Recognizing Africa's forgotten citizens: the rural poor
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Sinkam, Nana. 1994. Recognizing Africa's forgotten citizens: the rural poor. Spore 52. CTA, Wageningen, The Netherlands.
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Professor Nana Sinkam is Director of the Joint Agricultural Division of the Economic Commission for Africa and the UN Food and Agriculture Organization. Africa is a major recipient of foreign aid for rural development and has become highly dependent...
Professor Nana Sinkam is Director of the Joint Agricultural Division of the Economic Commission for Africa and the UN Food and Agriculture Organization. Africa is a major recipient of foreign aid for rural development and has become highly dependent on it. By contrast, foreign investment in all sectors, including the rural sector, has been deterred by indecisive governments and a persistently growing and debilitating debt. This situation could be reversed, and African development progressed, if donors and recipients were to change their attitudes and priorities to make aid more effective and investment more attractive. It is time to adopt a new approach. That approach must start from a recognition by donors that Africa is suffering not from a temporary problem of liquidity, but from bankruptcy; and the new approach must place the debtors' ability to pay above the claims of the creditors. African governments must not be put in a position where 'credit worthiness' can be achieved only by deepening the poverty of their citizens, and by jeopardizing prospects for recovery. As we have seen, much of what currently passes for discussions on 'debt rescheduling' in the Paris Club is, in fact, a mere pantomime bearing little relation to the real needs of debtor countries. I believe that industrialized countries should agree to the cancellation of between 90% and 100% of all non-concessional debt, rather than the smaller amount contracted before an arbitrary' cut-off date. By making aid flows conditional on 'good governance', Western governments have given highly welcome impetus to movements for democracy: some countries to which aid flows have been suspended or restricted have been forced to adopt more democratic practices. However, donors, frequently continue to turn a blind eye to dictatorial tendencies where commercial interests are involved. In short, donors need to review their motives for aid: aid may be of little use to recipient countries (although it may be of value to their leaders) if the motive for aid is solely or mainly the pursuance of self interest. As OXFAM has remarked, there is a stark contrast between the urgency with which Western governments have responded to the financial problems of Eastern Europe and Russia, and their long neglect of Africa's far deeper problems. I also believe that in poverty-orientated projects it would be worthwhile for donors, to the extent possible, to employ the services of NGOs, especially those with deeper roots in the country concerned, as well as, perhaps, the services of local experts. I also believe that too much technical assistance (which accounts for a quarter of all aid to sub-Saharan Africa) is spent on the costs of the 100,000 or so donor consultants in the region, and not enough on employing Africans. The World Bank has estimated that savings of up to 50% could be achieved through greater use of indigenous consultants. Recipient governments also have obligations to development and the alleviation of poverty, and they should try to design long-range strategies based on actual development priorities. They cannot serve their peoples if they are infatuated with prestigious projects and with the most sophisticated but irrelevant technologies. They should also minimize their expenditure on non-developmental items, such as the build-up of armed forces. And where they exist, idle military plants, trucks and personnel could be used for development purposes, so helping to reduce the enormous costs to the national budget of military maintenance. African governments could also further the meagre progress that has so far been made in rural development and food self-sufficiency by improving the lot of rural women. African women undertake the bulk of agricultural labour and produce an estimated 70% of sub-Saharan Africa's staple foods. Yet, while women are the most important smallholder producers, they are also the most neglected. They are systematically denied access to productive resources and, in many countries, customary practices do not allow women to own land. Lacking legal title, having few savings and typically producing staple foods on a small-scale, women have little access to institutional credit. Government action could effect changes in women's status, enhance their productivity, make more effective use of aid and benefit the country's development. Rural development cannot succeed, and aid funds cannot be used effectively, unless donors and recipient governments work closely together. At present, there is also a lack of coordination of aid activities, which should be addressed. The presence of a multiplicity of donors within the same sector of the recipient's economy places a heavy burden on local administrative capacities and results in competing claims on scarce resources. This is particularly the case in Africa. It is understood that the costs of inadequate coordination far outweigh the potential benefits that donors and recipients might perceive. A centralized mechanism for aid coordination in recipient countries is needed. The Policy dialogues between donors and recipients must be more collaborative. The donor should have significant country knowledge and experience and the recipient should be prepared to fully participate not just in the implementation, but also in the preparation, of assistance programmes. The capacity of sub-Saharan Africa in proposing policy alternatives, analyzing them jointly with donors and negotiating may not at present be sufficient, but donors should be prepared to assist recipients to improve their capabilities. Combating poverty and improving wealth distribution are the main challenges for the emerging new African democracies as it should be for donors also. Certainly African leaders can have no doubt what African farmers want. The onus is on them to work with donors to get the economy moving and get money to their forgotten citizens: the rural poor. The views expressed are the personal opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect that of the ECA or the FAO of which he is a senior member of staff.
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