With only six years to go to the 2015 deadline, most Sub-Saharan African countries are currently on track to attain the UN Millennium Development Goals.
Although Africa is home to 20% of the world’s population it partakes in only 2% of global trade. This year, the impact of the global financial crisis is expected to slash growth rates on the continent down to 2.8 per cent, less than half of the average growth rate achieved during the past five years.
A new wave of African politicians and journalists has been engaging in a debate that Africa’s salvation lies not with further infusion of aid but rather in stepping up trade. The argument is that western assistance has given rise to dependency and corruption.
In the West, the tax base is shrinking as unemployment reaches record heights. Like never before, the rich western governments are squeezed by the need to take care of their own people, limiting generosity towards Africans and their problems.
The US national debt amounted to $ 12 trillion and was increasing at $ 3.85 billion per day – the largest national debt in the world. It is safe to assume that even the USA could use some debt relief and aid money to mitigate the risk presented by such debt on future generations.
While aid is blamed for many challenges in Africa today, it is important to note that it was born of a need to defeat health, administrative and social challenges.
True, aid monies bring forth several challenges – like setting rigid terms and failing to adapt to rapidly changing conditions on the ground.
Trade and charity run parallel. The west will not donate trade to Africa in the same way that it donates aid and therefore the Aid vs. Trade debate does not hold. With trade, Africa simply needs to take action instead of calling out for help.
Where charity promotes generosity, trade presents competition – sometimes cut throat. In some sectors, Africa will have to compete with some of the very nations that have been offering it aid.
Therefore, the continent Africa will need to marshal all her bargaining chips through continental integration and closely guard mineral and oil resources from exploitation by more powerful nations.
It is important for the continent to rectify its faulty policy making framework and build stronger institutions before it can engage the West as a worthy trading partner.
Neither trade nor aid will amount to continental progress if institutions remain deficient of integrity.
Emile Babu is a weekly columnist with The New Times.