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DEVELOPMENT: ‘‘19th WEF on Africa Just About Elite Agendas’’

Miriam Mannak

CAPE TOWN, Jun 9 2009 (IPS) - The 19th World Economic Forum (WEF) on Africa, which kicks off tomorrow, is a space ‘‘for the rich and powerful elites who control the global economy and who seek to further open Africa’s economy in collaboration with a tiny minority of corrupt elites in Africa.

"It is not about development, it’s not about the interests of the poor and it’s certainly not about sustainable patterns of human development or caring about the environment and society in general.’’

Thus stated Bongani Masuka, international secretary of the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU), when IPS approached him for comment on the annual event. COSATU is South Africa’s largest labour federation and an alliance partner of the ruling African National Congress.

This year the African edition of the big business jamboree is themed ‘‘Implications of the Global Economic Crisis for Africa’’.

Taking place in South Africa’s southern most coastal city of Cape Town from Jun 10-12, it is expected to draw over 700 delegates from 50 different countries — mainly international businesspeople and various African heads of state and politicians, including South African president Jacob Zuma.

Masuka added that the WEF agenda misses various important topics, including how neoliberal capitalism affects people. Critics like Masuka argue that neoliberalism is detrimental to development in regions such as Africa.

‘‘Development in Africa and other regions should be free from the shackles of the global financial architecture of neoliberalism as driven by the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and the World Trade Organisation. The world should not only be about making money,’’ Masuka added.

One of the discussion points the WEF agenda lacks is corporate accountability.

‘‘But even if the topic were to be discussed, the question is what good can come out of that. The WEF is made up by corporate entities and it is not a body that makes and shapes policy,’’ argued Nancy Kachingwe, international policy manager at ActionAid.

ActionAid is a global anti-poverty organisation that works with the world's poorest people in Africa, Asia and Latin America.

‘‘Yes, poverty alleviation, skills and job creation and other important development topics are on the agenda, but I wonder if the WEF is serious about this or if it is a PR stunt,’’ she cautioned.

‘‘It is of course worthy that these issues are being addressed but if you want to solve things like poverty, the poor should be at the centre of the dialogue. Not only because they are the ones who are affected but also because corporations are significant contributors to poverty in, for instance, Africa.’’

At the moment, ActionAid is investigating tax evasion by various mining companies that operate in Southern Africa. ‘‘Many do not pay their tax according to the profit they make,’’ Kachingwe told IPS.

‘‘The less revenue a state treasury receives, the fewer funds are available to spend on public health care, education and other services. It is the poor who rely most on the public sector.’’

She added that it is time that businesses become responsible entities. ‘‘The problem is that foreign investors in Africa, who have resources and money to spend, get away with a lot because governments buy into the notion that the economy needs these investors to grow,’’ she noted.

The Treatment Action campaign (TAC), a mass-based AIDS activist group in South Africa, lambasted the WEF for not paying sufficient attention to health care in Africa and the impact of the global economic crisis on Africans living with HIV/AIDS.

Of the 56 sessions, only two deal with health care and HIV and AIDS in Africa.

‘‘The implications of the crisis are clear,’’ the TAC stated in a press release. ‘‘According to a recent World Bank report, 70 percent of the 1,9 million Africans who are receiving antiretroviral treatment (ART) may be threatened by interruption of their treatment in the next 12 months due to the crisis.’’

What’s missing on the WEF Africa agenda, said civil society activist Fazila Farouk, is the link between the economic crisis and the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

‘‘The topic is on the agenda, but I wonder if it is being taken seriously,’’ said Farouk, founder of the Southern African Civil Society Information Service (SACSIS), a non-governmental organisation that channels social justice news and analysis in South Africa to the media.

‘‘If you want to improve the state of the world, as the WEF claims to want to do, then one should look at MDGs as they are all about improving livelihoods,’’ she added.

‘‘Because of the crisis, many donor countries seem to have shifted their attention from the MDGS and development in Africa to their own economic situation.’’

Farouk referred to the fact that only a handful of developed countries for instance spent 0.7 percent of their gross national income (GNI) on development aid, a pledge made in the late 1970s. ‘‘This pledge is crucial to reaching the targets outlined in the MDGs.’’

According to the Development Assistance Committee of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), representing rich countries, only five developed countries reached or exceeded the United Nations target of spending 0.7 percent of their GNI on official development assistance by 2008.

These are Sweden, Luxembourg, Norway, Denmark and the Netherlands.

‘‘It seems that most rich nations have other priorities and now they are using the crisis as a convenient excuse not to fulfil their duties,’’ Farouk concluded.

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