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Monday, 25 March, 2002, 19:32 GMT
Africa's development plan 'must succeed'
South African President Thabo Mbeki
Thabo Mbeki: Condemned Zimbabwe elections - eventually
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By Mike Verdin
BBC News Online business reporter

Well, they asked for it.

The African premiers who gathered in Nigeria in October to polish off the details of the New Partnership for Africa's Development urged the West to "complement" their efforts to promote good governance.

"We must grasp this opportunity. We cannot afford to fail.

Nepad strategy document
And so Western nations did. By, five months later, threatening all manner of mischief unless African leaders condemned the elections which returned Robert Mugabe to the presidency of Zimbabwe.

The backing - eventually - of South Africa's president, Thabo Mbeki, and Nigeria's Olusegun Obasanjo for a decree denouncing the elections allowed the New Partnership some chance of surviving respected to its first birthday.

And with prospects for the New Partnership, or Nepad, has come hope that Africa's voice will continue to be heard amid the anti-terrorism clamour which has taken Middle Eastern affairs to the top of Western agendas.

'Failure not an option'

When Nepad was unveiled, in July, Africa had already suffered a decline in prosperity which had seen 34 of the continent's nations ranked among the world's least developed countries, compared with 27 in 1996.

Poverty in Africa has increased in the past five years

Development aid to Africa fell from $24.2bn to $14.2bn between 1989 and 1999, while the United Nations said that foreign investment had been set to fall by 40% even before the 11 September attacks on the US.

"We must grasp this opportunity," Nepad strategy documents said.

"We cannot afford to fail."

By the time of October's Nepad meeting, the importance to Africa of presenting a Western-friendly face had only grown.

One of delegates' key concerns was that the "issue of underdevelopment in Africa is not ignored" while the West focused on fighting terrorism.

Nonetheless, by January, US President George W Bush had seen it fit to call for America's annual aid to sub-Saharan Africa to be cut to $77m in 2003, from $100m - while continuing to pour hundreds of millions into "strategic" aid for Morocco and Egypt.

Unique venture

Indeed, the recent history of African initiatives for maintaining Western interests is pockmarked with failure, Nepad admits.

Some programmes, typically those caught up with Cold War politics, have been undermined by Western neglect, while others, according to Nepad, floundered "due to a lack of genuine political will".

US President George W Bush
The US administration has wavered on whether to boost aid

In some cases, that phrase amounts to polite code for "rampant corruption".

Where Nepad is different is first that it has sprung from Africa, and is based largely on ideas drawn up separately by Mr Mbeki with Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade and Nigeria's Olusegun Obasanjo.

"It is this uniqueness that must be used to strengthen the many good initiatives that need the support and commitment of African political leaders," Nepad said.

But the partnership also breaks new ground in speaking to Western democracies in Western democratic language.

Strategy papers talk of the digital divide, private public partnerships, freer trade and "creating the conditions conducive for investment".

They talk of African integration, peace and security, a greater role for women and, um, promoting good governance.

It is an agenda which would look at home in a manifesto for the UK's New Labour party, and it is little wonder that Nepad's Western champions include UK Prime Minister Tony Blair.

Even Mr Bush has warmed to Africa, praising Uganda and Mozambique in an announcement last week of $5bn extra US aid worldwide in 2004.

'Concrete plans'

This week's Nepad meeting will aim to provide the foundation on which vocal support can be turned to greater financial advantage.

The 21 African leaders meeting in Nigeria hope to form the basis of a plan which will win yearly investments of $64bn for Africa, and support annual economic growth of 7%.

Heads of the G8 group - the club formed of the world's leading eight industrialised nations - must hear at their meeting in June that Africa has "concrete plans that need concrete resources", South African Deputy President Jacob Zuma said.

And indeed, with their calls for lower tariffs, African nations might yet come to teach the US and European Union a thing or two about free trade.

Mark Ashurst, Africa Business Editor
"A broad programme of reforms has really been championed by the West."
See also:

19 Mar 02 | Business
Africa 'passes' Zimbabwe test
08 Feb 02 | Africa
Africa sets out economic plan
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