Collective Wisdom, Competing Blueprints, Elusive Results.
Development planning in most African countries dates back to the early years of independence. In fact, the problematique of development has held prime of place in the agenda of those concerned with the basic issues of poverty, deprivation, hardship, in sum, the fate of the continent. Initially, development targets were encompassed in what were aptly termed as planning strategies. Mostly inspired by the ideological divide that characterised the world in the aftermath of the Second World War, centralised economic development planning, mainly propelled by the East, was the response to the free forces of the market advocated by the West. At independence, most African countries were considered either under Eastern or Western influence and their choice of strategies for development was principally dictated by such influence.
Policies and programmes to coordinate the mobilisation and allocation of resources were thus considered critical to effect fundamental changes in the economies and societies that the departing colonial powers bequeathed to the newly independent countries. Economies that had been nurtured primarily as sources of raw materials and markets for the industries of the metropolitan countries required far-reaching changes, through planning, for the attainment of sustainable growth and development. As stated earlier, planning was also considered necessary to deal with the pervasive problems of poverty, disease and ignorance that were widely prevalent in many African countries during the early years of independence, a situation inherited from the years of colonialism. The paucity of entrepreneurs meant that the state and planning had to play the leading role in effecting changes in economies and societies for sustainable growth and development.
However, the intensity of development planning that was witnessed at the national level in the early years of independence did not get extended to the regional and continental levels. Although the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) was established in 1963 by newly independent countries as the premier organisation of the continent to collectively meet the challenges of development, the primary focus of the organisation remained for a long time the attainment of political unity for the consolidation of independence, eradication of colonialism, imperialism and apartheid on the continent.
Thus, it is a matter of fact that not much direct effort was put, in the first two decades of independence, on development planning at the continental level as a means of achieving sustainable economic growth and development in African countries. This situation, however, started changing from the late 1970s and early 1980s.
By the early 1980s, the task of liberating Africa from the yoke of colonialism and imperialism had been significantly achieved, largely through the collective efforts of African countries themselves under the umbrella of the OAU. Although some progress had been registered towards the attainment of economic growth and reduction of poverty, Africa still remained the epicentre of global poverty. By then, Africa had gone through the harshness of such natural onslaughts as drought, famine, floods widespread decimating diseases such as malaria, tuberculosis, HIV/AIDS, compounded by man-induced calamities like conflicts, unconstitutional brutal changes of government, armed religious and tribal confrontations leading to carnages and untold human sufferings. The toll on the active labour force was, to say the least, phenomenal. Regrettably, such scourges still hold sway on the continent, thereby stunting efforts at progress.
Such were the consequences of the negative forces befalling Africa that it was variously described as the ‘Lost Continent,’ the ‘Dark Continent,’ a ‘Continent of small ladders and long snakes’. Most of the African countries were deeply mired in stifling external debt. In the face of such a desolate background, the global power brokers that were the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and later on the World Trade Organisation (WTO), as well as leaders of the industrialised countries insisted that African countries should adopt Structural Adjustment Programmes (SAPs). A kind of ‘one size fits all’ policy was advocated as being the salvation avenue for the ills of the countries. The mantra was to rely mainly on markets and not governments to determine the production of goods and services, an insistence that was eroding the gains of the early years of independence.
Conscious of the gravity of the situation and realising that individually they could hardly withstand the pressure that was being brought to bear on them to adopt the prescribed policies, African leadership, within the regional and continental organisations, displayed some degree of collective wisdom and began to focus increasingly on economic development issues and the need for planning with a view to attaining development objectives. Early efforts at development planning at regional and continental levels found expression in the adoption of a number of instruments on a variety of issues around which there was broad consensus. Over the years, Resolutions, Declarations and Action Plans have been agreed upon and adopted at regional and continental levels and have been concerned with major policy issues of contemporary African development such as poverty eradication, export diversification, debt reduction, gender equality, institutional capacity-building, infrastructure and related supply-side matters, food security and development of agriculture, education, peace and security, governance, the environment, sustainable development and so on.
However, it would be appropriate to highlight certain landmark instruments that have demonstrated the capacity of the African leadership to display collective wisdom in tackling the challenges faced by their countries and subscribe to the policy consensus on the strategies that thus emerged. The failure of the import substitution industrialisation policy and the constant decline of African economies led to the conviction of the African leadership that the deterioration of their economies was the result of wrong international development strategies which had been elaborated for and adopted by them. Thus at a special economic summit in Lagos, Nigeria in 1980, a continental development strategy was adopted, namely The Lagos Plan of Action (LPA) and the Final Act of Lagos (FAL). It firmly laid the foundation for more concerted action by the African countries. The LPA identified key priority areas for Africa’s development, namely, human resources, population, natural resources and agriculture, transport and communications, trade and finance, industry, science and technology, energy, environment, women and development, and development planning and statistics. The implementation period was set for 1980-2000. The FAL specified stages for Africa’s economic integration which were projected to culminate in the establishment of the African Economic Community by the year 2000. However, African economies hardly took off. In the face of the unprecedented drought and desertification that befell the continent soon after with its attendant problems of declining agricultural production, hunger and famine, the leadership took further steps to try to rescue their economies from collapse. Thus another continental development strategy was adopted by the OAU in 1985, namely, Africa’s Priority Programme for Economic Recovery, 1986-1990 (APPER). Its main thrust was on food and agricultural production. Most African countries were already struggling under the adverse impact of SAPs on their social, economic and financial sectors. In response thereto, the OAU Summit endorsed in 1989, the African Alternative Framework to Structural Adjustment Programmes for Socio-Economic Recovery and Transformation (AAF-SAP). Based on the principle of collective self-reliance, the LPA/FAL and the AAF-SAP comprise programmes and policies aimed at achieving sustainable development of Africa.
However, the Final Act of Lagos found concrete expression only in 1991, when at the OAU Summit in Abuja, the African leadership signed the Treaty Establishing the African Economic Community (AEC), commonly referred to as the Abuja Treaty. The Treaty, which came into force in 1994, upon ratification, serves as the Blueprint and comprehensive plan for Africa’s continental integration.
The focus on integration, not only as an important element of planning for Africa’s development but also as a viable and practical response to the multiple challenges of globalisation, stems from some of the basic features of the African economies: the smallness in terms of population and GDP which make it difficult to harness the benefits of economies of scale and attract investment, the heavy dependence on primary commodities, the underdevelopment of infrastructure especially for intra and interregional connectivity, and the relatively large number of landlocked countries. Addressing the challenges posed by these features through integration is critical for the enhancement of Africa’s competitiveness in today’s globalised economy and for the achievement of sustainable development. Regional integration is also important for the production of regional public goods, especially peace and security, without which there cannot be sustainable development. Indeed, these considerations greatly motivated the principles, objectives and development plans of Regional Economic Communities which constitute the building blocks of the African Economic Community.
Yet another Development strategy was to be discussed and adopted in 1995 in the context of the changing world situation following the dissolution of the Soviet Bloc, the end of the cold war and the establishment of the World Trade Organisation. The OAU Summit of June 1995 endorsed the strategy adopted by the Seventeenth Extraordinary Session of the OAU Council of Ministers that had convened in Cairo, in March of the same year. The novelty of this strategy under the title Relaunching Africa’s Economic and Social Development: The Cairo Agenda for Action was the distinction it made between what Africa could do for itself in areas such as governance, economic management, human development, food security, among others, and what it expected from its development partners in support of these efforts through, inter alia, debt reduction, investment flows, capacity building support.
Collective Wisdom, Competing Blueprints, Elusive Results.