Saturday, 26 May 2007

Africa Day: looking to tomorrow

London has been having a week-long party to celebrate Africa Day (25 May). In many respects, there is real cause for celebration. Much has been achieved by African governments and the international community. As a group of businesses with a deep understanding of the content, we in Business Action for Africa are optimistic about the prospects for many countries in Africa.

The latest edition of the Africa Economic Outlook, launched last week, paints a rosy economic picture: Africa grew by 5.5 per cent in 2006 – well above the long-term trend and for the fourth consecutive year, and this year it is expected to reach a healthy 5.9 per cent. To at least some extent, this reflects improved governance, investment climates and economic policies in many countries.

At a presentation at a Chatham House / CAPPS event last Friday, a senior representative of the NEPAD African Peer Review Mechanism (APRM), pointed to the leadership that has been shown by African Government’s to enhance governance. To date, twenty-six countries have signed up to the APRM and the country review process is underway in twelve. Ghana, Rwanda and Kenya have completed their reviews and have agreed to recommended plans of action.

And a third reason to be positive was set out in the most recent Doing Business Report of the World Bank. Africa is now one of the fastest reforming regions in the world, with two-thirds of African countries making at least one noteworthy reform in 2006 – helping create a better environment for businesses, small and large, to thrive and hence lay the basis for long-term growth and poverty reduction.

Fourthly, at a time when one of the engines of economic growth is high commodity prices, there is seemingly increasing uptake of the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) on the part of many mineral-dependant African economies. It may be that the embezzlement and misuse of revenues which characterised past commodity booms in some African countries, will not be repeated – or at least not to the same extent.

But amidst the celebrations, it is important to take a sober look at what more needs to be done. Although it has improved, growth is still some way short of the annual 7 per cent needed to meet the Millennium Development Goals. It remains to be seen what the follow-through will be from the APRM process; and how many of the countries who claim to be implementing EITI pass muster when the validation process is activated later this year. Moreover, while it is certainly getting easier to do business, Africa as a whole remains the region with the highest regulatory obstacles for would-be entrepreneurs and corruption remains widespread.

As for the international community, G8 Governments meeting shortly in Heiligendamm (June 6-8) must get back on track to deliver on past aid commitments and they must do more to stimulate growth and investment. Above all, the world’s governments – particularly the in the EU and the US – must reach a deal on the Doha international trade negotiations. Failure – driven by pressure from a narrow set of vested interests – would be a real blow for African countries and their people and for the world economy. Business should be active in pushing our political leaders to make the small compromises that now are needed to achieve a deal.

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