors, engineers, nurses
and accountants. These economic exiles can be important change-agents if encouraged to
devote a part of their professional lives to service in their countries of origin.
A s a region, Africa lacks the important “disciplining” influence of the European Union
that induces new members to implement far-reaching institutional reforms and behavioral
changes. Despite such recent African initiatives as the New Partnership for Africa’s
Development and the African Union, it will be many years before they can exert a
comparable influence on member states.
On the other hand, the gradual liberalizing of political and economic systems that swept
away autocratic systems in many African countries, such as Ghana, Mali, Mozambique
and Zambia, has created openings for enterprising individuals to form many small
businesses and civic organizations. These often unheralded individuals are the true
pioneers of an African renaissance. They can be found in numerous government
departments, in universities and medical entities, in professional associations and other
civic organizations. They struggle mightily to build capable institutions and can be
assisted by international partnerships to enhance skills and improve operational systems.
While great pressure will be brought on President George W. Bush to fill the supply
wagons lined up to haul billions of dollars, euros and yen to Africa, the United States is
correct to insist that new aid flows be different in their impact from the huge sums of
public capital already transferred to the continent. This was the intended mission of the
Millennium Challenge Corp., created by the Bush administration to improve foreign aid
results, based on lessons of decades of development assistance.
Unfortunately, the Millennium Challenge stumbled coming out of the gates, with the
sudden resignation of chief executive Paul Applegarth just three weeks before the G-8
meeting, after several African presidents complained to Washington that they weren’t
getting increased aid fast enough.
The new agency had the right objectives: to mitigate America’s deadbeat status as a
stingy contributor to international development assistance; to provide enhanced aid to
countries with good governance and economic policies; and to support multiyear projects
designed by recipient countries themselves.
Unfortunately, the burden of having to carefully measure the worthiness of good
governance, good economic policies and locally designed projects slowed down the flow
of U.S. aid, and imposed onerous demands on weak local bureaucracies applying for the
The Bush administration needs to get a capable replacement for Applegarth quickly into
the saddle. The corporation’s errors in design and implementation can be fixed, and it can
still play an important role in development assistance.
Since global poverty, and Africa’s dire straits, never featured prominently in George W.
Bush’s presidential campaigns, his administration has largely acted in response to
external pressures. It has increased development assistance to Africa since 2000 by more
than 40 percent and agreed to cancel debts to multilateral agencies from 18 highly
indebted countries, 14 of them African. However, U.S. aid to impoverished nations
remains extremely low as a percentage of gross national product, compared with other
It would give a great deal more clout to Blair’s initiative if at Gleneagles President Bush
moved the United States to the forefront of the global effort to end extreme poverty in
Africa. To be credible, such a commitment must be backed by increased development
aid. However, Bush should resist the blandishments of those who believe that a deluge of
American dollars will fix Africa’s profound structural problems. Internally driven
transformations to improve governance and strengthen institutions must be kept at the
center of the African agenda.
Helping Africans help themselves should be the true goal of the G-8. More than that is
paternalism. Less than that, of which the United States currently stands accused, is both
immoral and harmful to our national security interests.
Copyright 2005 Newsday Inc.
RICHARD A. JOSEPH – Newsday
BY RICHARD A. JOSEPH