news analysis advocacy
tips on searching
   the web  


AfricaFocus Bulletins on Economy and Development - 2003-2004
Nov 4, 2003  Africa: Debt and Deception
    As the U.S. Congress approves $87 billion for the U.S. occupation of Iraq, long-standing promises by rich creditors to provide debt "relief" of some $49 billion for 42 countries remain unfulfilled, and largely off the radar screen for policymakers. Yet debt remains a crippling burden not only for the 34 African countries that qualify as Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC), but also for major African powers such as Nigeria and South Africa.

Nov 4, 2003  Senegal: Debt and Destruction
    As the U.S. Congress approves $87 billion for the U.S. occupation of Iraq, long-standing promises by rich creditors to provide debt "relief" of some $49 billion for 42 countries remain unfulfilled, and largely off the radar screen for policymakers. Yet debt remains a crippling burden not only for the 34 African countries that qualify as Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC), but also for major African powers such as Nigeria and South Africa.

Nov 16, 2003  Africa: Agriculture Strategic, Neglected
    "Unfortunately, development partners have paid much less attention to agriculture and rural development over the past two decades," commented Dr. Jacques Diouf, Director-General of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), in a speech last week. "The World Bank, the major funding source for Africa, targeted 39 percent of its lending in 1978 to the agricultural sector in Africa. By 2002, this proportion had dropped to 6 percent."

Nov 25, 2003  Africa: Debt Meeting Consensus
    African experts meeting in Dakar under the auspices of the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) deplored the lack of a consolidated African position in response to global policy proposals that have vast economic implications for Africa. They agreed that current debt relief schemes are inadequate, that increased debt relief is the most effective way to provide rapid additional funding for development, and that additional measures were also essential to advance the globally acknowledged goals of ending proverty.

Nov 28, 2003  Sudan: Oil and Rights Abuses
    While diplomats say there are good chances of achieving a peace settlement in Sudan by the end of the year, fighting nevertheless continues in western Sudan, and the United Nations has appealed for $450 million to support some 3.5 million displaced Sudanese. Human Rights Watch has just released an extensive new report documenting the complicity of oil companies with human rights abuses in Sudan, and warning that disputes over oil revenue have the potential to further prolong the conflict.

Dec 15, 2003  Africa: Digital Solidarity Gap, 1
    Delegates from 176 countries and as many as 10,000 representatives of civil society and the private sector attended the World Summit on the Information Society in Geneva last week. They dispersed having filled dozens of web sites with documentation of the vast digital divide between rich and poor, declarations of good intentions, examples of promising initiatives, and decisions to postpone controversial decisions on internet governance and a proposed Digital Solidarity Fund.

Dec 15, 2003  Africa: Digital Solidarity Gap, 2
    Meeting in Lyon, France just before the World Summit on the Information Society, representatives of cities and local authorities decided to take their own initiatives to address the global digital divide. When the World Summit failed to make a firm commitment to a new Digital Solidarity Fund, the mayors of Lyon and Geneva joined with Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade to commit 1 million euros to launch the fund themselves.

Dec 18, 2003  Nigeria: Oil and Violence
    Delta State produces 40 percent of Nigeria's two million barrels a day of crude oil and is supposed to receive 13 percent of the revenue from production in the state, notes Human Rights Watch in a new report. Conflict over oil revenue lies at the root of ongoing violence, particularly in the key city of Warri. "Efforts to halt the violence and end the civilian suffering that has accompanied it must therefore include steps both to improve government accountability and to end the theft of oil."

Jan 16, 2004  Angola: Oil and Accountability
    A new report by Human Rights Watch on Angola is the most detailed public examination to date of discrepancies in accounting for revenue from oil, the product that accounts for the lion's share of the country's exports and government budget. Although Angolan government officials complained about the unfair focus on their country, attributing the problems primarily to insufficiencies in financial systems, the issues raised go to the heart of questions about political accountability not only in Angola, but also around the world.

Jan 16, 2004  Africa: Oil and Transparency
    From Houston to Luanda, London to Lagos, Washington to Baghdad, or wherever else oil is found or sold, the nexus of oil, cash, and politics poses a fundamental challenge to democratic accountability. Campaigns for greater openness, including the global Publish What You Pay campaign, are making some headway. Still, resistance to transparency is the most common note. In the US, Vice President Dick Cheney continues to refuse to release even the names of the industry executives who advised him on the Bush Administration's energy plan.

Jan 22, 2004  Africa: Davos Report Card
    In his New Year's message for 2004, United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan, referring to HIV/AIDS, poverty, and other global issues, concluded: "We don't need any more promises. We need to start keeping the promises we already made." A report card prepared for the World Economic Forum now meeting in Davos, Switzerland has concluded that the international community is putting in barely one-third of the effort needed to achieve internationally agreed goals.

Feb 4, 2004  Africa: Rice for the Future
    Only two decades ago, rice was considered a luxury food in West Africa, comments Dr. Kanayo Nwanze of the West African Rice Development Association (WARDA). Now it is a staple, accounting for more than 25% of cereal consumption. Import growth has consistently outpaced growth in production. But new rice varieties developed by WARDA researchers give hope that Africa could rapidly increase domestic production.

Feb 8, 2004  Africa: Who Owes Whom?
    Rich-country finance ministers meeting in Florida this weekend focused on the sinking dollar and rising U.S. debt, cautioning against excessive volatility in currency markets. They also called for more reductions in the debt burdens of Iraq and Afghanistan, and warned debt-strapped Argentina to comply with International Monetary Fund policies. Africa's debt, estimated at more than $300 billion, was not on the agenda.

Feb 13, 2004  Ethiopia: Debt Relief Backstep
    Ethiopia's debt is becoming more and more unsustainable, even under the narrow criteria used by international agencies to calculate what countries can afford to pay. Changes in interest rates and continued low coffee prices are projected to drive the value of the debt up to 220 percent of Ethiopia's exports, even after promised relief.

Feb 17, 2004  Africa: Internet Creativity
    According to latest estimates, Africa still has the lowest level of internet access among world regions, accounting for only 1.4% of the estimated 700 million people online worldwide. The 10 million in Africa estimated to have internet access are only a tenth of the 100 million that would match Africa's share of the world population. But the African internet public is large enough to provide much scope for an abundance of diverse ventures to make creative use of new technologies.

Mar 3, 2004  Africa: Fair Globalization Report
    "No one likes to eat crumbs from a feast; everyone likes to sit at the table." Tanzanian President Benjamin William Mkapa quoted this African proverb in introducing the report of the World Commission on the Social Dimensions of Globalization, released last week. The Commission, initiated by Juan Somavia of the International Labour Organization (ILO) and chaired by the presidents of Tanzania and Finland, offers specific proposals to move the world towards "fair globalization."

Mar 9, 2004  Africa: Commodity Trap
    Africa remains caught in a "commodity trap," says a new report on trade performance and commodity dependence from the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD). Africa is less competitive than in previous decades even in traditional primary commodities, its trade position undermined both by competition from Asia and Latin America and by agricultural subsidies in rich countries. Market solutions have aggravated this structural vulnerability, and it is time to reconsider a greater role for both national and international state actions, UNCTAD concludes.

Mar 16, 2004  Congo (Kinshasa): Forests under Threat
    Central Africa is the region having the richest rainforest resources on the continent, and its Congo basin is second only to the Amazon among the world's rainforest regions. How these resources are used and who controls their "development" are issues that deserve wide debate. Yet new legislation to permit rapid expansion in logging is being introduced in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), on the advice of the World Bank, without significant consultation with civil society or people living in forest areas.

Mar 25, 2004  Africa: Generic Drugs under Threat
    One of the most important battles affecting how many people with AIDS will receive needed anti-retroviral drugs is to take place in a so-far little publicized conference in Botswana on March 29 and 30. AIDS activists and generic drug manufacturers fear that pharmaceutical companies and the Bush administration will succeed in a behind-the-scenes campaign to discredit the most effective generic treatment, recommended by the World Health Organization, in favor of more expensive patented drugs approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Apr 13, 2004  Africa: World Bank Protests/Policy
    Controversies about the World Bank, which marks 60 years with its spring meetings this month, are attracting less attention than the high-profile debates about Iraq and terrorism. The Bank's policies and programs, nevertheless, have profound effects on countries around the world, and particularly in Africa. Both protesters and other critics remain skeptical of this powerful institution's claims to be fighting poverty and contributing to development.

Apr 13, 2004  Africa: World Bank Industry Review
    In 1996, in a report on Poverty Reduction in Sub-Saharan Africa, World Bank researchers wrote that poverty assessments "have done a reasonably good job of identifying ... options that will assist the poor ... " They added, however, that "these options, typically, are not being reflected in the Bank's assistance strategies or operations." This spring, as the World Bank delays consideration of the report of its own Extractive Industies Review, there is a similar disconnect between Bank-fostered proposals for internal change and ongoing operations.

Apr 22, 2004  Swaziland: AIDS in Context
    "Swaziland now holds the dubious title of [having] the highest [HIV] prevalence level in the world. ... [It] is a vivid microcosm of all the similarly afflicted countries of Southern Africa. At the grass roots, where it counts, there's a superhuman determination to bring the pandemic to heel, and to overcome the tremendous assault on the human condition." - Stephen Lewis, UN Special Envoy for HIV/AIDS in Africa

Apr 27, 2004  Africa: Learning to Survive
    Universal primary education is "the single most effective preventive weapon against HIV/AIDS," says a new report by Oxfam International. But donor countries are failing to come up with even the minimal funds they have pledged to support African countries under an optimistically named "Fast Track Initiative" to expand education funding.

Apr 30, 2004  Africa: Tragedy and Hope
    "Africa eludes us; it is so clearly outlined on the map, and yet so difficult to define. From afar, Westerners have long fancied it to be divided into 'black' and 'white,' in the image of their own societies, and yet observant visitors are more likely to be struck by Africa's diversity, and by the absence of any sharp dividing lines."

May 4, 2004  Angola: Humanitarian Update
    Two years after the end to war in Angola, a UN analysis reports, almost all the 3.8 million internally displaced people have returned home. Nevertheless, "the transition [from war to recovery] seems to be on hold," says the report, faulting both donors and the Angolan government for failure to get resources to local communities.

May 6, 2004  Africa: Mobile Renaissance?
    The number of telephone subscribers in Africa has more than doubled in the last three years. In 2003, Africa had 73 million voice telephone subscribers (22 million fixed and 51 million mobile), up from 35.4 million in 2000 (19.7 million fixed and 15.7 million mobile).

May 6, 2004  Kenya: ICT Policy Debates
    Virtually everyone agrees that information and communications technology (ICT) must be a key component of any viable development strategy for African countries. But lip service is still easier than charting and implementing a coherent strategy. Recent meetings in Nairobi and Cairo provide ample evidence of both lively debate and continuing obstacles.

May 14, 2004  Africa: Economic Report 2004
    African ministers in the economic sector, meeting next week in Kampala, Uganda, plan to focus on what Africa can do to become more competitive in global trade. Current trade negotiations, as well as the perennial and unresolved issues of debt and aid, will feature in discussions at the meeting. But documents prepared for the meeting, including a preview of this year's Economic Report on Africa, stress that African countries must also build internal conditions for more competitive and diversified trade.

May 14, 2004  Africa: Cotton Update
    "This system [of U.S. cotton subsidies] pits a typical Malian producer, farming two hectares of cotton, who is lucky to gross $400 a year, against US farms which receive a subsidy of $250 per hectare." - Oxfam. The World Trade Organization (WTO) will soon issue a formal ruling, in response to a Brazilian and African challenge, declaring these U.S. subsidies in violation of international trade rules. This changes the climate for international trade talks, but no policy shifts that could directly affect African farmers are yet imminent.

May 18, 2004  Malawi: Election Context
    "We have the greatest policies around, the most liberal constitution. We have a constitution that any liberal democracy would be proud of, but the will to implement not there." - Rafiq Hajat, Institute for Policy Interaction, Malawi

Jun 3, 2004  Zambia: Condemned to Debt
    "The evidence suggests that the past twenty years of IMF and World Bank intervention have exacerbated rather than ameliorated Zambia's debt crisis. Ironically, in return for debt relief, Zambia is required to do more of the same. The country has been condemned to debt." - World Development Movement report

Jun 13, 2004  Africa: Debt Update
    Despite pre-summit news reports that rich country leaders gathered for the G8 summit might consider a British proposal for full cancellation of debt for poor countries, the summit only announced a two-year extension of the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) initiative. The Jubilee2000 USA Network and other groups reportedly flooded the U.S. Treasury Department with phone calls, and some officials were said to be considering the idea. But the White House was not convinced.

Jun 22, 2004  Africa: Trade Update, UNCTAD
    The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), held every four years, met in Brazil last week. Participants issued ringing statements in favor of South-South collaboration and the need for greater equity in the international trade arena. The meeting was virtually ignored by the press in the United States and other developed countries. Nevertheless, the conference was an indicator of greater international awareness, among almost all political currents, that the current bias against developing countries is both unfair and unsustainable.

Jun 22, 2004  Africa: Trade Update, Commonwealth
    "The development focus of the Doha Round emerged from a renewed spirit of collective responsibility for the challenges faced by poor countries, and also as a response to the perceived inequities generated by previous rounds of trade negotiations. Unfortunately, in the years since it was launched, the Doha Round has not delivered on its development mandate."

Jul 28, 2004  USA/Africa: Oil and Transparency
    Two recent U.S. Senate hearings have highlighted issues related to oil and transparency in West and Central Africa. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee has focused on the options for U.S. support for transparency in strategic oil-rich countries in the Gulf of Guinea region, including Nigeria, Angola, and Equatorial Guinea. The Committee on Governmental Affairs, on the other hand, has focused on the less often discussed role of American banks and companies in fostering lack of transparency, with a detailed expose of a prominent Washington bank's role in managing suspect accounts for the leaders of Equatorial Guinea.

Jul 31, 2004  Africa: Trade Talks Background
    Discussions continued beyond Friday's midnight deadline in world trade talks in Geneva, as major countries pressed for wording compromises that would avoid an obvious breakdown. West African cotton-producing countries reportedly accepted a U.S. pledge to deal with the issue of cotton subsidies expeditiously within the wider agriculture negotiations. Even if disagreements are papered over, however, fair trade campaigners note that the text remains deeply unbalanced in favor of rich countries, with their commitments under the framework text still vague and ambiguous in comparison with concessions exacted from developing countries.

Aug 19 2004  South Africa: Apartheid Reparations Update
    Reparations for historical crimes against humanity, such as the centuries-long slave trade, slavery itself, and the more recent apartheid system in South Africa, are not currently on the agenda for governments preoccupied with more immediate goals. But the issues raised will not go away, as long as the deep inequalities and injustices that these crimes produced continue to exist. Whether in South Africa, the U.S., or globally, the past is in fact not yet past.

Sep 6, 2004  Africa: Trade Deception
    Initial news stories from world trade talks in Geneva heralded rich country commitments to cut agricultural subsidies, celebrating the July 31 framework agreement as a victory for rich and poor countries alike. For those who followed the later dissection of the fine print, however, it quickly became apparent that the commitment was largely a "shell game," as James Flanagan put it in the Los Angeles Times (Aug. 15, 2004).

Sep 16, 2004  West Africa: Locust Invasion
    "The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) has appealed to the international community for $100 million to help contain this locust invasion, the worst which West Africa has seen for 15 years. But everywhere, too little is being done too late. The FAO has so far received only a third of the money needed." - UN Integrated Regional Information Network (IRIN)

Sep 27, 2004  Africa: Reviewing the Bank
    As the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank gather for their annual meetings on October 2 and 3, World Bank reports not yet released are said to indicate a continued failure of the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) program to provide debt sustainability, even by the Bank's own criteria. The U.S. and British governments are reported to have two competing plans for writing off more of the debt owed by the poorest countries.

Sep 27, 2004  Africa: Blocking Progress
    If the international community did come up with the funds required for adequate support to fight HIV/AIDS, spending the money could still be blocked by International Monetary Fund (IMF) guidelines designed to limit government spending in the affected countries. A new report by ActionAid International USA and three other Washington-based groups, excerpted in this AfricaFocus Bulletin, argues that this outcome is both unacceptable and unnecessary.

Oct 4, 2004  Africa: Debt (Continued)
    Despite an emerging consensus in favor of complete debt cancellation for the poorest heavily indebted countries, the G-7 group of rich countries failed this weekend to reach agreement on how to cancel the debt. Meanwhile a new UN report noted that between 1970 and 2002, African countries received some $540 billion in loans, paid back close to $550 billion in principal and interest, and still held debt of $295 billion at the end of 2002.

Oct 18, 2004  Africa: AIDS Time Bomb
    "If we think we are seeing an impact today, we have to brace ourselves because it is set to get very much worse." Alan Whiteside of the United Nations Commission on HIV/AIDS and Governance in Africa (CHGA) issued this warning last week at a meeting of the commission in Addis Ababa. Scaling up of treatment is now on the continental and global agenda. But the pace is still far short of that needed to stem the drop in life expectancies and catastrophic damage to all sectors of societies.

Oct 21, 2004  Angola: From War to Social Justice?
    "Negative peace (cessation of hostilities) is far preferable to no peace at all but it ... leaves deficits and injustices in the social, political and economic structures, institutions and cultures largely unresolved. It fails to promote political negotiation and democratic processes." - Conciliation Resources briefing paper

Nov 7, 2004  Africa: Intellectual Property
    "Humanity stands at a crossroads - a fork in our moral code and a test of our ability to adapt and grow. Will we evaluate, learn and profit from ideas and opportunities [to share knowledge], or will we respond to the most unimaginative pleas to suppress all of this in favor of intellectually weak, ideologically rigid, and sometimes brutally unfair and inefficient policies [on intellectual property]? - Geneva Declaration on the Future of the World Intellectual Property Organization

Nov 29, 2004  South Africa: Poverty Debate
    "At the moment, many, too many, of our people live in gruelling, demeaning, dehumanising poverty. We are sitting on a powder keg. ... We should discuss as a nation whether a basic income grant is not really a viable way forward. We should not be browbeaten by pontificating decrees from on high. We cannot, glibly, on full stomachs, speak about handouts to those who often go to bed hungry. It is cynical in the extreme to speak about handouts when people can become very rich at the stroke of a pen." - Archbishop Desmond Tutu

Dec 14, 2004  Africa: Oxfam Poverty Report
    In one of the first reports from a global coalition to make 2005 a year of action against poverty, Oxfam International has issued a report calling on rich countries to live up to their promises to provide resources and opportunities to achieve the "Millennium Development Goals" adopted unanimously by the United Nations in September 2000. Making this finance available, Oxfam noted, is "both a moral obligation and a matter of justice."