John Campbell

Africa in Transition

Campbell tracks political and security developments across sub-Saharan Africa.

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Africa, The Summit and Development

by Guest Blogger for John Campbell
September 3, 2014

U.S. President Barack Obama (bottom row, C) waits to depart with other leaders after a family photo for the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit at the U.S. State Department in Washington, August 6, 2014. (Larry Downing/Courtesy Reuters)


This is a guest post by Owen Cylke. Mr. Cylke is a development professional and a retired senior foreign service officer with U.S. Agency for International Development.

References to development (even to the word “development”) do not appear in most of the reports on the recently concluded U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit. In this regard, I want to distinguish between “assistance” and “development,” between discrete projects on the one hand, and, on the other, the larger, more complex process of transforming economies, polities, administrations, and societies. Yet, the advancement of development is a stated goal of the president of the United States, the U.S. Agency for International Development, the Millennium Challenge Corporation, the World Bank, the International Finance Corporation, and the International Monetary Fund. Development also has the focused attention of African leadership as reflected in the policies and actions of the African Union, its development arm the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD), the Africa Development Bank (AfDB) and the constitutions, policies, and actions of virtually every country on the continent.

What might account for this counter-intuitive neglect to the idea of development? The argument that Africa is in a post-assistance position based on rapid growth in a dozen country’s might explain in part the step away from development as an organizing principle of the summit; yet, there is the recently proposed bailout for Ghana, up to now the poster country for the post-assistance argument. It could also be partly attributable to the ongoing assault on the role of government in both U.S. domestic and international policies and politics. This is in contrast with the resurrection of state action in support of development seen across the continent. Another possibility could be the focus on the growth of private sector investment (which can, or cannot, be supportive of broad-based, equitable, inclusive, and sustainable development). Or, it could be the increased concern about security issues in central and west Africa, giving rise to the increasing presence and prominence of the defense agencies in discussions about Africa (again without reference to the strong linkages between development and insecurity). Nevertheless, all in all, it is curious that development writ large–as an idea and ambition-was curiously missing (or short-changed) in discussion at the U.S. Africa Leaders Summit.

Of course, it will be argued that a whole range of government development initiatives was on the agenda, even if development as an organizing idea and ambition was not. But Africa’s challenge is not about assistance and projects. It is rather about development that needs to happen, broadly, equitably, and sustainably. Development needs to happen in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Liberia, Zimbabwe, Burundi, Eritrea, the Central African Republic, Niger, Sierra Leone, Malawi, and Togo, and it needs to continue to happen in Nigeria and South Africa.

Had development as such been on the agenda, what might a report from the Summit have looked like? That is anyone’s guess, but my own line of inquiry might have included the following:

• how to re-energize the development discourse, with particular emphasis on the transformation of productive capabilities and structure;

• what approaches would encourage greater attention to industrial/urban and technology/innovation policies and strategies;

• how to encourage greater respect for the approach and thinking of development institutions and strategies across Africa as they coalesce around new practices and theories of development;

• what are the implications of globalization and liberalization;

• how best to promote local and national development through the institutional and productive transformation of regions.

Post a Comment 3 Comments

  • Posted by Matthew Kustenbauder

    Thank goodness the US-Africa Summit was not centered around development! The most prominent theme, instead, was economic partnerships – specifically, focusing on renewing AGOA and pushing new American business investment and trade deals. This is a giant step forward in US relations with African countries. It recognizes that development programs, in the absence of increased trade and investment linkages, are little more than unsustainable handouts, benefitting neither American taxpayers nor ordinary Africans.

    The other two major themes were related to the first: security and governance. No surprises here. American businesses are reluctant to invest in a continent where insecurity (whether threats from Islamic militants, petty criminals, or political losers) and government corruption and ineptitude are commonplace.

    If good governance and transparency are in place — if Africans governments are capable, accountable, and responsive — American businesses will begin to see Africa as a wise investment and a safe place to set up business. This, in turn, means more opportunities for African citizens to obtain decent-paying jobs, training, and skills. This also means higher rates of employment and less chance that Africa’s youth will turn to vigilantism or extremism.

    So, Mr. Cylke, by focusing on the primary driver of development (trade and investment) and the two most basic necessary conditions for development to take place (security and good governance), it could be argued the Obama administration has done more to advance development in Africa in a single summit than USAID has accomplished on the continent in the past twenty years.

  • Posted by Owen Cylke

    With regard to Mr. Kustenbauder’s comment: My note was not intended as a critique of any specific initiative put forward by the United States – rather simply to observe that there was no apparent discussion of the development context within which those initiatives sit –missing the opportunity to engage with some 40 African heads of state about the development objectives their constituencies seek and the context and strategies they see as most promising for achieving those objectives.

    The absence of such a discourse is not surprising – nor Mr. Kustenbauder’s misunderstanding of my intent – for what passes as development discourse in Washington today is the practice of development agencies. This regard note that the Global Development Network’s Next Horizon Contest 2014, co-sponsored by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, is directed to the “Future of Development Assistance” – focusing the attention of a global solicitation on the mechanics of assistance rather than the objectives and avenues for change.

    Fortunately, the Africa Union, NEPAD, the AfDB, the regional economic commissions and governments in Africa are engaged in a discourse that relates development objectives to context and strategy. The absence of such a discourse at the Summit, then, was Washington’s loss – not Africa’s.

  • Posted by Reimund Kube

    So now its investment and trade that replaces isolated projects and programs as means of development ? Or is the basic problem that whatever we do, its always our own thinking and not that of our partners in the South? Take the obsession with M&E, do our friends from Zambia really understand that ? Positive Development includes the fight against poverty and inequality, and has to be sustainable. Do the United States and Europe give the right examples here ? Or foster it by leaving the private sector invest and trade ? The landgrabbing everywhere shows otherwise.- In Africa, that, like China, will not follow the Northamerican/European development process, anything that leads to a net-loss of jobs, is an obstacle to development (so much about small scale versus large scale farming). I see the future of development cooperation as split between the traditional form to the poorest countries, hopefully concentrating on poverty reduction and not on wealth creation, and a cooperation among equals between “developed’ and “emergent” economies about the development of the planet, about global goods like environment and climate, security, and diseases. Trade and investment have important roles to play, but more than that it is about the context and the political will.

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