African leaders voice frustration at trade inequalities and ‘aid curse’ during UN debate

20 September 2006

The inequities of global trade and the damage as well as benefits that foreign aid can bring were the focus of five speeches from African leaders during the annual debate at the United Nations General Assembly today.

Fradique Bandeira Melo de Menezes, President of São Tome and Principe, told world leaders who gathered for the debate that “it is time we faced some of the unspoken truths about poverty” and why so many countries remain in what has been dubbed ‘the poverty trap.’

Mr. de Menezes said that although historic problems and a lack of resources can be critical, the biggest factor is bad government.

“When States do not protect property and people; when national revenues benefit self-interested political insiders who oppose any actions that would lead to more equal distribution of income and resources; when government officials waste funds; when people are hired on the basis of being from the right family or region or political grouping; when nobody monitors government spending; when corruption is noted but never punished; and illegal activities are not restrained by law, the press or democratic opposition, then miserable results follow.”

He said recent studies have also shown that poor nations can suffer from an “aid curse” if the aid projects are poorly managed and lack transparency and accountability.

But Mr. de Menezes stressed that there have been “some beautiful successes” in aid programmes, such as in the fight against diseases such as small pox and river blindness.

“Aid gives hope to millions of people around the world. We simply need to mend it, not end it.”

Benin’s President Boni Yayi expressed strong disappointment over the failure of the Doha Round of trade negotiations, especially on the question of agricultural subsidies, which he said were “killing producers in developing countries.”

Mr. Yayi said it was important for poor nations to find alternative sources of financing, and not rely only on official development assistance (ODA) from the industrialized world. He added that the remittances of workers living in other countries should not be counted as part of ODA programmes.

Namibian President Hifikepunye Pohamba welcomed the commitments made last year at the G8 summit in Scotland to consider boosting development aid to Africa, cancelling the debts of the poorest countries and to promoting universal access to anti-retroviral drugs for HIV/AIDS patients by 2010.

Mr. Pohamba called for greater cooperation between the UN, the African Union (AU) and other regional and sub-regional bodies to encourage economic and social development. He also backed an enhanced role for the UN’s Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) in this process.

But he voiced concern at “the slow pace” at which the world is tackling the issue of development and the way many countries are not adhering to their commitments under the Millennium Declaration of 2000.

The same theme was explored by Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe, who said that despite numerous international agreements on what needs to be done to help the world’s poor, there remains a “wide gap between rhetoric and concrete action on the ground.”

Mr. Mugabe expressed particular frustration at the use of economic sanctions by some countries, which he said retarded development efforts and represented an unwarranted interference in domestic affairs.

He also criticized “the tendency to use assistance in the fight against HIV/AIDS as reward for political compliance and malleability… In my country, for example, on average, a Zimbabwean AIDS patient is receiving about $4 per annum in international assistance, compared with about $172 per annum for other countries in the region.”

Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, President of Equatorial Guinea, said the wealthier countries were using unfair means to maintain their continued “economic dominance and political influence.”

Mr. Obiang said it was time to overhaul the UN “to put a stop to this crooked path of our international relations.”

He added that while the actions of terrorists are deplorable, the world should not be surprised because the activity “remains as the recourse of those oppressed, a reaction of those who oppose the present injustices denounced through the last quarter of a century.”