Rich countries need to change the way they deal with Africa, shifting from aid to trade if they are not to lose ground to the emerging economic players of Asia and South America, a top think-tank says.
In a report analysing Africa’s small but evolving clout, the Royal Institute of International Affairs at London’s Chatham House challenged the Western perception of Africa as a hopeless case, painting it rather as home to a billion people and up to 40 percent of the world’s natural resources.
Its strategic position between Asia and the Americas increases its long-term appeal and potential, the report said.
“The overwhelmingly humanitarian interest of many Western countries and traditional partners has led to stereotyped perceptions of Africa in terms only of problems,” it said.
“These views are increasingly patronizing, recursive, out of touch, and a deterrent to serious business interest. Meanwhile the emerging economic powers of the G20 see Africa in terms of opportunities, as a place in which to invest, gain market share and win access to resources.”
Highlighting the shift, China overtook the United States last year as Africa’s biggest trading partner, and when Barack Obama — whose father was Kenyan — made his first visit as US president, he spent less than a day in just one country.
By contrast his Chinese counterpart, Hu Jintao, made a four-country trip in February to remind Africa what a firm friend it had in Beijing as the first waves of the global economic storm washed up on the continent’s shores.
A week ago, Irish rockers Bono and Bob Geldof and their anti-poverty ONE Campaign chastised the Group of Eight (G8) rich nations for failing to deliver on a 2005 promise to double aid spending by this year.
ONE Campaign singled out Italy as “an utter failure” for actually cutting aid from 2004 levels, rather than raising it, and praised efforts by the United States and Britain.
But the Chatham House report asked whether campaigns to open up Western wallets were to Africa’s advantage.
“The over-promising of what aid can deliver and the emphasis placed on aid to the exclusion and deterrence of considerations of business and private-sector links have diminished the relevance of the G8 for Africa,” it said.
“The emerging economies of the G20 have brought entrepreneurialism, energy and recognition of mutual benefits that are increasingly attractive.”
In a note of caution, the report said Africa’s political leaders might not be able to ensure the continent accrued the full benefits of the increased competition for its natural resources from the likes of China, India, Brazil and Russia.
“Without strong, effective leadership the competition for Africa’s resources may degenerate into the kind of colonial exploitative scramble from which much of the continent has only recently begun to recover,” it said.