Page last updated at 21:29 GMT, Wednesday, 11 March 2009

Africa faces deepening gloom

By Andrew Walker
Economics correspondent, Dar-es-Salaam, Tanzania


Hopeful Africa looks ahead to G20

There was a shadow over the meeting of African finance ministers called by the International Monetary Fund even before it started.

But the gloom deepened at the start of the proceedings, when IMF Managing Director Dominique Strauss-Kahn told African delegates his latest assessment of the economic outlook.

For the world economy, it was a contraction, a decline in the total output of goods and services, which would be its worst performance in decades.

For Africa, his forecast was growth of just 3%. Allowing for increasing population, that leaves very little growth in average living standards and deepening poverty for many.

African anger

If there is going to be a message to the G20, it is keep the promise

There is sense of frustration, anger in some cases, about a crisis that the continent had no part in creating but which poses a serious economic danger.

The mood was summed up by the South African Finance Minister Trevor Manuel.

"If an African country would have been the cause of the crisis, the IMF would have been at you like a tonne of bricks," he told Reuters news agency.

There were also some common themes that came up repeatedly during the event.

Perhaps the most persistent was the hope that developed countries would honour their commitments to increase aid to Africa.

"If there is going to be a message to the G20, it is keep the promise," Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete told conference delegates.

Dominique Strauss-Kahn,Tanzania"s President Jakaya Mrisho Kikwete and Kofi Annan
Support for giving Africa a stronger voice in running the IMF is growing

The hope was under-cut, however, by the realisation that recession-hit aid donors have plenty of priorities at home to spend their time and money on.

Then there were calls for the IMF to be more flexible in the economic policy conditions it requires countries to follow when it provides them with financial support.

Mr Strauss-Kahn said the IMF is already moving in that direction.

Greater voice

He also has a lot of sympathy for calls for Africa to have more of a voice in the IMF's decision making.

"It is time for the IMF to adapt to this new era," he said at the end of the two-day conference.

"It is certainly time for advanced economies to be less arrogant. The way [they] address leaders of the rest of the world has to change and it is in the process of changing."

But that requires agreement among the IMF's member countries and it would mean less weight for the votes of others, particularly in Western Europe.

So movement has been slow.

Unwelcome though the crisis is, there is also a feeling that many African countries are much better placed to cope with it than they would have been 10 or 15 years ago.

Government finances and inflation are under better control.

School children in Zambia
World leaders will meet next month in London to discuss measures to tackle the downturn. See our in-depth guide to the G20 summit.
Only one African country will be represented at summit.
This week BBC World News and World Service Radio will be examining how Africa is coping with the crisis, with our blog and reports from the continent

Many countries have experienced the best part of a decade of relatively strong economic growth.

Some have managed to use the good times to build up foreign currency reserves that they have been using in an effort to prevent their currencies crashing in a disruptive manner now that foreign funds are being withdrawn.

And others, such as Morocco's Finance Minister Salaheddine Mezouar, believe Africa's continued growth could provide a source of stimulus for the developed world's own shrinking economies.

"African is a land of many opportunities and through investment we can prop growth, and by supporting African growth you can rekindle it at a global level."

Battening down the hatches

The Dar es Salaam conference was originally conceived as a chance to discuss what works in African development.

But that was subsequently overtaken by the growing anxiety about a financial crisis that would not - contrary to initial hopes - leave Africa unscathed.

Instead the event was more about battening down the hatches to limit the damage from the international storm.

It certainly hasn't solved Africa's problems.

But it has served as a reminder that a crisis that began in western financial systems has spread much, much wider.

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