from Africa in Transition

Africa, The Summit and Development

September 03, 2014

Blog Post

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Sub-Saharan Africa

International Organizations

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This is a guest post by Owen Cylke. Mr. Cylke is a development professional and a retired senior foreign service officer with U.S. Agency for International Development.

References to development (even to the word “development”) do not appear in most of the reports on the recently concluded U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit. In this regard, I want to distinguish between “assistance” and “development,” between discrete projects on the one hand, and, on the other, the larger, more complex process of transforming economies, polities, administrations, and societies. Yet, the advancement of development is a stated goal of the president of the United States, the U.S. Agency for International Development, the Millennium Challenge Corporation, the World Bank, the International Finance Corporation, and the International Monetary Fund. Development also has the focused attention of African leadership as reflected in the policies and actions of the African Union, its development arm the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD), the Africa Development Bank (AfDB) and the constitutions, policies, and actions of virtually every country on the continent.

What might account for this counter-intuitive neglect to the idea of development? The argument that Africa is in a post-assistance position based on rapid growth in a dozen country’s might explain in part the step away from development as an organizing principle of the summit; yet, there is the recently proposed bailout for Ghana, up to now the poster country for the post-assistance argument. It could also be partly attributable to the ongoing assault on the role of government in both U.S. domestic and international policies and politics. This is in contrast with the resurrection of state action in support of development seen across the continent. Another possibility could be the focus on the growth of private sector investment (which can, or cannot, be supportive of broad-based, equitable, inclusive, and sustainable development). Or, it could be the increased concern about security issues in central and west Africa, giving rise to the increasing presence and prominence of the defense agencies in discussions about Africa (again without reference to the strong linkages between development and insecurity). Nevertheless, all in all, it is curious that development writ large–as an idea and ambition-was curiously missing (or short-changed) in discussion at the U.S. Africa Leaders Summit.

Of course, it will be argued that a whole range of government development initiatives was on the agenda, even if development as an organizing idea and ambition was not. But Africa’s challenge is not about assistance and projects. It is rather about development that needs to happen, broadly, equitably, and sustainably. Development needs to happen in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Liberia, Zimbabwe, Burundi, Eritrea, the Central African Republic, Niger, Sierra Leone, Malawi, and Togo, and it needs to continue to happen in Nigeria and South Africa.

Had development as such been on the agenda, what might a report from the Summit have looked like? That is anyone’s guess, but my own line of inquiry might have included the following:

• how to re-energize the development discourse, with particular emphasis on the transformation of productive capabilities and structure;

• what approaches would encourage greater attention to industrial/urban and technology/innovation policies and strategies;

• how to encourage greater respect for the approach and thinking of development institutions and strategies across Africa as they coalesce around new practices and theories of development;

• what are the implications of globalization and liberalization;

• how best to promote local and national development through the institutional and productive transformation of regions.