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Help for Africa

March 30, 2009

Development experts say the G20 summit must not forget about Africa in its talks on the financial crisis. Developing nations on the continent are being especially hard hit at a time when things were starting to look up.

Boy writes on chalk board
Education needs to be made available to more African children, experts say

Africa's developing countries are suffering doubly from the financial crisis: not only are they having to make do with less development aid funding, but the amount of money that emigrants are able to send back to support their families at home is much smaller.

Labourers offload grain form a truck which just arrived the world food programme
The economic crisis will make it harder to reach development aid goalsImage: AP

The crisis is threatening the hard-won progress made in Africa's developing countries at a time when the situation was starting to improve. African national economies were showing an average growth of 5 to 6 percent in recent years. Kenya, for example, has seen the development of a middle class that invests in its own economy. Outside money, including from newly industrialized countries such as China, Brazil and India, had considerably upped the level of foreign investment. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) estimates that foreign investment and credit for Africa increased to $53 billion (40 billion euros) – five times the amount in 2000. But Donald Kaberuka, president of the African Development Bank, warns that the crisis could unravel this progress.

"We have to distinguish between the financial crisis and the economic crisis," Kaberuka said. "Until now, (the financial crisis) has not hit a single African bank, but it has affected national economies. For 2009, we're expecting an average maximum economic growth rate of 4 to 4.5 percent, no more. And it could well turn out to be smaller. We have to mobilize inner-African capital. We have very rich and very poor countries in Africa. On the regional level, the African Development Bank has already managed to mobilize capital, but not for the continent as a whole."

Fears of a setback

Ad Melkert is a UN under secretary-general and an associate administrator of the UN Development Program (UNDP). He also fears that Africa will suffer a setback.

"This is all happening after a considerable number of African countries have, over the past few years, experienced significant economic growth and an increase in jobs and investment," Melkert said. "Now, there's a reversal. That means when the international community – the G20 – meets in April in London for its financial summit, they have to work out an international agenda there. They have to ensure that they factor in Africa, because this is an international financial crisis that is having effects worldwide."

International institutions such as the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) are calling for multilateral risk management for the financial markets, as is the German government. In Davos, Chancellor Angela Merkel called for the creation of global economic council. The inclusion of developing countries in such bodies will be decisive, says Melkert. The UNDP representative is hoping for a clear statement from the G20, as otherwise, the UN's development goals will be in danger of failure.

Woman walks through a market
The IMF expects a growth rate of 3.4 percent for sub-Saharan AfricaImage: picture-alliance / Bildagentur Huber

"The crisis has created a totally new starting position," he said. "It really does mean a setback, even for really successful countries like China, for example. We'll have to really go the extra mile now if we're to reach our development goals."

Despite the crisis, Germany has committed itself to raising development aid bit by bit to reach 0.7 percent of its gross domestic product. Melkert advises other wealthy nations to also maintain their development aid goals.

"There's no alternative to investing in development goals," he said. "I hope that the G20 summit will help, I hope that the new American administration under Obama will support the Millennium goals even more. I hope that the Europeans keep their promises and invest more in development policies each year. And I hope that the growing middle classes in Africa, Brazil or in India pay their taxes and use this tax money to fight poverty."

Poverty remains major challenge

Although the global fight against poverty has made progress, the percentage of poor people in Africa hasn't gone down at all, due to the continent's fast-growing population. With a poverty rate of around 50 percent, the share of extreme poverty in the total population hasn't changed, and Melkert fears it could even get worse.

"We have to be really ambitious here and take the problem of poverty really seriously," he said. "With this financial crisis, more people will be forced into poverty than in years past."

Man sits outside a shop
There are worries that more Africans will slip into povertyImage: picture-alliance / Bildagentur Huber

The IMF has revised its growth projection downwards and has forecast an economic growth rate of just 3.4 percent for sub-Saharan Africa. But all African governments have to take political responsibility, says Melkert. He points to examples from Latin America, saying Africa should learn to also create effective social security systems and incentives for development.

"Good systems have been established in Latin America," he says. "There, families get money if they send their children to school or get them vaccinated. Africa should follow this example. The World Bank, the UN or bilateral donors could financially support such a system. That would help the poorest people to have a minimal income to buy food, send their children to school or care for their health."

He advises the international community to be patient and take a long-term view when it comes to supporting development goals – despite the global financial crisis.

"You don't make development progress from one year to the next – it's a question of 10 or 20 years," Melkert said.

Author: Ute Schaeffer/dc

Editor: Trinity Hartman