Africa will gain world's ear, but probably not more aid

Will the international community be as generous to Africa over the next five years as it has been over the last two? Probably not, say officials in the United States government and private international relief agencies.

The international community has made it clear to Africa's leaders that for aid even to remain at the current level -- of about $7 billion a year -- they must make changes in domestic policy.

US and relief officials say that the Africans have talked about eliminating policies that stifle their economies, but that, with only a few exceptions, they have not begun these changes.

As the United Nations prepares for its special session on Africa's economic crisis, which begins Monday, the purpose is clear -- but the expected outcome is not.

``We expect the Africans to implement the adjustment policies approved by their presidents in the July 1985 meeting in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia,'' says Joseph Reed, US ambassador to the UN Economic and Social Council. Many of these adjustments were those the international community has been looking for.

Suggested reforms include switching to a more market-oriented economy, privatizing state-owned enterprises, promoting population control, and decontrolling crop prices to give farmers incentives.

But for many African leaders these fundamental reforms run counter to the ideological bases of their nations.

US and relief officials interviewed doubt the Africans can make such changes without creating social instability. And, even if the changes come, they will take decades -- during which there will be more hunger, more refugees, and more social unrest, these officials say.

Still, international support is crucial, says Philip Johnston, Executive Director of CARE, Inc. ``The world needs to realize,'' he says, ``Africa's survival is critical to all nations -- a large percentage of the future markets for the developed world lie in Africa.'' It would be tragic, he adds, if African leaders did begin fundamental reforms, only to find later that international support had ebbed.

``It is too early to say what will be the outcome,'' says Djibril Diallo, Africa's UN spokesman for the session. ``We are trying to launch a new partnership between Africa and the international community.''

At the heart of this unprecedented UN session beginning May 27, lies the future of an entire continent. That future depends on what Africa's leaders can do to galvanize the international community into helping them meet remaining famine and long-term development needs.

``At a time when many donor nations are tightening their belts, and saying, `We are doing all we can,' '' says one African affairs expert, ``Africa's leaders are justifiably concerned.''

In the US Congress, foreign aid is becoming a hard-sell item. This, he adds, ``is particularily true for nations that the US sees as unwilling to play ball -- vote the same way the US does at the UN.'' African UN representatives often find themselves voting on the opposite side of issues from the US, Africa's single largest donor nation.

In preparation for the UN session, the Organization for African Unity (OAU) and the Economic Commission for Africa have prepared a steering report called Africa's Priority Program for Economic Recovery (APPER). As African leaders see it, the current need is to shift international attention and the accompanying funds to innovative long-term development measures. This, however, must not result in neglecting short-term emergency famine needs that still remain in a few countries.

It is hoped, says Ambassador Reed, US spokesman for the special session, that the special session will help Africa ``define its economic objectives and indicate the actions required to achieve them.''

In the APPER report, African leaders have laid out what they view as the most important issues to be considered at the session. Above all are: agricultural development, improving infrastructures; restructuring trade and finance; combating drought and desertification; diversifying economies; and improving human resource development. They have also outlined projects they say they are ready to begin to accomplish these goals.

Although the question of how to finance APPER and Africa's external debt is a major issue, Africa's leaders, according to OAU and ECA sources, are expecting the session to discuss funding only in the broader context of the overall economic renewal.

Thus, the UN meeting is not meant to be a pledging session. However, the fact that the Africans are bringing their economic recovery program to the UN may indicate that they see it as an opportunity to gauge the level of international financial support. Another indication that this may be true is African leaders' request that the international community adopt APPER -- which includes specific funding requests -- as the steering document for a strategy for long-term development in Africa.

The implementation of the new APPER programs set forth in the report would cost an estimated $116 billion, of which Africa would supply $80.1 billion. The international community is being asked to supply the balance, $35.9 billion over the next five years. According to the World Bank's Africa bureau, aid to Africa has averaged about $7 billion a year since 1980.

Ambassador Reed says it must be considered, however, that the APPER figures ``were developed in Africa and the details that make [them] up are uncertain.''

Added to the APPER costs are Africa's debt and debt servicing burdens -- estimated at between $14.6 billion to $24.5 billion. Western experts on Africa doubt that the African nations and the international community will be able to fund such a figure.

Mr. Diallo says ``the African leaders have made an unconditional pledge [to] come up with their end and they have outlined how they will do it.'' But questions remain about whether Africa really can afford it, and whether the rest of world will respond in kind.

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