Saturday, January 28, 2006

Davos: WEF Spolights Africa

The schmoozing continues at the World Economic Forum in Davos as expected, however the debate took a more interesting turn for me when Nigeria and Africa got on the center stage during one of the break-out sessions.

Not that the issues deliberated were new or novel, it was interesting nonetheless to read about what President Obasanjo and others have to say about the continent and about the theme of the deliberation: “What is needed is not just to aid Africa but actually solve its seemingly never-ending problems?”

As expected, Obasanjo down-played the myriads of problems facing the continent by focusing on the positive recent developments.

"Africa is becoming less of a basket case… Wow, 20 years ago that was unthinkable. Things that you have taken for granted in the Western world are things that we are trying to get into our system and our way of life." he said, referring to the recent elections in Liberia and Tanzania, and the reforms in Nigeria.

These are huge steps, no doubt. But are these the best African nations can do? How about hotspots like Sudan-Dafur, Zimbabwe and Ivory Coast? Human rights record is still abysmally poor. It is on record that the Nigerian government has committed massive infringement against the basic principles of “freedoms of speech and expression” by banning and criminalizing same sex marriage. And if you dare challenge issues relating to gay/lesbians in Nigeria you could end up spending 5 years of your lifetime in prison!

Wolfowitz, the World Bank president emphasized “African nations needed to tackle some of the needless obstructions they have placed in their own path. I didn’t know that “license fee to start a business costs in Burkina Faso is 1- 1/2 times the country's per capita income”. This is insane!!! Do they have economist in that country or what? My illiterate grandmother knows better than that.

The talk also touched on trade, corruption and the dearth of infrastructure in the Africa.

Bono who wants Africa to be given a preferential treatment, and western economies to remove the subsidy on the agricultural produce stated,”…We have to look at this sacred cow of ours," he said. "It makes it impossible for African farmers to compete.”

Absolutely! The question is how is President Bush and others going to present the idea to their constituents?
Will Bush say: “My government has decided to stop giving out aids to farmers”?
Will that go well with the local politicians and voters?
Nah! The election year will be the day of reckoning, the day for payback. So the idea will most likely fall flat on its face.

Niall FitzGerald, the Reuters Chairman, also emphasized the need for big businesses to not shun Africa. “…an interest in ensuring that that region is secure and stable and prosperous, and if you don't become part of the attack on poverty ... then it will destroy you in your prosperous ghettos." Well said Mr. FitzGerald, well said.

The western nations can pump all the aids and render all the help to Africa for all I care. As long as there are people like Mugabe, Museveni and Bongo in power, and the evil in Dafur and the Nigerian Niger-Delta continue unabated, Africa has a long way to go. The sooner those holding the reins of power change the course of events in the continent, the quicker the economic and political salvation.

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