Africa, Post-Colonialism and the Role of the UN
IATP's Alexandra Spieldoch and Anne Laure Constantin are in Accra, Ghana for the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) XII meeting through April 24. They will be blogging periodically on events in Accra.
The official UNCTAD XII meeting began yesterday with an opening plenary including speeches from the presidents of Brazil (Luiz Ignacio Lula da Silva), Ghana (John Agyekum Kufuor) and the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon. Secretary-General of UNCTAD, Supachai Panitchpakdi, spoke to the G77 earlier in the day and also to civil society groups the day prior. This meeting takes place at a critical time for Africa, which is drowning in unfilled promises for development - worsened by skyrocketing food and oil prices, climate change and unfair terms of trade and investment.
Yet again, government leaders acknowledge that the poor are being left behind in the globalization model. They are urging countries to work together to deal with the development crisis. However, their solutions are neither new nor will they curb the crisis today. They propose a "second generation of globalization" which would include: increased aid to meet the Millenium Development Goal targets; increased trade (including more South/South free trade agreements); increased "aid for trade" to further productive capacity; increased biofuels investment; and a green revolution in Africa. More of the same and then some….It is sad to see the UN so overtaken by the neoliberal agenda for development and growth. The reduced role of the UN is apparent. The implications for Africa are huge.
In relation to the food crisis, the UN seems to understand all of the problems associated with deregulated markets, financial speculation and the lowest grain reserves in history. Yet, surprisingly, UN officials caution against managing food supplies (i.e. price caps on certain goods and export/import taxes, and establishing grain reserves). Rather, they urge countries to wait it out and let the market regulate itself. This policy is condemning people to starve at a time when they must be served by their governments and international institutions.
Ministers and other high-level officials from 49 of the least developed countries (LDCs) released a statement on April 19, calling for a "new deal" to tackle the international crisis caused by high food prices. They urge UNCTAD to support additional aid for agricultural infrastructure and domestic production, market access to developed countries and the integration of LDCs into the world economy. Immediate regulation at both the domestic and international levels is needed in order to achieve these objectives.
UNCTAD has written on the fact that foreign direct investment (FDI) has grown in Africa. What UNCTAD reports, however, is that FDI flows have not actually led to an increase in Africa’s share in global FDI. This is because 70 percent of investment agreements concluded by African countries have been with other countries in Europe. Much of the future investment will continue to be extractive (oil, gas and minerals). The majority of this investment has been in primary and services sectors and is due to the exploitation of African’s natural resources and privatization schemes.
Within Africa itself, only a few resource rich countries have benefited from FDI. These include Angola, South Africa and Nigeria. In spite of the fact that current foreign direct investment hasn’t led to GDP growth in most countries, UNCTAD is calling for regional Free Trade Agreements and more Bilateral Investment Treaties as the cure for the region.
It is clear that the UN’s role has been greatly reduced and co-opted by the trade agenda. Our challenge moving forward in this global economy is strengthening the UN and our commitment to one another and the environment. Africa is in terrible trouble in spite of its rich history, culture and vibrant spirit. We cannot stand back while our friends and colleagues suffer from this ongoing colonial paradigm.
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