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Friday, May 23, 2008
People being hung out to dry in aid race for resources: NGO
By JUN HONGO
Africa's abundance of natural resources and the robust economic growth some of its nations are experiencing in no way indicate the continent is on the road to stability and democratization, a representative for a Tokyo-based nongovernmental group said.
Noting that in some cases excess money is causing more problems, Sayaka Funada Classen, vice president of TICAD Civil Society Forum, urged next week's Tokyo International Conference on African Development to prioritize the spread of equality of rights and privileges throughout Africa.
"There were major riots in Kenya after the country's presidential election in December," Funada said in an interview last week.
Even though Kenya marked 6.1 percent growth in GDP in 2006 and, unlike neighboring countries, had maintained stability for decades, Funada said the rioting was rooted in the country's widening gap between rich and the poor, a phenomenon seen especially in resource-rich African states.
"Many Kenyans are struggling to fight starvation, while the privileged ride in their luxurious cars. It is the people of Africa who must become the beneficiaries of the continent's natural resources, instead of its governments," she said.
The NGO, which has more than 140 members, including Africa studies experts, university professors and staff from the Japan International Cooperation Agency, has devoted its activities to promoting development policies that treat the African people on an equal footing with their governments and donor nations.
Funada, 37, also an associate professor at the Tokyo University of Foreign Studies, praised the concept of the inaugural TICAD meeting in 1993 for constructing a relationship between Japan and Africa and raising public concern that aid for the continent become a priority on the international agenda.
But subsequent meetings have shown lack of advancement, she said.
The upcoming TICAD, however, is different especially since circumstances have changed significantly in Africa due to global interest in acquiring the continent's metals, oil and other natural wealth.
The trend has been hugely influenced by China's expanding need for natural resources and its heavy reliance on Africa for raw materials. Beijing has hosted its share of aid-related forums for African countries that pushed India and European countries to get on the bandwagon.
"China's aggressiveness had a strong impact on other countries over their policies on African aid," Funada said.
She welcomed that Africa now has the initiative in negotiations as the international community beats a path to its door — but some of China's opaque assistance is being taken advantage of by nondemocratic governments that abuse human rights, while a large proportion of the public is not benefiting from the aid their governments receive in exchange for natural resources.
"Investment that isn't intended to benefit the most deprived people in society usually doesn't help reduce poverty much," Funada said.
One key benchmark that supports TCSF's argument is the improbability of achieving the U.N.'s Millennium Development Goals established in 2000, including reducing by half the number of people living on less than $1 a day by 2015.
Even though the half-way point to meeting the goals has passed — and despite the rush of aid by China and other nations — the number of people living on less than $1 a day in sub-Sahara Africa has only fallen from 46 percent to 41 percent, according to a 2007 report by the World Bank.
Funada stressed that this number illustrates the pressing need for international aid groups to shift their focus from Africa's economic growth to securing viable frameworks for democratic policymaking and equal wealth distribution.
Earlier this week, Japan announced it will double its official development assistance to Africa to around ¥200 billion by 2012. Along with the new pledge, Japan will also propose added lending schemes for Africa during the TICAD meeting. But Funada's group wants the government to lead discussions in favor of the African people and not for the purpose of securing its bilateral connections with resource-rich governments.
Support from the African delegates is imperative for Japan to become a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council, Funada acknowledged, but that should not become a reason for the government to keep silent on human rights abuses in Africa.
"Development of Africa cannot be achieved without democratization of each country," she argued, adding that among the representatives at TICAD will be some from countries internationally criticized for human rights abuses.
"It is vital that Japan clearly state the need for democracy in every African country" and take leadership in keeping the U.N. MDGs high on the agenda, Funada said. "That is the responsibility it shoulders as the host of TICAD and the Group of Eight summit at the turning point of a new era."