Africa, Development & Aid, Headlines

DEVELOPMENT-AFRICA: Leaders Appeal for Talks Not War

James Hall

MBABANE, Aug 23 2003 (IPS) - If Africa is to advance economically and socially, sincere dialoguing must replace armed conflict, strikes and dirty politics, delegates at a heads of state summit held in Swaziland this week agreed.

“Let us talk, talk, talk, instead of fight, fight, fight,” submitted Mozambique president Joachim Chissano.

Chissano was joined by Botswana President Festus Mogae, the presidents of Sudan and Malaysia, summit host King Mswati of Swaziland, and Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe, whose domestic critics say must be more open to dialoguing with opponents.

Global 2003, as the British Commonwealth Heads of State SMART Partnership Dialogue Summit was billed, brought together 400 delegates and government officials for a three-day event. The group was isolated from the outside world as they debated ways to find government-private sector solutions to national and international challenges.

SMART means Simple/Measurable/Action-oriented objectives/Respect/Trust.

Critics complained about the expense, over 10 million U.S. dollars for the cash-strapped Swazi government alone, and derided the summit as a “talk shop”.

“It may seem naive to think that something substantive is going to come out of a roomful of people talking to each other. At the end of the day, no treaty or even agreement was hammered out. There was no accord that everyone signed on to. But some solutions were found through brainstorming,” said delegate Thab’sile Motau of South Africa.

“This was about networking. We met people in the public and private sector who shared our problems, and had expertise we could tap into,” said another delegate, Sandra Babalobi of Nigeria.

But what was accomplished, beyond the exchange of business cards, to justify the attendance of the heads of state, the summit expense, and the media attention? Delegates said that despite the absence of a closing summit accord, points raised for the record carried the weight of recommendations.

A look at the resolutions provides a snapshot of African thinking on some key contemporary issues.

Africa was on the sidelines of the recent U.S. and British-led war in Iraq, and the conflict raised concerns at the summit about America’s role as international policeman. “No single country can solve the issues of global security alone,” resolved delegates debating the issue “Enhancing Global Cooperative Security.”

“Let us be confident in our own values, and realistic about our own strengths, but developing countries need to act collectively. The moral authority and legitimacy of any foreign policy actions should derive from an agreed multilateral international order,” the group resolved.

Delegates suggested a philosophical shift in African security concerns away from a focus on conflict resolution and toward a pre-emptive focus on conflict prevention.

“We have to see trouble brewing on the horizon, and handle it before it explodes into a crisis. Usually, the warning signs are there,” said Musa Matsebula, a Swazi delegate.

Currently armed conflict rages in the Sudan, Liberia, Cote d’Ivoire, Somalia, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Guinea.

Much of the summit’s attention was focused on economic advancement of developing countries. Although all heads of state belonging to the British Commonwealth were invited to attend, only those from developing nations arrived. The emphasis was on the particular needs of the world’s poor.

“The unpopular geo-political system is mirrored in the distorted architecture of the international economic system which does not serve the interests of developing countries,” said a report issued by delegates debating the topic “Making Economic Engagement Work for Developing Countries.”

The resolution did not say with whom the current “geo-political system,” which was not defined, was unpopular, but delegates made no secret their view that developing countries are disadvantaged in world trade.

“There is a need for developing countries to pursue collective options in order to address the imbalance,” a communique stated.

Collective approaches to regional advancement already exist in the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD), which the summit hailed as an important African project to mobilise resources for specific projects.

NEPAD, a blueprint to kick-start Africa’s development, is seeking 64 billion U.S. dollars from investors and donors each year.

Spatial development initiatives like those between Mozambique, South Africa and Swaziland to develop shared regional assets, like rivers and mountain ranges, have proved successful, and should be emulated throughout Africa, summiteers proposed.

“To complement big infrastructure/communications/energy projects such as those witnessed in the Spatial Development Initiatives, governments, developmental agencies and the private sector should encourage ‘micro projects’ which often command fewer resources, but respond to important specific needs,” said Musa Fakudze, principal secretary for the Swaziland’s Ministry of Finance.

While some of the developmental suggestions raised were vague, offering no blueprint for implementation or specifics to guide policy makers, other submissions came wrapped in detail.

“To promote the development of local institutional saving institutions, pension, insurance and mutual (unit trust) funds must be promoted and made understandable to small investors. These money market commodities when widely purchased would raise domestic savings levels, which should in turn contribute substantially to investments standing at 30 percent of gross domestic product (GDP), thereby providing medium to long-term capital for development,” submitted one economist.

Clement Thindwa, a Malawian delegate, told IPS, “We want to promote micro-enterprises, those small mom and pop businesses like poultry farms and fruit orchards, not only to cut unemployment and create a new business class, but because these type of businesses are so suitable to African culture and values.”

“Development in Africa must come from the grass roots, we have learned,” he said. The summit’s purpose, Thindwa believed, was to bring together people with ideas, whether they have titles, impressive resumes, high status or not.

“There is a lot to be said for networking, and the new ideas shared will be disseminated through many countries. On international issues, we have also demonstrated there is a unified African voice that must be heard,” he said.

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