Across Africa economies are booming. From Angola to Ethiopia, Ghana to Mozambique the past few years have seen annual growth rates race along at over 6 percent. That success is bringing hope of a brighter future but huge problems remain as the benefits of the boom are matched by the persistence of chronic inequalities.
Half the population of sub-Saharan Africa still lives below the poverty line meaning hunger, disease and despair remain a daily reality for millions. Africa’s poverty rate has been falling by 1 percent a year, good news for sure, but way off the pace of economic growth.
How make Africa’s growth sustainable and inclusive was a major theme of the annual European Development Days held in Brussels this week. The conference drew African heads of state, European Commissioners and government ministers together with development experts, aid NGOs and business representatives for two days of intense debate. Issues ranged from the importance of empowering women in the fight against poverty, to the impact of biofuels on food security and the growing development role of the private sector.
Senegal’s President Macky Sall set the tone with his speech at the opening session:
The stable Africa, soon to have a billion inhabitants, that is emerging on Europe’s doorstep offers real opportunities. Africa is opening up to new horizons and new horizons are opening for it. Based on our historical affinities and geographic proximity, we are now faced with the challenge of building a bridge of opportunity between Europe and Africa.
From the European side, Andris Piebalgs, the EU Development Commissioner emphasized the need to to tackle inequalities and protect those left behind as economies expand.
Social protection breaks the link between poverty and vulnerability. It can help shore up resilience in society. And by not leaving people on the margins of society, unable to fend for themselves, it is the glue that keeps a society together.
Piebalgs welcomed the pledge from EU member governments to commit 0.7 percent of their gross national income to official development assistance, but others worried about the impact of Europe’s crisis on the future of development aid (a topic we have already discussed on Debating Europe here and here).
A recurring theme through the conference was importance of aid donors listening more closely to the real needs of developing countries. Malawi’s President Joyce Banda, spoke for many:
It is [about] allowing Malawi to implement its programs with the support of the EU, rather than the EU coming to impose itself on an African country … What the developed world should do is to come and listen to what we have to say as Africans, and in the developing world, because we know how to change our situation. What we are looking for is partnership.
Beyond the government level, speakers underscored how local communities need to be engaged in the preparation and implementation of development solutions. Rosemary Museminali, representative to the African Union of the UN AiDS Programme, said international donors should be asking how to support local initiatives:
They are delivering community services, but they have limitations so they need technical capacity, they need to be resourced. This is what the international organizations and the donors need to do. Those people in the community: how can we support them to deliver better?
The vital role played by local agriculture in providing nutrition and food security has often been neglected by aid organizations, according to a number of experts. Indu Capoor, Director of the Center for Health Eduction, Training and Nutritional Awareness, said the failure to prioritize food crops was keeping people hungry in India despite high economic growth:
Unfortunately the farmers and others are aiming for cash crops, so we need to make the food crops sustainable for the farmer and for economic reasons. In the state where I’m from, we have very good economic indicators, unfortunately the malnutrition rate is 47 percent.
The use of arable land to produce crops for biofuels provoked a intense debate between industry representatives and campaigners who say land should be used to grow food. The discussion came on the very day that the European Commission announced a change in policy by calling for a limit of 5 percent on the consumption of crop-based biofuels even as it seeks to promote transport powered by renewable energy.
Campaigners welcomed the Commission’s decision, but said it did not go far enough. Belinda Calaguas, of ActionAid International said biofuel crops were pushing up the price of food for poor people:
I am a little bit surprised that [the industry] can still claim that there is no link between biofuels and the right to food, or even biofuels and increases in prices of stable products … there is a catastrophic and monstrous competition between food and fuel.
Kristalina Georgieva, the European Commissioner for International Cooperation, Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Response, warned that more work is required to build up resilience to disasters by linking the emergency response longer term aid and to improving preparedness for natural catastrophes:
We live in a world where disasters are more frequent and they are more severe, and usually when they hit it is the most vulnerable people who pay the highest price. Climate change is not going to make this any easier. We know from the scientists that floods and droughts and storms and heatwaves are going to go up and up.
What about YOU? Do you agree that stricter rules are needed to limit biofuel crops? Or are they an efficient way to cut global warming? As the crisis bites at home, should governments cut development aid? How can aid donors ensure that economic growth in the developing world is sustainable and inclusive? Let us know your opinions in the form below, and we’ll take them to policy-makers and experts.