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Sunday, 14 February 2010 13:51

Africa's NEPAD Homes In On Investment, Growth

By Ed Cropley

JOHANNESBURG, February 12 (Reuters) - African leaders must cast aside a tendency to "manage poverty" and instead pursue basic economic growth if they want to improve the lives of their people, a leading regional development expert said.

 

"It has to be radically different," said Ibrahim Mayaki, a former prime minister of Niger and now head of the New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD), an African Union policy wing trying to foster cross-border economic links.

 

"If we stick to the paradigm of 'How can we manage poverty and reduce it?', we won't be able to develop Africa," he told Reuters in an interview.

 

In particular, policymakers must redouble efforts to industrialise economies that rely too heavily on exporting mineral and agricultural commodities -- a legacy of the colonial rule that prevailed across the continent until the 1960s.

 

Africa's population is set to double to 2 billion by 2050, providing a sufficiently large market to support a domestic manufacturing sector if governments can shelve short-term national self-interest and unite their economies, he said.

 

"It is a big challenge because we have to improve significantly our agricultural production and we need to diversify our economies and not just rely on exporting raw materials," Mayaki said.

 

"We can't do that without regional integration. We have to think of our policies not nationally, but regionally, whether it is agriculture, energy or transport. That's the only way by which we can set the basis of sustained growth."

 

NEPAD was launched amid great fanfare by African leaders in 2001, with ambitions of channelling more than $60 billion a year into the poorest continent, and improving the quality of government through a voluntary peer review process.

 

At its birth, the South Africa-based agency elicited comparisons to the U.S.-funded Marshall Plan that resurrected Western Europe after World War Two but, as with many African development drives, failed to live up to the early promise.

 

Miyaki, a Paris-educated policy expert who took over the reins last year, said NEPAD had whittled down its mandate to focus on attracting the investment needed to drag Africa's woeful infrastructure into the 21st century.

 

The World Bank estimates the continent needs more than $90 billion a year to improve its roads, railways and power grids.

 

The figure is double what is being spent at the moment, but Mayaki said it was not beyond reach if governments set up sound legal frameworks and learnt to draw up proper project proposals.

 

"It's feasible, but there are conditions which need to be fixed, mainly linked to policy issues," he said. "Whether it is railways or power plants you really need sound feasibility studies. This is one of the weak points we have diagnosed."
 
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