African development from the top 

I am often impressed by the articles of Dominic Johnson, the Africa correspondent of the German taz-newspaper and also a frequent contributor to the Austrian Südwind-magazine. For a special Südwind-issue on the Millenium Goals [DE], Johnson has contributed an analysis on 'Africa as a Millenium-Project' [DE].

Johnson summarizes the state of the discussion about the 450-pages report 'Our Common Interest' that was produced by a commission established by Tony Blair in an attempt to trigger a collective policy initiative of the G-8 for African development. The report calls for a massive increase in aid, contingent on good governance by the African governments, and it is so voluminous and detailed that it addresses virtually all possible objections to it in one way or another, writes Johnson.

The real issues lie elsewhere. Will there be sufficient support for Blair's initiative at the G-8? Johnson is sceptical and cites reservations of the US, France, and Germany, for different reasons. Secondly, does Africa really face an external problem, or has it been held back by undemocratic regimes, by mismanagement and corruption of its own local elites for decades? Some of the offending governments like to cite the example of China, which achieves fast economic development without open politics. This, says Johnson, is a dangerous argument, and the donors will have to oppose it forcefully.

Yet, Johnson's real concern is a different one. Like all its predecessors, the new development formula was designed in a top-down manner. There is simply no way it can encompass the reality on the ground, with all its local complexities that often spoil the effective implementation of even the best thought-out paper-policies in Africa. Without listening to the myriad local issues in a bottom-up process, no integrated vision of African development will ever succeed, concludes Johnson pessimistically.

He may be right, but it's still rather likely that an implementation of the Blair initiative will do more good than harm I'd say.

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