UNITED NATIONS, June 11 (UPI) -- A high-level panel set up to evaluate a 1990s U.N.-sponsored African development plan reported Tuesday that while there was a lack of progress there was still was significant improvement in governance and democratization.
The panel blamed drops in foreign aid, unfavorable export markets, poor governance and, particularly, African conflicts, for the failure of economic development.
Kwesi Botchwey, a former finance minister in Ghana, and now director of Africa Research at the Center for International Development at Harvard University, led the 12-member panel of experts. The panel was charged by U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan last year to evaluate the decade of the U.N. New Agenda for the Development of Africa adopted by the General Assembly in 1991.
Botchwey cautioned that poverty -- 80 million more Africans live in poverty than a decade ago -- was not just rural.
"The ecological and physical dimension of development remains very poor," he told reporters at a briefing preceding formal approval of the report. "There are many cities that are virtually sitting bombs, indicating that the ecological and physical dimension of development will have to embrace action on the rural as well as the urban front."
The chairman of the Panel of Eminent Personalities said: "The balance sheet of the performance of African economies in the decade of coverage of UN-NADAF has not been a particularly rosy one. On a net basis it has been negative, although there have been areas in which tremendous respectable progress has been made, not least in the area of democratization and improved governance and also in the area of macroeconomic stability.
"The adjustment programs most of the countries followed in the decade did have the effect of improving macroeconomic stability in the short term, but this was not always accompanied by growth," he said. "In fact in some cases the short term economic growth was achieved at the expense of the longer term growth and a shorter transformation of African economies."
The plan presumed "a normative gross domestic product growth for Africa of about 6 percent," Botchwey said.
"The results of the decade long experience were not anything near what everybody wanted to see," he said. "The average growth rate of the region was about 3 percent for the decade less than was anticipated. Overseas development assistance flows far from growing, actually declined over the decade by as much as about 43 percent.
While he said investment laws "for the most part were indeed liberalized," investment flows to the region "were insignificant and concentrated mainly in oil and mining based countries," Botchwey said.
He cited both external and internal causes.
"The international trade environment remained hostile," the professor said. "The decade was characterized by tremendous ... trade losses. The resources flow that were supposed to help in the growth of the region did not materialize" in addition to the decline in foreign investment and "donor commitments were not met."
Internal problems included, "failings of governance (and) significant incidence of waywardness in economic and political governance," he said, adding that the effects of the HIV/AIDS pandemic were only now being realized.
Still, Botchwey said, "a tremendous amount of progress was made in a like number of countries towards democratization and free elections became more and more the norm rather than the exception."
Debt reduction efforts also were limited, the report said. Of the 33 African countries eligible for the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries initiative, launched by the World Bank and International Monetary Fund in 1996, only 10 had their actual debt servicing suspended by December 2001, and of those, only four had major portions of their debts effectively cancelled by April 2002.
Liberalization, privatization and market-based reforms, the panel said, contributed to reducing inflation.
"But overall, the adjustment program had serious adverse effects on social conditions and failed to restore growth," the report said.
Rather than negotiate another international compact when the General Assembly convenes in September to evaluate Africa's progress and map out future support for the continent, the report said, the United Nations should support "the region's own development initiative," the New Partnership for Africa's Development, popularly known as NEPAD.
The continent's economic crisis was aggravated by "despotism and corruption," as well as by the proliferation of wars and civil strife, the panel found, acknowledging that many countries made significant strides in democratizing their political systems and civil society flourished in much of the continent, reflected in the growth of non-governmental organizations.
"The transformation of the Organization of African Unity into the new African Union, along with numerous other regional initiatives, reflect a growing commitment by African countries to better coordinate and integrate their economies, transport systems and political relations,' it said.
As the experiences of the 1990s have demonstrated, achieving peace and security must be "the primary responsibility and highest priority of African countries, individually and collectively," it said.
Another lesson was the need to avoid an "overriding reliance on liberalization, privatization and marked-based reforms."
The panel believes that such reliance had distinct limits and in many cases "proved counter-productive in accelerating development and alleviating poverty." Instead, every African country "must evolve its own development strategy."
Donors and international financial institutions should in turn "do more than pay lip service to African ownership.... Democracy is undermined if elected African governments have policies imposed from outside, leaving their democratic institutions without any real choices," the report said.