Do Not Reduce African Aid

Author: Archbishop Renato R. Martino


Archbishop Renato R. Martino

On November 5, 1996 Archbishop Renato R. Martino, the Holy See's Permanent Observer at the United Nations spoke to the plenary meeting of the 51st Session of the General Assembly on Item 44: Mid-term Review of the Implementation of the United Nations New Agenda for the Development of Africa in the 1990's. Here is the text of his address, which was given in English.

Mr. President,

As it does in every discussion on development, the Holy See wishes to underscore the centrality of the human person. This centrality is enshrined in the first principle of the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development: "Human beings are at the centre of concerns for sustainable development. They are entitled to a healthy and productive life in harmony with nature".

In the discussion of the New Agenda for Africa, the community of nations must be willing to make this "centrality" a reality. The essential role that the human person plays in the formulation of a viable plan for action and development must forever be taken off of the written page and out of the debate and be put into practice.

In considering an Agenda for Development in Africa, the outcome of the World Summit for Social Development merits greater attention. That Programme of Action identifies "enhancing positive interaction between environmental, economic and social policies as essential for success in the longer term" and notes that this is to be done "with full respect for the various religious and ethical values and cultural backgrounds of its people, and in conformity with all human rights and fundamental freedoms".

Many ideas have been put forward and in too many cases with limited results. This somehow summarizes the item being addressed by this meeting. Where improvements are taking place, it is often too slowly. And in some parts of Africa, as has been evidenced in the 1996 Human Development Report as well as the Mid-decade Report on the World Summit for Children, things have actually become worse.

Since independence, countries in Africa have turned to donor nations ... often their former colonial rulers ... and to the international financial institutions for guidance and growth. The guidance seems to have become a kind of economic receivership. The policies of many African nations are decided in a cycle of numerous meetings with the IMF, the World Bank, donors and creditors. Rates of growth in Africa have been questioned because of their being low. These low rates have sometimes resulted in criticism and decreasing assistance. But the low rates can be clearly linked to such factors as its receiving only about three per cent of all foreign direct investment (FDI) flows. However, Africa is no less capable of growth if given the levels of FDI that are found in countries with economies experiencing growth. The key to growth is granting producers and consumers the economic freedom to face and respond to incentives and to provide safety nets for the necessary cases.

Foreign assistance for Africa is now placed in question by some. It is said to make little difference in growth and development of Africa. However, to get the economies of African countries charted toward more positive growth rates, aid levels should be made more generous for a period of time, not reduced. According to a pre-announced sliding scale, the basics would serve as categories of initial high levels of assistance. These areas, among others would include: human capital (that is, using their skills), equipment, and roads. Pope John Paul II, in his Apostolic Letter summarizing the conclusions of the Special Assembly for Africa of the Synod of Bishops, has outlined more areas for which such prompt interventions and assistance are necessary. These include, "malnutrition, the widespread deterioration in the standard of living, the insufficiency of means for educating the young, the lack of elementary health and social services with the resulting persistence of endemic diseases, the spread of the terrible scourge of AIDS the heavy and often unbearable burden of international debt, (and) the horror of fratricidal wars fomented by unscrupulous arms trafficking, the shameful and pitiable spectacle of refugees and displaced persons..." (<Ecclesia in Africa,> n. 114). The lessons of experience teach that when developing countries grow richer, it is not at the expense of rich countries. If anything the opposite is true; developed countries will benefit more when developing countries do well economically.

The very general areas of emphasis suggested here in targeting increased foreign aid, should not allow for the overflow of conditionality which is today so common and which should be discontinued. This often reflects more on the donors' weaknesses or preoccupations than on the true needs of the recipient country. It is the African people themselves who, committing themselves to "good administration of public affairs in the two interrelated areas of politics and the economy..." (<Ecclesia in Africa,> n. 110) should be allowed to foster development without the burden of excessive linkages and conditionalities too often found in aid packages.

Particular sensitivities are required when addressing the population questions of the African continent. As is well known, the discussion continues as to how "population growth" relates to development and the eradication of poverty. Specialists have not yet arrived at a conclusion in this regard since they are found on both sides of the issue. But the documentation prepared on this item seems to have clearly sided in favour of population control policies and against strategies advocating development through poverty eradication. The high number of reservations that surrounded this issue, both from the Conference on Population and Development and subsequent Conferences, demonstrate the lack of any true consensus in this regard.

In the documentation on this item, the critical issues section contains a subsection on "Human development and capacity building" which is composed of 12 paragraphs and sub-paragraphs. One half or six of these refer to population issues, while only two are dedicated to education, and a single paragraph addresses employment. The potential of this valuable resource of the continent of Africa, the Africans themselves, deserves more. One is challenged to consider what the real agenda for this topic is.

Lack of peace on the African continent clearly has diminished development. This is most evidenced in its impact on the African people themselves, particularly women and children. The Agenda for Development states that "Development is a fundamental human right", and "the most secure basis for peace" (<Agenda for Development,> 1994, Al481935, par. 3). That message is echoed here in the document being considered today: "Sustainable development cannot occur without peace, which requires proactive efforts towards conflict prevention, management and resolution" (<Implementation of the United Nations New Agenda for the Development of Africa in the 1990's,> Al511228, par. 13).

Peace, of course, is not easily guaranteed, especially since so many in Africa today suffer from ethnic and political strife. Once again, we turn to the Agenda for Development: "While there is war, no State is securely at peace. While there is want, no people can achieve lasting development" (par. 15). Only by the promotion of peace through social justice, respect for human rights, the building up of a State based on law, and the fostering of authentic democracy, will economic and social development occur in Africa.

Mr. President, I conclude with the words of His Holiness Pope John Paul II upon his return from his 11th Pastoral Visit to Africa: "How can one not be touched by the Africans' human warmth? How can one forget the colours, sounds and rhythms of that land? They are the dance of life, the triumph of life! Unfortunately, once again I have seen with my own eyes this continent's problems. Africa bears the scars of its long history of humiliations. This continent has too frequently been considered only for selfish interests. Today Africa is asking to be loved and respected for what it is. It does not ask for compassion; it asks for solidarity" (Pope John Paul II, <Angelus Message,> 24 September 1995).

There is hope for the people of Africa. Mr. President, may this discussion help to fuel that hope.

Taken from:
L'Osservatore Romano
Weekly Edition in English
29 January 1997

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