Politics & Policy

Democracy, Not Dollars

Africa needs more than just monetary aid.

On Wednesday, the World Summit on the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) opened at the United Nations. This summit follows the good intentions of the Gleneagles G-8 Summit in July, which, under the leadership of prime minister Tony Blair, stressed the need to increase official development assistance to Africa.

These intentions are noble, but five years have passed since the adoption of the MDG by the U.N. General Assembly in September 2000. It is time to step back and frankly assess the results. We can no longer ignore that aid policies for African states have had only insignificant effects; key research-and-development aid institutes consistently draw our attention to the failure of these measures. How can aid be increasingly provided to African governments without making sure that the rule of law and transparency are promoted as the strategic framework to improve living conditions?

Now seems an appropriate time to make new, more realistic and effective commitments for the future of the MDG. We would do well to question some of the irrelevant assumptions of those calling for an increase in the volume of aid. Numerous World Bank and IMF analysts, among others working at major research centers on international development, question the effectiveness of the policies adopted so far. Research increasingly shows that economic prosperity is primarily generated by private investment when states can stimulate economic freedom.

Reflecting on international development, global prosperity, common security, and a millennium of universal peace must become a matter of primary concern to all of us. Introspection should focus more on methods than on goals per se. No golden solution will fall from the sky. The main challenge we face is to develop the capacity to open up our countries to international actors who can foster prosperity for the poorest amongst us. We also cannot shy away from our responsibilities as Africans.

The MDG address only the effects of underdevelopment in poor countries. The commitments made in 2000 focused on reducing extreme poverty, hunger, infant, and maternal mortality and diseases, with an emphasis on tuberculosis, AIDS, and malaria. Any honest assessment, however, shows that structural poverty has increased, with larger numbers of Africans trapped in the cycle of poverty. Farmers, often the largest social and professional class, are still amongst the poorest in Africa countries when they live off of lands that are not governed by precise ownership rights. Recent tragedies in Niger, Senegal, and Sudan remind us that famine remains a major problem in the 21st century, because of harsh climatic conditions exacerbated by armed conflicts. Infant and maternal mortality are likewise too common. In Africa, AIDS makes other contagious diseases harder to control.

The MDG also sought to improve basic education and gender equality. They aimed at improving access to drinking water and at ensuring better environmental conservation, through a partnership between rich and poor countries. Yet there has been an increase in the number of child-soldiers and an increase in the number of armed conflicts; polygamy offers a marked contrast to the desire for equal rights for women; and the dramatic growth of cities has led to a destruction of forests and depletion of water tables.

Moreover, the MDG have been pursued in most African countries within a macro-policy framework, and thus have been marked by unfair cooperation agreements that are a substitute for colonialism. The MDG do nothing to redress these unfair colonial pacts signed with departing European colonial powers in the 1960s.

Another disturbing fact of the MDG, noble intentions notwithstanding, is that they have been used as benchmarks by African states to promote centralized national development, even though the past century taught us a clear historical lesson: that central planning and authoritarianism fails and that market economies and democracy work. Individual freedom and the right to self-determination are self-evident truths; they cannot be ignored. If ignored, unintended consequences such as the underlying conditions will continue to foster conflicts, and breed terrorism and extremism of all types in poor countries.

There is now a good opportunity to begin advocating for freedom, democracy, and the enshrinement of clearer and more precise property rights regarding common goods that are all too often considered in Africa as state property. For common goals, we need common approaches based on rights and individual freedoms, which the signatory states should promote. Rich countries cannot be the only democracies in the world while poor countries are forced to content themselves with anti-democratic regimes. Developed countries should not maintain economic freedom exclusively for themselves and condone the collapse of countries receiving their assistance beneath the yoke of liberticidal regimes and protectionist pacts. Africa needs free trade and democracy.

Democracy, as a universal value, as well as equity and freedom should be the foundation for common approaches to the MDG. To reach thess goals, we need imaginative leadership rather than cautious leadership. The level and flow of aid dollars matter less than improving governance in poor countries and inter-state relations at the global level. We ask the developed world to work effectively with us to end unfair trade practices, to promote freedom, economic development and the rule of law, and to assure a better future for all the children of our continent.

Mamadou Koulibaly, a noted author, is president of the National Assembly of the Ivory Coast.


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