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Catching up

“We must grow beyond toddler status”

by Horatius Egua
Africa must “pool its resources and help itself because no country in the world will come to the rescue”. A shopkeeper in Nairobi

Africa must “pool its resources and help itself because no country in the world will come to the rescue”. A shopkeeper in Nairobi

Africa is under-represented in the G20. South Africa is the only member from this continent. Though the AU and NEPAD were also invited to the Seoul summit, their presence was dwarfed by giants like Brazil, Mexico, India, China and Indonesia. D+C/E+Z asked Nigerian business journalist Horatius Egua for his opinions on the G20 and African development. [ Interview with Horatius Egua ]

To what extent is the G20 living up to its claim of steering the world economy out of the financial crisis?
I believe strongly that the G20 leaders are not really concerned about what will happen to the rest of the world. They are primarily worried about how to get their economies out of the woods. The saddest part of the economic recovery issue is that it is being measured by the growth of the American and British economies. These economic giants basically see ­developing countries as liabilities and that is why the poor nations are not consulted in the whole global economic recovery agenda.

So the G20 claim of acting on behalf of the whole world is not legitimate?
No, as I just pointed out, it is not legitimate at all. The G20 is an economic cabal designed to serve the interests of the G20 member countries and their stooges, nothing more.

What do you think of Africa’s representation at the G20?
The representation is very, very poor, but even if we had strong representation, that would not help much. This continent has no well-structured econo­mic programmes, so it is not of interest to the ­giant economies. For example, the western econo­mies need oil and gas. But the African countries that have such natural resources lack the technologies to refine them and make them attractive to the west; instead, they are sold as crude commodities. They later return to the continent as finished products. As long as Africa does not progress from a commodities-based economy to a multi-dimensional economy, it will continue to be subservient to the G20 and others.

What is your assessment of the development consensus formulated in Seoul?
The Seoul Consensus (G20) is simply more shop talk. Donors have always spoken of helping poor countries to develop and to “achieve and maintain their maximum growth potential”. But that never meant much in practice. The Seoul Consensus is another promise of the same kind. The G20 promised to focus assistance to developing countries on the areas of food and income security, financial inclusion, domestic resource mobilisation, infrastructure, trade, human resources development, private investment, job creation and knowledge sharing. The Group of 20 leaders also pledged to meet the UN-­Millennium Development Goals. We have heard such aid pledges again and again in the past, but they never come true.

Will the consensus have an impact on sub-Saharan Africa?
Africans should take their destiny into their own hands because there is no hope in the G20. At the 2010 annual meeting of the African Development Bank (AfDB) in Côte d’Ivoire, Donald Kaberuka, the Bank’s president, emphasised that Africa must pool its resour­­ces and help itself because no country in the world will come to rescue us from the shackles of poverty and underdevelopment. Nigeria’s Vice President Namadi Sambo shares this view – and so do I. If sub-Sa­haran economies continue to rely on western support, we will never grow beyond our present toddler status. That is what we have to do.

China and India often claim to be speaking for the developing world. Does their participation in the G20 matter to Africans?
China and India are representing their interests and not those of Africa. The sad thing, however, is that these two emerging economies have taken over the economies of the continent, especially so in Nigeria. The Chinese and the Indians are strong in virtually all sectors of the Nigerian economy: energy, aviation, manufacturing, automobile et cetera. What these two emerging economies are protecting is not the interest of sub-Saharan economies, they are protecting their own huge investments.

What is your view on the “currency wars”?
The reason why US President Barack Obama is pushing this issue is that he sees it as the easiest way to help the US economy to stabilise. This is similarly true of the British and other EU governments. Developing countries do not figure in their minds.

To what extent do currency issues affect your country and what is its interest in this context?
Nigeria is not directly affected so far. However, the US currency is used globally, including in Nigeria, as the benchmark. In this sense, stability of the ­dollar is conducive to global financial stability. The global economic crisis the world witnessed in 2008 and after, however, was triggered by the recklessness of the financial sector in the USA, and the global economy paid dearly for it. If we allow the US economy to be the international benchmark, we’ll soon be heading for the next crisis.

What is your view on fiscal austerity versus government-spending stimulus?
In Nigeria, we look at the issue from a different ­angle. The federal government’s focus is now on spending efficiency. Olusegun Aganga, Nigeria’s minister of finance, recently said that the government's economic restructuring programme is not so much about spending amounts themselves, but far more about the quality and the efficiency of spending. The government has strengthened its monitoring and evaluation process. Minister Aganga also pointed out that the government has introduced performance-based budgeting. In other words, if spending does not lead to results, it will be discontinued.

What is sub-Saharan Africa’s interest in the global power play?
I would suggest caution. Anything that the rich-world governments do will be geared to serving their countries interests, not those of Africa or other developing regions of the world.