Challenges in African governance, leadership & democracy

The upcoming elections throughout Africa in 2024 present a critical juncture for democratic processes across the continent. 17 African countries will hold elections, with over 180 million people eligible to vote. Electoral integrity monitoring, a free press, civil society organisations and an independent electoral commission are essential in holding political actors accountable.

In many countries, almost half the populations are too young to vote. While Africa has the youngest population in the world, the continent’s level of education and training lies far below the global average.

Governance and leadership lie at the heart of any tangible and shared improvement in the quality of life of African citizens.

Established in 2006, the Mo Ibrahim Foundation focuses on on defining, assessing and enhancing them through a series of concrete initiatives, such as the establishment of an Index of African Governance and the Ibrahim Prize for Achievement in African Leadership.

Join #KAPTalks with Dr. Mo Ibrahim, founder of the Foundation, to explore recent political developments in Africa and the role of the Foundation’s groundbreaking activities in shaping the effects. The talk will also focus on the causes and effects of recent developments in West Africa, characterized by a series of military coups and increasing internal conflicts in a number of states.

Hosted by School of Business, Economics and Law, University of Gothenburg.

The Kapuscinski Development Lectures is an initiative funded by the European Commission.

When: 19th March 2024 at 14:00 CET / 13:00 GMT

Where:  Handelshögskolan, School of Business, Economics and Law, University of Gothenburg Vasagatan 1, Gothenburg

You can join the lecture by:

  • coming to the event or joining online on Zoom – register here
  • following livestreaming from the event at
  • asking your questions to Mo Ibrahim via X using #KAPTalks hashtag

Fasten green belts on journey to sustainability


This was the first Kapuscinski Lecture ever held in Latin America, hosted by the Instituto de Ecología (INECOL) in Xalapa, Mexico. This was a relevant event on three different levels. First, it established the international connections over environment and development concerns with global organisms such as the European Commission and the UNDP. Inequities still exist between rich and poor areas, and it remains urgent to put these inequities at the center of  green belts rights. Envisioning a more resilient future requires action today aimed at establishing harmony between human development and nature. This is especially significant within the framework of climate change where investing in nature really matters. This Kapuscinski Lecture promoted civil society integration with academia and government with focus on effective partnerships for empathetic development characterized by harmony and connections between human activities and nature. This human-nature empathy highlights the importance of  “Life on Land” (SDG 15) as a central element of the whole 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda. Ecosystem integrity is, in fact, the basis of this vision aimed at preserving the life support system in the biosphere. Wanjira Mathai showed in her lecture that Greenbelts coherently connect ecosystem integrity with social integration. She argued that organizations must address food systems, climate change, gender equality amongst other issues while reinforcing their commitments to prest the “earth’s lungs” through Green Belts.

Second, the national impact of the conference was significant as it raised a subject that touches environmental sensitivities in Mexico. People here are already aware of the urgency to conserve environmental resources. There is nothing wrong with the land, as Wanjira stated, but people must start restoring landscapes and creating belts of green trees, or monitoring water amongst other initiatives. Agency to start or continue any type of movement to invest in nature-base development solutions in Mexico is the key to sustainability.

Third, the seed of Wanjira´s talk impacted an active and growing socioenvironmental community in Xalapa. Wanjira mentioned how she was fascinated to know about and meet the environmental network in Central Veracruz. We are building our future. Civil society has shown valuable examples of effective partnerships which connect communities to their natural surroundings, particularly in Africa, where the Green Belt Movement has emerged. Without such connections, sustainability, such as that proposed by the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) remains abstract. The exchange between Wanjira and local environmental activists grounded the Kapuscinski initiative in community-oriented and evidence-based discussions.

  • As for the lecture itself, Wanjira focused on four main responses in her answer to the question, What does it mean to “tightening our green belts” for a sustainable future? Improve food security.- Ask ourselves: “How do we produce food?” This is an important part of how we tighten our belts. Increasing productivity is a really important part of it. 80% of the food is produced by small scale farmers, and from this 70% are women. We must ensure sustainable livelihoods for small farmers.
  • We have to protect our nature, the green around us, but particularly the three lungs of the planet: the Amazon, the Congo Forest, and Bongo Forest in Southeast Asia. We have to restore. Restoration movements represent “once in a lifetime opportunities” for us to restore landscapes. Africa has initiatives to restore landscapes to their previous productivity. We have to put as much vegetation as we can into the land to fight carbon emissions. There are so many incredible movements that are restoring the world and their green belts through restoration.
  • Ensure Gender equality. The Green-belt movement began through activities organized by women. Women planted trees on their property to protect urban sustainability. Women nurtured the movement and expanded it. Gender equality is a key characteristic of sustainability which must be addressed.
  • We must recycled materials. We have to revisit, reintroduce and reimagine wonderful elements of knowledge, especially from indigenous traditional knowledge. 40% of carbon emission comes from how we use products. Only 20% of all that we produce goes to recycling, the 80% is waste and this planet cannot sustain that much waste.

Together, we can and will unify to secure a more sustainable future.

Moroccan-EU connection. Migration

Morocco has always experienced all types of migration: immigration and emigration, voluntary and forced migration as well as legal and illegal migration. Nowadays, more than 10 percent of Moroccans live abroad. As the vast majority of them reside in European countries and as the Morocco-Spain migration route is slowly becoming one of the main routes used for illegal migration to Europe, the need for cooperation between Morocco and its European counterparts is more urgent than ever before.

All the while, Morocco serves as a transit and immigration country for migrants coming from various parts of the world, mostly from Sub-Saharan Africa and Syria. In 2013 the Moroccan government adopted a new migration policy, which focused on legalizing the status of illegal migrants living in the country and reviewed migration law in order to make it more human and protective for migrants.

All these topics are explored in this guest lecture of prof. Khadija Elmadmad.

Education: fundamental to a country’s future

„The next century is already being built daily in today’s classrooms. However, it becomes more and more obvious that family, government, the media and civil society must be included in the transmission of cultural heritage and key values. To address current and future challenges to peace, prosperity, public health, environment, etc., especially in developing countries, educational systems can no longer be enclosed in traditional schooling patterns. The learning environment has to go beyond the classroom and must mobilize key actors from other sectors. We have to gradually take down the classroom walls. This will require the reengineering of curricula, of learning, financing, etc.” – said Nesmy Manigat, former education minister of Haiti ahead of his lecture.

Human relations at heart of development

There remains a unshakeable assumption in the international policy community that development in one country can be switched on and off from central controls elsewhere in the global system. You see this logic with everything from Education for All to the MDGs. Whether it is cross-national tests of achievement or even the global rankings of universities, the kind of forces that drive change in schools and universities are largely enabled or inhibited by humans who inhabit these institutions.

The kinds of issues, moreover, that wreak havoc on societies and their systems of education are largely ignored in international policy scripts that privilege academic achievement in science, mathematics and literacy. This technicist and instrumentalist view of education has exposed developmental agendas to even greater threats, the unravelling of human relations that are so crucial to both people and performance across the world.

Prof. Jansen made these arguments real by presenting his research on race, intimacy and leadership at the University of the Free State in South Africa — and how many students made the transition from tolerance to embrace in segregated communities. According to prof. Jansen „Any analysis that begins and ends with condemnation, rather than pressing for an understanding of the underlying dilemmas of inequality, poverty, segregation and violence cannot begin to resolve the human challenges in specific territories without which development remains an elusive project.”

Urban at heart of Sustainable Development Goals

Africa: new challenges and opportunities for assistance

After introductory remarks and welcoming words by Mr. Daniel Hanspach (UNDP), Ms Brigitte Luggin (EC) and Ms. Dana Zadrazilova (UEP), Professor Collier, referring to his book “The Bottom Billion”, continued with his, below-summarized account of problems poor countries in Africa have been facing.

About 50 countries basically stagnated from around the 1970s to the new millennium. As a result they diverged from the rest of the mankind. Forty years ago the world was divided into one billion lucky people in rich country and a five billion people in developing countries. Since then the world has fundamentally changed. Most of that five billion have been developing at a pace that has no historical precedent and they have been converging fast with the lucky billion. We are now in the world with one billion at the bottom, one billion at the top and four billion converging. Even though some of the people from the converging four billion are nearly as poor as the bottom billion, there is a fundamental difference and that difference is one word: Hope. Poor people from the bottom billion do not have a credible hope that their children will grow up in a different environment.

The challenge of development is thus to get the bottom billion to catch up with everybody else. The challenge is not to reduce poverty of the bottom billion, the goal has to be to replace divergence by convergence. Convergence means moving from stagnation to really rapid growth. Why should we meet that challenge? It is a mixture of compassion and enlightened self-interest. In a globalized world, having a continent so close to Europe, in which hundreds of millions are living without credible hope, is a potential nightmare.

First, we need some sort of diagnosis why the countries of bottom billion missed out on prosperity. But there is no single diagnosis, there is no big single explanation. Professor Collier sees several major difficulties, so-called traps. One is natural resources. It is a paradox that these countries have very valuable natural resources, but instead of being a platform for prosperity the fight for control over the natural resources has soured the political process and led to stagnation (e.g. oil in Nigeria) or even destruction (e.g. diamonds in Sierra Leone).

Another trap is being landlocked. If you are landlocked, it is your neighbours that matter. If you are landlocked with bad neighbours, that is a nightmare. Look at the neighbourhood of Uganda. Not only the neighbours are not growing enough to provide a market, but Uganda does not even have a reliable access to the sea as Kenyan government has not invested into roads and railways to provide such an access. Uganda is therefore in a lock caused by its neighbours. That denies Uganda a lots of development opportunities. Only one percent of the developing world outside Africa live in countries that are landlocked and do not have valuable resources. In Africa it is about 30 %. It is a historical legacy of dysfunctional political fragmentation. Third trap involves violent conflicts. Civil wars are highly persistent. The main legacy of civil wars is a high risk of another civil war.

There is a very limited scope for international solutions to these problems. Societies in the end have to save themselves. We cannot save Africa, Africa will save Africa. There is a real struggle going on throughout Africa between people fighting for change and people trying to preserve their own self-interests and status quo. We are outsiders, we are marginal players but we have a responsibility to do what we can. One, we should focus down on the real problem. We have limited resources and we should focus on countries that need it most. Secondly, we should broaden the array of policies we use – it is not just about our money. Aid is part of the solution, not part of the problem, but a relatively minor part of the solution. We forget that we have many other policies that affect the development process.

Lot of societies in Africa have to go through similar transformation the Czech Republic did. In addition to money the European Union offered integration into trade when assisting transformation in Eastern Europe. Trade policy, open market is fundamental to shaping the opportunities Africa faces as well. Europe’s scheme for Africa until very recently was the Everything but Arms. This scheme does not compare very well to America’s scheme called the African Growth and Opportunity Act. Nevertheless, now the European policy has been changing.

Trade policy can help Africa to diversify from a narrow range of primary commodities and break into the global markets the way Asia did. It is much harder for Africa to do it than for Asia to do it because Asia is now an established low-wage producer. The growth of Asia was so explosive thanks to producing clusters of manufacturers. Our trade policy can offset the disadvantage of being the pioneer firm in Africa. Once you get producing clusters they can be competitive. Thus Africa needs a privileged access to our markets, privileged vis-à-vis the established low-wage producers. That is what the American scheme has offered even though it works only in one narrow dimension – garments. Trade policy opens or closes off opportunities to get out of the traditional focus on commodities and agriculture.

Countries from Eastern Europe also benefited from rules of political and economic governance set by the European Community. With clear rules the transition process is faster and more secure, and there is less room for policy reversals. Without clear rules of governance the policy improvements in Africa have been slower and more prone to reversal. As a result there has been a much less credible environment. And credibility matters because that brings investments. Aid, plus trade, plus governance, is the minimum package that Europe can use for Africa. The international community, including Europe, should link its assessment of conduct in political election (governance) to its effort in trade policy and aid, i.e. set some minimum conditions of accountability,.

The global crisis has affected Africa through several transition mechanisms, the fastest being the falling commodity prices and falling demand for commodities. As commodity exports were the main source of revenues for African governments, the short-term fall in prices and quantities hit government revenues very hard. That has been supplemented by lower remittances sent back home by Africans working abroad. With contracting labour markets in Europe and America the African immigrants lose their jobs. And now even the aid is falling. This will be to a small extent offset by new entrants of aid (e.g. the Czech Republic or South Korea).

The final hit to Africa has been through investors’ perception of risk. We are witnessing a much heightened aversion to risk. This can be seen mainly on letters of credit (to finance exports) as they dried out specifically for Africa. Africa is perceived as the riskiest region in the world. The legacy effect of the global crisis in Africa will be this risk aversion that might persist for years and might result in reduced investment flows for Africa. Foreign investments to resource extraction will continue but this will lead to increased structural dependence of Africa on resource extraction. Investments for diversification will be very hard to get and fundamental reason for divergence is that Africais not investing enough.

What can the Czech Republic do in all this?According to Professor Collier, the Czech Republic is more important for its voice and perspective than for its money. Experience with transition is the real value of the Czech Republic and through multilateral agencies the Czech Republic can share experience of the process it has been through.

Fruitful discussion that followed included experience and views of Africans from the audience (incl. the Ambassador of South Africa), and such topics as the role of NGOs and the role of China in Africa.

Rethinking development: new role for Europe

The Lecture was preceded by an introductory address by Dr. Michael Frendo MP, former Minister of Foreign Affairs of Malta and current Chairperson of the Maltese Parliament’s Foreign and EU Affairs Select Committee. In this address Dr. Frendo dwelled first on his experience in introducing Malta’s first ever Overseas Development Aid policy as Minister of Foreign Affairs when Malta joined the EU. He explained how prior to EU accession Malta had never had an Overseas Aid policy and in fact was more used to the notion of being an aid recipient rather than a donor.In fact initially there were difficulties in attracting enough support from all the relevant government departments. The phenomenon of illegal migration which began to hit Malta at the time, paradoxically, was a useful instrument to focus attention on the conditions prevailing in the outside world. It also helped all the relevant authorities realise that investing in overseas development was in Malta’s interest. The policy that Dr. Frendo eventually piloted and which became the basis of Malta’s development aid governance was drafted by taking into account Malta’s size and limited resources but also its geographical location and well-established expertise in certain niche araeas such as ICT, education, tourism, water management etc.

Lecture by Simon Maxwell, Senior Research Associate, Overseas Development Institute, London on ‘Rethinking international development: a new role for Europe’. Dr.Maxwell started his lecture by referring to the figure of Ryszard Kapuscinski and his contribution to the telling of ‘the development story’. He then went on to develophis argument in three steps, firstly that we live in a difficult and increasingly complex world, secondly that we need to reframe development cooperation and finally that there is a new role for Europe in the development aid structures. He also added a postscript i.e. that we should not be defeatist because a lot of progress has been achieved over the past decades.

On the ‘new age of uncertainty’, Dr. Maxwell referred to the international community’s struggle to reach the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). The situation was not an easy one with a number of geographical areas struggling to reach the goals and certain goals being behind schedule overall. These difficulties are compounded by the recent fuel, food and financial crises which made achieving the MDGs all the more hard. Furthermore other challenges to the international community are already present including climate change, resource scarcity, demographic pressures and rapid urbanization.

In the context of re-framing development cooperation he pointed out that this had to be understood within a framework which recognized development aid as both a moral imperative and a common interest. He then went on to explain the current thinking in development policy on issues ranging from the role of the state and public expenditure to collective action. The emphasis was laid on the importance of maintaining aid volumes, pushing for aid effectiveness, a holistic approach by governments, focusing on fragile states and investing more in multilateralism. It was precisely in the context of multilateralism that the EU had a comparative advantage and should ensure that it used this to its fullest extent. Finally Dr Maxwell stated that the situation was not as bad as is sometimes claimed and a lot of progress has been achieved in many aspects.

The Lecture was followed by a panel discussion with Mr. Alfred Agius (Desk Officer,Development Unit, Ministry of Foreign Affairsof Malta), Mr. Vince Caruana (Assistant Lecturer at the Centre for Environmental Education and Research at the University of Malta and Chairperson of SKOP) and Dr. Omar Grech (MEDAC). Mr. Caruana stated that he wished to make a few comments in his capacity as a civil society representative given that he was involved in a Non-Governmental Development Organisation in the run up to Malta’s membership of the EU. He spoke about the main concerns of Maltese NGDOs in contributing to Malta’s ODA policy. Mr. Agius described Malta’s approach to ODA and re-affirmed the Government’s commitment to development cooperation. Dr. Grech emphasized the importance of development education as the bedrock to ensure popular support for development aid.

EU partnership with Africa: model lost in translation?

Professor Bach addressed the relationship between the European Union (EU) and Africa. While emerging market countries have recognized the opportunities Africa holds, Bach queried the EU’s appreciation of the strategic importance of Africa. Africa is still too often viewed as a ‘dark continent’, made up of neo-patrimonial, quasi-states which offer few prospects for development. A victim narrative has been constructed whereby Africa is believed to epitomise the pitfalls of globalisation. This has given rise to a moralistic and humanitarian approach to Africa by the EU, which while well-intentioned, has not, arguably, been in the best interests of Africa. Failing to define Europe’s geo-strategic interests in Africa has fostered the impression in EU circles that Africa is a ‘dispensable continent’ when it comes to setting the agenda of world affairs. Bach argued that the EU’s vision of Africa needs to change if Europe does not wish to be sidelined in the future development of Africa.

It is true that in recent years there has been a move by the EU to chart a new course in EU-African relations. The Joint Africa-EU Strategic Partnership (JAES) which was adopted in 2007 following the second Africa-EU Summit in Lisbon, has significantly altered the tone of the dialogue. Bach argued however that the JAES has, up till now, not been very successful. It has suffered from both a lack of funding and weak enforcement capacity. Furthermore, the African Union (AU) – the key organisation for EU-African engagement- suffers from a ‘fallacy of composition’. Its members are often also party to other organisations, treaties and frameworks which at times compete with the stated aims of the AU. Bach therefore called on the countries of the AU to rationalise their membership in order to strengthen the negotiating power of the AU.

When it comes to institutionalising a model for regional integration and cooperation, the EU model has been highly successful. The lure of the benefits of EU membership has spurred on liberalising and democratising reforms and conferred upon the EU project a sense of ownership and legitimacy. It remains to be seen however whether this model can be transposed onto other settings such as Africa in order to serve as a catalyst for development as well as a framework for North-South dialogue. The situation in Africa is for example not analogous to that of Eastern Europe during the time of the EU’s expansion – the weakness of many African states is much greater. Region building in Africa will therefore be as much about state building as anything else.

However, emulation of the EU model for African development and EU-Africa dialogue is not simply a matter of state capacity building. Bach argued that the EU model has been undermined by the contradictory policy orientations of the EU towards Africa. Economic liberalisation and integration in Africa has for instance been undermined by EU protectionist policies and an unwillingness to treat Africa as a single market. Democratisation in Africa meanwhile has largely been sacrificed in favour of enforcement of the status quo. Lastly, the concept of ownership is pursued along narrow security parameters. In the interest of European border control, Africa is expected to regulate its migration outflows, while European peace keeping forces steadily retreat from the continent. In sum, Bach argued that the EU’s strategic partnership with Africa is not simply a model lost in translation; it is a model which has not even ever been implemented.

The choice is not between a ‘no strings attached’ versus a Washington Consensus model of engagement between the EU and Africa. What is needed is a true strategic partnership between the EU and Africa based on a dialogue of equals, articulated in a coherent set of policies. If this does not happen, the provincialisation of Europe rather than the marginalisation of Africa is at stake.

Making cities fair

Starting with questions about what an increasingly urban world implies for fairness at the national or global scale in the 21st century, the geographical reference points for this investigation of “fair cities” are both northern and southern urban places. This lecture traces the divergent and contradictory intellectual and practice based traditions that the notion of fairness in the city implies, including the work on urban equity (rights, opportunity, access, affordability); justice (electoral; procedural, distributional, enforcement and); redistribution (urban welfare and post conflict); the public good and the good city.

The central point is to demonstrate that ideas and practices about fairness in the city vary over time and space and that while there is appropriate concern about rising exclusion and the withdrawal of social protection in some centres, typically older more affluent cities, from new urban nodes, largely in the global south, there are counter tendencies and new innovations that support the utopian aspiration that cities will provide a better future for the millions of new residents that will call them home over the decades to come.

What would Kapuscinski make of development today?

Ryszard Kapuscinski exposed an Africa to his readers in which he punctured the pretensions and follies of rulers and officials while showing an intense emotional identification with the continent’s then underdogs, its people. Mark Malloch-Brown asks would he see the current state of Africa as a further triumph of the elites he exquisitely skewered or, the redemptive emergence of a new more participatory and just continent.

The introduction to the lecture was delivered by Ms. Christine Dalby, Acting Head of the EU Representation in London.

Social business reducing poverty in Africa

Effective pursuing of sustainable development globally requires both political high-level agreements and practical implementation on the ground. Nick Moon takes care of the latter. As a co-founder of the KickStart International initiative, he promotes simple, cost-effective tools and solutions which increase agricultural productivity in Africa. Moon proves that social economy can bring benefits and effectively lift people out of extreme poverty through triggering their entrepreneurship rather than giving aid.


KickStart is an award-winning non-profit social enterprise, listed by Forbes Magazine as one of the world’s Top 30 Social Enterprises. KickStart has to date enabled over 135,000 “base of the pyramid” entrepreneurs to invest in and build successful rural family enterprises, taking over 670,000 people out of poverty, providing an additional 210,000 on-farm jobs, and generating $130 million annually in net profits and new household incomes.

Grants, Governance, Growth to reduce poverty in Africa?

In the beginning of the lecture, Jan Vandemoortele suggested the reading of Emperor, written by Ryszard Kapuscinski, and Thomas Kida’s book with the provocative title Don´t Believe Everything You Think: The 6 Basic Mistakes We Make in Thinking, because he argues that one of the mistakes that people commonly commits is to seek confirmation, not to question, their ideas.

Starting on a positive note, and to make sure that we would keep the eyes on the big picture, Vandemoortele emphasized how the world has been making human development progress:

  • 000 fewer under-5 deaths every day;- 40 million fewer children out-of-school;
  • Polio cases: from 35,000 to less than 1,000;
  • Malaria deaths down by 20%;
  • New HIV infections down by 25%,
  • 13-fold increase in antiretroviral therapy since 2004.

Actually, since 1990, the percentage of children underweight felt from 30% to 23%, which means -7%. The rate of primary school enrolment increased from 82% to 89% (+7%); and the percentage of girls in primary school grew 9%, almost achieving parity. The child mortality went from 10% to 7%. Measles immunisation went up 11%, and babies deliveries (doctors, nurses, midwifes, etc.) went up 10%; which means that now two in three births in developing countries are assisted by qualified health personnel.

The world is making progress and is now a better place today than it was 20 years ago. The question is: it is enough to meet the promise that we made for the Millennium Development Goals by 2015?, asked Vandemoortele.

If we look to global MDG scorecard of the 5 key indicators that demonstrate the goals which have been achieved from 1990 to 2009, we only get close to it in one of the indicators – gender parity, which is the percentage of girls going to primary school. It’s good, but that does mean that only gender discrimination is about to be eradicated from the world. And when you look to the other areas, as health and education, we are no way near achieving the MDG; we are going to miss those goals. And the conventional narrative is that Africa is the main cause why the world is not going to achieve the MDG. That’s the common statement, that’s written in many reports, including in reports of UN.

If we look to global trends, the argument is that we will miss the targets due to the performance in Africa. But if we only look to African data, we realise that it’s not true. If we pick up in the underweight indicator, it fells in Africa around 5%, while in global terms down 7%. But if we look to primary school indicator, it increased in Africa 18%, much more than 7% of the world together. The percentage of girls going to school in Africa up 13%, more than 9% in global terms. Child mortality around -5%, against -3% of rest of the world. Measles down 13%, better than the 11% globally. The indicator that Africa is missing out is in maternal deliveries that only increased 4%, less than 10% elsewhere. In the basis of these evidences, we see that Africa is making its fair contribution to global progress, to achieve the MDGs. Africa will not meet the MDGs by 2015 because it started from a low level and the bar is to high to jump. But it made a fair contribution to progress globally.

When we look at Blair’s Commission for Africa’s report (2005), it was written “African poverty and stagnation is the greatest tragedy of our time”. Stagnation? If we look to numbers, that’s not stagnation, there is a respectable progress. This report is an example that we seek to confirm our ideas, rather than to question.

Jan Vandemoortele used the MDG under five mortality rate (U5MR) that he considers one of the most solid indicators to demonstrate changes in global and relative terms. Using data from 192 countries we see that most of the countries suffered a decreasing in U5MR, except countries as Zambia, South Africa, Tuvalu, Haiti, where VIH predominates. But, for instance, Niger reduced almost a half; Mali was down from 250 (1990) to less than 200 (2008), which it means a major achievement. Belgium reduced from 10 to 5, which represents a cut of 5.

If we look to the same data, the same sample, but in relative terms, which means that we look to the percentage change, the point of view changes radically. The countries that initially have a high level of mortality saw relatively small changes in the indicators.

There are two ways to presenting the data – from an absolute angle or a relative angle. Both are valid. Actually, they are complementing, because we look at the same reality in different angles. But the MDGs were mostly formulated in percentage changes, because it’s always measured in relative terms. Countries that started from a low level of human development have a hard task to reach the MDGs. Even for developed countries will be difficult, because they are so close to zero that it’s difficult to go further. It’s a big deal, and that is a part of reality that is missing in the statistics. The storyline since 1990 is that progress has continued, but at a slower pace than in the 70s or the 80s. In all the human development dimensions, progress has slowed since 1990. And most of the progress that we made has bypassed the poorest and the weakest.

We have to be careful about statistics. All indicators are imperfect, but some are more imperfect than others. Statistics are based in two activities: the first is to observe, and the second one is to take that information and to make a transformation out of it. And it’s very difficult to measure some indicators from direct observation.

For Vandemoortele, the most reliable 5 indicators, because they depend on observation, are:

  • under-five mortality rate;
  • underweight among children;
  • net enrolment ratio in primary education;
  • ratio of girls to boys in primary & secondary school;
  • proportion of births attended by skilled health personnel.

They are not perfect, but they are closer to reality. The other extreme, are the 5 indicators that involve heavy transformation, and that are more questionable, and unfortunately are the indicators most quoted in the literature:

  • proportion of population below $1 per day (often used by World Bank);
  • proportion of population below a minimum level of dietary energy consumption (FAO statistic, it’s produced and only used in Rome; it’s based in assumptions);
  • primary school completion rate (much better that dietary energy consumption, but it’s hard to associate the people that complete primary education with the core heart that start primary education);
  • maternal mortality ratio (very poor indicator, never used);
  • proportion of population with access to safe drinking water (often used by UN).

These indicators are very problematic indicators.

The conventional wisdom sometimes uses the statistics to make ideology look as empirical evidence. The conventional narrative is the 3Gs: we need growth, grants and better governance. And if we got it, we will achieve the MDGs. The narrative cannot be so simplistic. They need a bit of sophisticated approach to it. For instance, good governance: in the 80s, Congo had the dictator Mobutu, who wasn’t a good example of governance. But a professor in Cambridge takes another angle and suggested to look to another country at the same time, where was another dictator, as Suharto in Indonesia. The results were very different.

In the 16th century, there was Mughal Shah Jahan, a ruler of an empire in South Asia, who was married and had 14 children. His wife died in 14th childbirth and he built Taj Mahal as tribute. A few years later, Queen Ulrika-Eleonora was a queen that saw many of the women around her died in childbirth. So she established in 1685, in Stockholm, the first-known school for midwifery. It’s an example of two leaders facing the same problem, but with very different approaches to it.

Development is always a collective journey of self-discovery, for poor or rich countries. The conventional narrative is always ready to give the roadmap, to tell how to get there. But it is important to reframe and to have lessons learnt. We often make the mistake of equating the validity of a lesson learned with the level of replicability of that lesson. But it’s a big mistake because the contexts, the actors are different, even if the problem is the same.

The inconvenient evidences are climate change, inequalities and the global trading system. Those three things create real jeopardy for the future. We need growth, we need more aid, and further better aid, and good governance. But we need much more than that. And if we are not ready to face those three, especially inequalities, we are not going to get there.

Europe’s role in development of Africa

Professor Paul Collier stressed the historic ties between Europe and Africa, which, according to him, make the two continents the natural partners in economic as well as social development. With Africa becoming the fastest growing continent, especially due to the vast amount of its natural wealth, Europe should proactively cooperate in its development. Africa’s prosperity is Europe’s opportunity, said Collier. Many of the European countries are reviving their ties with different African countries. Since Africa on the other hand is still very poor and faces many societal problems, Europe can through its actions in development cooperation and its policies, help Africa meet these challenges. This does not necessarily start and ends with money: there are several other ways EU can help Africa, primarily through helping the countries to improve their governance capability.

The tripod that Africa needs to build combines the correct economic rules and reform, improvement of its institutions and the development of effective implementation capability. One of the main difficulties faced by African governments is to have a good knowledge of their natural resources: a good public geological survey. This will enable the governments to have credibility and knowledge in the negotiating processes with extraction corporations. Today it still happens that the estimate on the resources is given by the corporations, often to the disadvantage of the country.

The second step needs to be more decisive taxing natural resources’ exploitation: this is the wealth, where the resources should come for investing in social infrastructure. There are several cases where the government offers tax holidays to the extraction companies. This means that the countries don’t benefit from their resources. In addition, the extraction often leaves depleted environment, leads to fraud and corruption. The extraction companies should be requested to pay proper compensation for the damage they cause to the local population. Of course Africa is not USA – Collier mentioned the case of oil spill in Mexican gulf and the attitude of BP there. This kind of proactive response to the damage would never be experienced in any other country. The ineffective legal environment in African countries leads to extraction companies not even following already poor environmental legislation. What the governments need to assure is transparent distribution of income derived from natural resources. Also, the benefits of the natural resources need to be preserved for the future generations: this is often disregarded by the current governments.

If African countries can benefit from significant earnings from the extraction of their resources, where should they invest the earnings? Collier cited Norway as an example of investing oil money in different projects even outside Norway (China, Brazil) to assure earnings for the future. African countries should build the capacity to invest correctly the money from natural resources. Even prior to investment, one needs to develop the capacity to invest. To do so, you need rules, decision-making system and good governance. According to Collier, Europe comes in twice: it can help African countries with fighting the corruption, and it can open its doors to African products. The corruption needs to be stopped with the extraction companies themselves- not in Africa, but at their home countries in EU and USA. The resolution of the EU Parliament on illegality of paying the African governments is a good move in the right direction, the only problem is that it has not authority. USA Finance Act is much more direct: it requires from all the companies listed on the stock exchange to reveal any illegal payments. This has a much more direct effect. Activities in this area need to be further supported by EU.

African society needs help in increasing their knowledge on resource management. The ideas and principles of Natural Resource Charter, which is a global initiative, need to be more widely promoted. The NRC was adopted by NEPAD, but NEPAD needs money to build the capacity for the implementation of the Charter. Here EU aid could help- not many resources are required, yet the impact could be immense. With modest steps the EU could help to make sure that Africa fully benefits from its natural resources.

The second African opportunity is the industrialisation of its economy- so far it hasn’t done it. Here Collier draws attention to the global manufacturing phenomena by giving a “lecture” on the economics of buttons> two thirds of world’s buttons are made in China in one single town, No comparative advantage can explain this. The synergy effects, deriving from a cluster set-up, where the production chain is developed as well as the economies of scale, make it very difficult for a newcomer to break in the business. Only with gradual increase of wages in Asia, Africa may have a chance with labour intensive sectors. Where EU can help is by keeping open markets and relocate some of its labour intensive business to African countries. EU can help by giving a privileged access in our own markets over the goods coming in from Asia. We do it, but in a patchy way- we should also open the markets to the better of African countries.