CAMBRIDGE, MASS. — Africa desperately needs help, and next week it will seek about $64 billion in unprecedented assistance from the developed world.
At a G-8 meeting on June 26-27 in Kananaskis, Alberta, Africa will specifically seek to partner with wealthier northern countries for its development. But Africa's aspirations, as worthy as they are, rely on questionable assumptions.
No one doubts Africa's fundamental needs: more and better roads and ports, better jobs in manufacturing and service industries, greater ability to trade with the developed world, AIDS prevention and cures, enhanced medical and schooling facilities, agricultural inputs to help subsistence farmers grow more food, clean water, more electric power at affordable prices. The list could go on.
But the obstacles to the realization of at least some of these betterments lie within Africa itself.
Many ordinary Africans suffer from the excesses and avarice of their elected and nonelected leaders. Good governance is not an everyday commodity in many sections of sub-Saharan Africa. Some regimes prey on their own citizens, depriving them of human rights, health and educational services, and stable economies. More than one ruling class is corrupt, and only a handful of African presidents and prime ministers resist the temptation to lord it over their people.
That is why former US Secretary of Commerce William Daley told a large and influential African meeting this month that African countries had "to show credibility. They have to get their houses in order. They can't go to the G-8 simply to get money or blame someone else for their problems."
President Thabo Mbeki of South Africa, who created the New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD) to address the concerns of outsiders like Mr. Daley, understands that enormous sums of Western aid have been squandered in Africa. He and fellow presidents Olusegun Obasanjo of Nigeria and Joaquim Chissano of Mozambique are determined this time that Africa forge a partnership with the more developed countries of the north. Africa is not looking for handouts.
Most of all, said President Chissano, the attitudes of Africa's leaders must change. President Obasanjo pointed out, if NEPAD fails "we have no one to blame but ourselves."
At the heart of NEPAD is an African peer-review mechanism that is intended to enhance Africa's control of its developmental agenda through a self-assessment system. This system is designed to ensure that African economic and political policies are consonant with the best practices of the developed world.
African leaders are expected to demonstrate that they are "fully aware of the responsibilities and obligations to their peoples, and are genuinely prepared to engage and relate to the rest of the world on the basis of integrity and world respect."
This is a tall order. Neither Presidents Mbeki nor Obasanjo have employed peer pressure to halt the growing trend toward dictatorship in today's Africa. Neither leader has publicly condemned electoral theft in Zimbabwe or attempts to breach the constitutions of Malawi, Namibia, or Zambia. Neither they nor many of their contemporaries have criticized denials of media freedom in neighboring countries, corruption, misappropriation or squandering of foreign assistance funds, or said much about the leadership causes of the famine now engulfing 13 million people in southern Africa.
European nations clearly want to help Africa, and will speak positively about NEPAD at the summit in Kananaskis. Britain's Prime Minister Tony Blair has been a key supporter of Africa. He wants to send an important signal that the developed world will do its best to alleviate poverty in Africa.
Yet, to provide $64 billion for Africa will depend on massive trust by the G-8 that Africa is capable, as Presidents Mbeki and Obasanjo have promised, of taking charge and reforming itself. Many African leaders have thus far only paid lip service to the good words of NEPAD. They have applauded NEPAD's ambitions, but made no changes at home. Furthermore, It is not clear that many African leaders are capable of making the abrupt governing improvements that NEPAD demands and peer review mandates.
The G-8 will have to ask itself whether the cart or the horse comes first, as great and dramatic as the needs of Africa truly are.
Robert I. Rotberg directs Harvard's Program on Intrastate Conflict and is president of the World Peace Foundation.