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Lopes: Africa needs a new aid paradigm

Updated: 2014-10-15 18:31

The Executive Secretary of ECA says that African governments need to find common negotiating positions ahead of a critical year for development assistance.

African governments need to find consensus positions so that continent's voice is heard in international negotiations, says Carlos Lopes, the Executive Secretary of the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa.

Next year will be a critical point for international development assistance. The Sustainable Development Goals are set to replace the Millennium Development Goals; the third International Conference on Financing for Development will redefine the shape of overseas development assistance (ODA). The Paris Conference will look to set the terms for the international response to climate change, including adaptation funding.

"This is a time when the continent, thanks to its growth and its new narratives, has the opportunity to join the other regions of the world that have 'liberated' themselves from ODA," Lopes says. "We have a unique opportunity to review completely what is the purpose of ODA, on one hand, and on on the other hand reach out to new types of partnerships—partnerships which are not ODA-centred."

These partnerships, Lopes says, need to include the public and private sectors and need to focus on unlocking and leveraging Africa's own resources through technical assistance, by helping to stem the tide of illicit financial flows out of the continent and by improving the investment climate.

Lopes is encouraged by the progress that has been made in formulating coherent positions in negotiations with the European Union over Economic Partnership Agreements. He is also impressed, he says, with the way that governments in several resource-rich countries, including Guinea, Gabon and Niger have aggressively renegotiated deals with mining companies which they viewed as exploitative, making difficult short-term decisions to achieve long-term gains.

"I think it is encouraging is that you have countries looking at their context with different eyes and being willing to pick a fight if they have not been respected,"

Lopes says. "The good news that in most cases where countries have gone into these kinds of negotiations, they have won big for their countries… In each case, they had to go through a very difficult period. It's not a free lunch."

In the long run, ending "predatory" relationships between the public and private sector makes for a more stable environment for both, Lopes says. Pragmatism is gradually winning out over the ideologies that pushed

African governments to invite the private sector in at almost any cost.

"I really believe that these dichotomies are over," he says. "We are in a period where countries need to be strategic, and being strategic means the best mix… The less ideological we are the less we are going to have hangovers of past discussions between market and state and so on, because it doesn't make any sense anymore."

Africa is also finding coherence as it addresses common challenges, such as regional economic integration and climate change.

"Africans are the first group of countries that have a committee at the head of state level on [climate change], chaired by President Kikwete. The blueprint that they are proposing is no longer the usual African position of just trying to get some compensation for adaptation, but rather saying that they are part of the solution, that they can industrialise and do it in a green and cleaner way," Lopes says.

That coherence has not entirely translated into solutions, but there is definite progress, he believes. "We have to find the common denominators that are powerful enough and have the pulling effect that will allow for

Africa to take advantage of a unified position," he says. "I believe we have seen the baby steps in that direction. It's not yet consolidated, but we are making huge progress in terms of forming African positions and getting Africa ready for a more assertive role."

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