African students go abroad, but hesitate to come to the Netherlands

PIE-seminar-1African students wanting to study abroad don’t want to study in the Netherlands. This was the core message of my keynote lecture at a seminar organized by the Platform International Education and the Dutch Higher Education Network for International marketing. Here you’ll find more info about the seminar: For the first time, the seminar brought together ‘capacity development experts’ from Dutch universities and other centres for higher education with marketeers wanting to sell the Netherlands as an attractive destination for students from abroad. The language of development assistance and subsidies merged with the language of profit, pride and rich parents paying for their children’s education abroad as so-called self-paying students. The PIE-seminar-2marketeers have gained a great deal of experience about Asia, and – like so many others – they are now discovering Africa. A number of them were aware of the thought-provoking talk I gave in Brussels, in December 2013, at a conference organized by the Academic Cooperation Association (ACA).

Let’s examine some data. Harvard’s assessment of the higher education situation in Africa shows that in 2007, there were about 3 million higher education students in Africa as a whole. This amounts to about 5% of the age cohort. Higher education in Africa is currently demonstrating the most rapid growth of student numbers anywhere in the world. Taking into account Harvard’s assumed annual growth of 15% per annum, we can be certain that there are now many more than 3 million students in higher education on the continent. According to UNESCO, in 2012 there were 380,000 African students studying abroad. It is interesting to note where they were studying: the majority were in France (115,000), followed by South Africa (44,000), the UK (35,000), the US (34,000), Germany (15,000), Malaysia (15,000), Morocco (7,500), Angola (6,500), Russia (6,400), Brazil (4,600), Portugal (4,000), Saudi Arabia (3,000), Belgium (2,800), Ghana (2,100), India (2,000) and the Netherlands (1,200). So what do these figures tell us about the Netherlands?

To judge a country’s success in terms of attracting African students, we must look to the number of African students per million inhabitants in the host country. For the Netherlands, with a population of almost 17 million, 1,200 African students gives a score of 71 per million. This is very low! Compare it with France (with a score of 1741, twenty-five times better), South Africa (846/million), the UK (536/million), Malaysia (517/million), Portugal (376/million), Angola (361/million), Belgium (248/million, more than three times better), Morocco (234/million), Germany (183/million, more than twice the Dutch score), the US (105/million), Saudi Arabia (103/million), and Ghana (84/million).

So, before starting a big marketing campaign to attract more African students to come to the Netherlands it is important to listen not only to the opinions of those who have already come here but also to those students who have gone abroad but did NOT choose the Netherlands. I haven’t done that type of marketing research, but I can make a bold but educated guess as to the outcome.

Why don’t African students choose for the Netherlands?

  • The Netherlands does not have a colonial past in Africa and, unlike France, the UK, Belgium, and Portugal, who still maintain some of their colonial recruitment ties (and lavish subsidies in some cases), the African diaspora in the Netherlands is small and very few of them work as university lecturers/researchers.
  • The Netherlands’ higher education sector has become much too expensive for non-EU citizens. There are no longer generous subsidy programmes or easy possibilities for part-time work for students from abroad, e.g. as student assistants, or a generous private sector support programme (as in the US).
  • There is strong price competition from France, Germany and Belgium, and the attractiveness of higher education for students from abroad has improved a lot recently (e.g. a growing number of courses in English in Germany and Belgium).
  • There is strong marketing competition from the UK, which has maintained its generous subsidy programmes, but has also become a preferred country for self-paying students, despite the fees that are often higher than in the Netherlands.
  • Attitudes and visa practices at Dutch Embassies in Africa tend to be unwelcoming and off-putting. Students and their parents or other sponsors often feel humiliated.
  • Dutch universities and the wider Dutch population are not very welcoming to students from abroad (in terms of housing, specific support, earning possibilities).
  • Alumni policies and practices are generally very weak and there is a lack of NL branding. All Dutch universities and universities for applied studies as well as other centres for higher learning (such as KIT, MDF, MSM and others) are competing with each other.
  • There is not an effective utilization of the goodwill created from generous Dutch support for capacity building and development assistance. The Dutch private sector abroad does not adopt the role of goodwill ambassadors and Dutch embassies have not always been very helpful. Indeed, the Netherlands’ good name has recently been destroyed in many African countries due to clumsiness (the Netherlands is not very good at ending institutional arrangements – e.g. embassies, or support programmes – in a decent and respectful manner).

I believe we should reflect upon and learn from this at the ASC, particularly in terms of our role in the Research Master’s and Master’s programmes in African Studies, neither of which is attracting the number of African students we would really like to see!


Africa in Qatar – Qatar in Africa


Doha skyline with the Museum of Islamic Art.

A delegation of the ‘Africa in the World’ research group of the African Studies Centre in Leiden visited Qatar recently, and had discussions with people in various universities, Qatar Foundation, Al Jazeera Center for Studies, The Netherlands Embassy and a number of Qatar charities. Qatar is one of the ‘South-South hubs’ of today and an interesting one if one wants to understand the possibilities for Africans to ‘negotiate’ the new global, polycentric world.

With Dr Afyare Abdi Elmi of Qatar University, College of Arts & Sciences.

At Qatar University, with Dr Afyare Abdi Elmi (on the right) of the College of Arts & Sciences.

More Africans than Qataris in Qatar
Qatar is full of surprises. The population living there consists of 2.3 million people, but only 12% of them are having a Qatari passport. There are more Indians and more Nepali in Qatar than there are Qataris. What’s more: there are more Africans in Qatar than there are Qataris (the majority of the Africans being Egyptians and Sudanese, but there are also many people from Ethiopia, Tunisia, Eritrea, Morocco and Kenya). We were told that it is virtually impossible for foreigners to get a Qatari passport, unless you are a sportsman, as Qatar would like to impress the world with ‘its’ sports accomplishments. The atmosphere in capital city Doha is very cosmopolitan, with an explosion of colourful architectural highlights forming the skyline. In the ‘old’ market one can see niqabs alongside Western dresses for women, and suits and hoodies next to the white robes and white-and-red head dresses for men. One gets the impression of ‘everything goes’ and an open, tolerant and very safe public space. At the same time, Qatar wants to be a major player in the Islamic world (and partly in competition with other Gulf states) and is known to support various Islamic groups, including some Islamist groups. The Taliban has an office in Doha. There is major support for Hamas. And there are connections with groups that pledge allegiance to the ideas of Islamic State.

image emblem

Emblem of the Sheikh Eid Bin Mohammad Al-Thani Charitable Association.

Development assistance
The State of Qatar started its own Department of International Aid in 2007 and spent more than 1.7 billion (US) dollars on ‘development assistance’ in 2013 alone, of which one third was given to Africa. Total aid money would be 740 dollar per person living in Qatar, or, if we only count people with a Qatari passport: more than 6,000 dollar per person. In addition, most non-Qataris send a lot of remittances back home, and Qatari charities are known all over Africa (and elsewhere) for their generosity. One can see the donation boxes of the various charities in central places in Doha.

Al Jazeera
Why would a small country on a peninsula in the Gulf do this? We were told that the former Qatari Emir, Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, and the ruling family realised how vulnerable their family business had become after Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait in 1990. Saudi Arabia could do the same with them; a reason to do so could always be found. So Qatar needed friends elsewhere, and it needed trumpets to tell the world: here we are! Some people told us that that was the main reason why (in 1996) the Emir decided to fund the Al Jazeera news network, which put Qatar on the world map of journalism. Others told us that it is much more complicated than that. Later, the Qatari elite decided to attract lots of foreign researchers (the Qatar Foundation is rich!); to fund numerous sports and cultural highlights; and to build a city full of special features. They can pay for it. In 2013, Qatar exported for 137 billion dollars’ worth of products (mainly gas and chemical products) and it only imported for 27 billion dollars. That truly means a huge balance of payment surplus. Japan, Korea and India are its major customers; the USA and China the major providers of goods and services. Although Qatar used to be a British colony, Europe’s role in imports and exports has become quite limited. At the same time, trade with Africa is very small (although growing): only about 1%. In 2013, Qatar’s major African trade partners were South Africa and Kenya for its exports, and Egypt and (again) South Africa as providers of some of its imports.

Visiting the Netherlands' Ambassador to Qatar, Mrs Yvette Burghgraef - van Eechoud (second from left).

Visiting the Netherlands’ Ambassador to Qatar, Mrs Yvette Burghgraef-van Eechoud (second from left).

Peace broker
Trade and aid are clearly not much connected (yet?) and one can see Qatar’s aid policy as one of its methods of ‘impression geopolitics’, and ways to export its cultural-political ideas. And that is full of controversies and surprises. In 2011, Qatar supported almost all Arab Spring uprisings. And currently, Qatar’s foreign policy is full of attempts to be a major peace broker in Africa and the Middle East: the ‘Norway’ of the Middle East. With Qatari aid money surpassing Qatari trade money (imports and exports) in most of Africa’s countries, Qatar’s embassies in Africa and Africa’s many embassies in Qatar, we see a form of aid diplomacy that must be familiar to Dutch diplomats who dealt with Africa in the 1980s and 1990s and who did not have to promote Dutch businesses too much in those years, with the exception of diplomats in African oil countries like Nigeria. It was trade or aid; not trade and aid. And it was about exporting an ideology. Like Qatar nowadays; although the ideology is different of course. Africans nowadays can make choices. And they do so ever more…

Hogeschool van Apekool

Ton Dietz

Ton Dietz

Studenten van de Hogeschool van Amsterdam wordt geleerd om kritisch en intelligent naar de wereld te kijken. Hun bestuurders gaven de afgelopen dagen wel heel erg het verkeerde voorbeeld. Op de HvA website en in de media ging het bericht rond dat de HvA zou hebben besloten om gedurende twee jaar geen studenten meer naar Afrika te sturen “vanwege Ebola en politieke instabiliteit”. Hoe dom kun je wezen. Afrika heeft 1,2 miljard inwoners en 54 landen. In drie landen heerst Ebola en daar wonen ca 21 miljoen mensen. Politiek instabiel zijn op dit moment vooral Zuid-Soedan (11 miljoen inwoners), de Centraal Afrikaanse Republiek (4 miljoen inwoners), Libië  (6 miljoen) en Somalië (ca 10 miljoen), en delen van Noord Mali, Oost Congo en vorige week Burkina Faso. Vergeleken met een decennium geleden is Afrika een stuk stabieler en is er in heel veel gebieden sprake van een gestage economische groei en verbeterende perspectieven. Al is er nog een hoop te doen. Daar kunnen ook Nederlanders een rol bij spelen en HvA- studenten zouden vooral WEL moeten gaan kijken hoe het er echt is en wat ze zouden kunnen leren van en bijdragen aan Afrika. Wat Ebola betreft: we moeten het virus isoleren (en uitroeien), niet de Afrikanen. Wat Afrika verdient is aandacht en samenwerking, geen stigma (‘enge mensen’, ‘gevaarlijke landen’) en isolement. Gebaseerd op goede kennis. Bestuurders van de HvA: kom eens langs op het Afrika-Studiecentrum en bezoek onze websites! (ASC website) (informatie over alle 54 Afrikaanse landen!) (informatieportal over de Ebola-uitbraak)


The US-Africa Leaders Summit

Screenshot of the summit website.

The US-Africa Leaders Summit website.

From 4-6 August, Washington and President Obama himself host the first US-Africa Leaders summit. The US is late in doing so. Although the Corporate Council on Africa started US-Africa business summits already in 1993 (the ninth one was in Chicago in 2013), the USA never used its cultural capital of having the first-ever Afro-American President by inviting most African heads of State and the AU Chairlady (‘most’ because they wanted to avoid that the Presidents of Eritrea, Zimbabwe, Sudan and the CAR would join as well). Now it was seen as ‘high time’ to do so. The USA is very late in doing what others have done before: Japan organized a Tokyo International Conference on African Development already in 1993 (five so far), in 2000 China joined with the Forum on China-African Cooperation (five as well) and the European Union did the same in 2000 (the fourth one was in Brussels in April 2014). In 2006 both Korea and South America organized Africa Fora (South America had three so far), Turkey followed in 2008 (two until now) and Brazil started its own Brazil-Africa Leaders Forum in 2012 (two so far). African leaders seem to be welcome everywhere now, and everyone wants to talk business! That the USA decided to follow suit can partly be explained by all those ‘emerging powers’ highlighting South-South solidarity, but partly also by what is happening in Europe. After many years of difficult negotiations suddenly the European Union seems to succeed to get a new round of ‘economic partnership agreements’ (EPAs) signed: in May Southern Africa agreed to do so; in July all West- African states did and Cameroon followed as the first one of Central African States. The USA is losing ground.

National Security Advisor Susan Rice

National Security Advisor Susan Rice previews the summit (still from a Youtube film).

A new partnership
On the website for the US-Africa Leaders Summit ( National Security Advisor Susan Rice informs the world that the USA wants a new partnership with Africa based on “mutual responsibility and mutual respect”, using the word ‘mutual’ that is also a keyword in the Chinese way to talk to Africa. She goes on to say that the USA wants to build on President Obama’s trip to Africa (Senegal, South Africa and Tanzania) in the summer of 2013, but no word about the fact that Obama never ever came to Africa after his trip to Egypt and to Ghana in 2009; not in 2010, not in 2011 and not in 2012. Many Africans and many Afro-Americans will have felt frustrated after the high expectations of 2008/2009.

President Obama holds a Town Hall with Young African Leaders, Washington D.C., 28 July 2014

President Obama holds a Town Hall with Young African Leaders, Washington D.C., 28 July 2014 (still from a Youtube film)

Social issues, business, investments
The programme for the three days is interesting if we look at the agenda and the order in which things are being planned: the first day is about big social issues (civil society, investing in women, peace and prosperity, health, resilience and food security in a changing climate, and combating wildlife trafficking) and about the renewal of the US ‘African Growth and Opportunity Act’, followed by a reception at Capitol Hill, meeting Congress! The second day is the business forum (I find it ironic that it will be held at Mandarin Oriental Hotel; more than 100 African business leaders will participate), followed by a Dinner at the White House. The third day comes to the heart of the intentions: African leaders meet Obama in discussion rounds about ‘investments in Africa’, ‘peace and stability’ and ‘governing the next generation’. The USA has started a ‘Mandela Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders’ (500 each year from 2014 onwards) and 500 of these young African leaders are in Washington now as well! On that third days there is also a ‘spousal programme’, hosted by both Michele Obama and Laura Bush , while the Congressional Black Caucus Africa Task Force continues the dialogue with the African business CEOs. It looks very well organized and very wide-ranging.

It would be interesting to see how Europe does it the next time (with the Fifth EU-Africa Summit probably in 2017), and I think we will discuss comparable issues at our own Africa Works! Conference, October 16 and 17 (see, where we hope to see many African, Dutch (and other European) people from business, science, NGO, media and diplomacy circles. And hopefully a few Americans too!


Piketty and the middle classes

Nancy Birdsall

Nancy Birdsall

‘Pikettymania’. That’s how Nancy Birdsall discredited the global interest in Thomas Piketty’s book ‘Capital in the twenty-first Century’, a book that was published last year and has reached ‘airportstatus’, if one looks at the number of copies that can be found in international airports selling ‘hot books’ for air travellers. Thomas Piketty is French. Nancy Birdsall American. Thomas Piketty created global interest in the huge inequality of the current economic system in the world, and the growing inequality of assets. Nancy Birdsall does not seem to like that. She is President of the Washington-based think tank Center for Global Development, an influential position. She gave one of the keynote lectures at the recent Conference of the European Association for Development Institutes in Bonn, that I attended as well. The conference focused on ‘the middle classes’ and Nancy Birdsall made a plea for better defining ‘middle classes’ (which is useful), and for no longer looking at mean income levels but at median levels (and also suggested a tool to link the two; and that is another useful suggestion). However, she packaged her useful proposals in a naive and ‘depoliticized’, and also very positive ‘developmental’ assessment of the world’s middle classes. Yes, they can be a ‘progressive’ force. Sometimes, and depending on context and history. But in other cases ‘fortress middle classes’, and/or those losing their priviliges or feeling insecure by ‘pressure from below’ can be mobilised to form the social core of fascism.

Thomas Piketty at the Harvard Book Store in Cambridge, Massachusetts. (photo: Sue Gardner)

Thomas Piketty  in Cambridge, Massachusetts. (photo: Sue Gardner)

Reactionary counter-debate
In a period when at last there is global attention for both the ultra rich (Piketty’s attention for the top 1%) and the ultra poor (‘inclusive development’ in the negotiations for a new global contract for the post 2015 period after the millennium development goals) this focus on the middle classes, I am afraid, should be mistrusted as a reactionary political counter-debate. By focusing on the median and the middle classes, the extremes on both sides are framed out of sight. We should not let that happen just when they have been rediscovered!


Africa in Moscow

blog-ton-moscow-abstractsThe Institute for African Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences and the ‘Scientific Council for the Problems of Economic, Social, Political and Cultural Development of African Countries’ organized their 13th International conference of Africanists in Moscow, at the end of May. I was curious to know what would happen during a conference of Africanists in Russia, who would be there and what would be their research subjects. I knew that they had once been an associate member of AEGIS (African Studies Centres in Europe), but that was before I joined the AEGIS Board in 2010. And I knew that Russia, as the R country in BRICs, tries to redefine its place in the newly emerging global dispensation. So what did I see and hear?

A whole new world of Africanists
I heard a lot of Russian, to start with. I went to panels where the only contributors were Russian scholars, who were in shock when they discovered that there were non-Russian speakers in the audience. I was lucky that in those panels there was always some translation and sometimes it was good that I speak enough French and German to be part of a chaotic multi-lingual communication process. But I heard some angry American participants who complained that they could not follow much of what happened in many of the panel sessions which they attended.
Another interesting observation was that I hardly knew anyone. I have been to AEGIS, EADI (European Association of Development Research and Training Institutes) and CODESRIA (Council for the Development of Social Science Research in Africa) conferences and there are always quite a lot of people whom I know from earlier meetings. This time there was only one familiar person (Ian Taylor), and a few names I knew (from of group of about 600 people). It seems there is a whole world of Africanists that is isolated from the conference circuits I normally visit. And the other way around: from the AEGIS Centres in Europe quite a few people from Central Europe participated (I met Polish and Hungarian colleagues) but very few if any from the ‘old and established’ Centres of African Studies in Western Europe. More than 170 participants from Africa attended the conference, and the organizers had attracted papers from scholars representing 26 African countries. Interestingly, North Africa is definitely part of what Russians define as Africa.

The Institute for African Studies in Moscow.

The Institute for African Studies in Moscow.

Nothing on climate change – what a relief!
I have looked at the titles of all 253 Russian papers in the programme to find out what Russian Africanists are interested in and how they phrase their research interests. The majority of the contributions had an emphasis on political affairs and international relations. There were quite a number of papers with a linguistic focus or dealing with cultural issues like ethnic identity, gender roles and education. Relatively few papers dealt with economics or business issues (and as far as I could see there were no participants with a business background, despite the fact that Gazprombank (GPB Global Resources) and Lukoil were the main sponsors of the conference). And hardly any papers dealt with health, water, the environment (nothing on climate change, what a relief!) or agricultural issues, or with civil society or the role of Africa’s private sector.

The BRICs and Africa
The International Relations papers partly concentrated on historical issues: Russian travelers and explorers in the 18th and 19th Century, the Imperial Russian fleet’s activities along the African shores in 1904/05, the impact of the Russian revolution on Ethiopia, the impact of the Bandung Conference in 1955 on Africa. More contemporary issues were e.g. Russia’s participation in UN Peacekeeping activities. Many papers dealt with the BRICS and Africa, sometimes as a group, often as ‘Brazil in Africa’, ‘China in Africa’, ’or Indians in the Horn’, but there was also attention for other countries: Turkey, Japan, the USA (and Africom) and a lot on the EU-AU or EU-African states relationships, or on British or French foreign policies and Africa. Other interesting papers were e.g. about Indonesia and Africa (by a Hungarian scholar!), or South Korea and Africa (by a Kazakh scholar). Quite a lot is happening in the sphere of ‘Africa and the World’, one of the current focus areas of the African Studies Centre in Leiden.

Migration issues
But there was also a lot of Russian interest in migration issues, with attention for certain African diaspora groups elsewhere in the world (e.g., Somalis in the USA, or ‘African babysitters’ in France) or specific African-Russian migration issues: the jobs Moroccan students got (or not) after they have studied in Russia; Russian wives in Ethiopia and Tanzania; Afro-Russians and their esthetic and social preferences; Russian-speakers in Africa; and how Russians could practice their Orthodox Christianity in Islamic countries in Africa. The keynote speech by Irina Abramova (“the New Role of Africa in the 21st Century World Economy”) also highlighted demographic issues in Africa, and the ‘demographic dividend’ Africa is supposed to harvest in the next few decades.

The Library of the Institute for African Studies in Moscow.

The Library of the Institute for African Studies in Moscow.

Studying former coups
Many papers on political affairs dealt with the Arab Spring and its aftermath. Terrorism and its threats for peace and security also received considerable attention, as well as radical Islam, and there was a remarkable interest in Libya and Sudan. Many political papers had a historical orientation: studying former coups (and Russian involvement in some), or political change and revolutions in an African country. But there were also many papers on legal and political issues dealing with democracy and human rights, often on a scale of Africa as a whole, but sometimes focusing on particular countries and experiences.

‘Russian investors: please come to South Sudan!’
The funniest session I attended was on African Cinema, with a very interesting paper about the history of the Tashkent Film Festival and its impact on Africa, and a vehemently Russian-nationalistic plea against American domination in the (African) film industry. In Russian of course (with whispered translation next to me). And when question time came, the speaker had disappeared. Then suddenly someone appeared who was supposed to give a talk on Russian documentary filming in Africa during the Soviet era, but who was two hours late.
The most remarkable thing I experienced was the speech by a high-ranking official of the Republic of South Sudan during the opening ceremony. Yes, we made a mess of it, he said, but unlike many other African countries we solved it in 40 days! So, he went on, Russian investors: please come to South Sudan; we have proof now that we can solve all your problems within 40 days!


Achieving inclusive development in Africa

Photo Karin NijenhuisThe Dutch-African Knowledge Platform on Development Policies held a seminar on ‘Achieving Inclusive Development in Africa: Policies, Processes and Political Settlements’ on 13 and 14 May in Addis Ababa (Ethiopia). It was organized with the UK’s Overseas Development Institute and the Organisation for Social Science Research in Eastern and Southern Africa, which is based in Addis Ababa. It was called a ‘Policy Research Seminar’ and was held at the UN Economic Commission for Africa, with input from the African Union too. The Knowledge Platform on Development Policies (KPDP) is one of the five knowledge platforms initiated and funded by the International Cooperation section of the Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs and it has brought together twelve African representatives from relevant think tanks and twelve people from the Netherlands: diplomats, academics, the private sector and civil-society representatives. The African Studies Centre in Leiden is coordinating its Secretariat (since April 2014, with Marleen Dekker in charge) in collaboration with the International Institute of Social Studies (of Erasmus University in Rotterdam), The Broker and the African Economic Research Consortium. The KPDP has been in existence for two years now and this was its fourth meeting. Its business meeting took place on 15 May and preceding it was this special seminar on Inclusive Development to which another sixty people had been invited, many from policy circles in Africa.

Panel discussion, with Ton on the left (photo Karin Nijenhuis).

Panel discussion, with Ton on the left (photo Karin Nijenhuis).

Long-term support for rural development
The seminar gave the ODI’s David Booth and his ‘Developmental Regimes in Africa’ (DRA) team a chance to challenge African policymakers and academics on basic ideas about Africa’s development strategies, with lessons learnt from the South-East Asian experience. The DRA is a joint venture between the ODI and the African Studies Centre and a follow-up to the Tracking Development (TD) research programme. TD researchers David Henley, Ahmad Helmy Fuady, Yinka Akinyoade, Blandina Kilama and myself were all present to add our thoughts. We felt a bit as though we were in the firing line because not only representatives from the AU and UNECA but also African members of the Platform and other invited guests from Africa (and a few from the Netherlands too) had some trouble accepting the basic message from Tracking Development: in addition to macroeconomic stability and freedom for small-scale farmers and non-farm entrepreneurs to decide what they produce, who they buy from and who they sell to, there is one more basic ingredient for economic success: genuine, long-term support for small farmers and for rural development as a whole, based on substantial government support for agricultural productivity increases and rural infrastructure. This will have an impact and reduce poverty among the rural masses if it is done in an incremental way, i.e. ‘learning by doing’ and not by following some grand blueprint design.

The South-East Asian experience
There were lots of disconnects between what African thinkers presented on ‘economic transformation’ and ‘developmental regimes’, on ‘employment creation’ and ‘social protection’ (the four main topics of the two-day seminar) and the basic message distilled from the South-East Asian experiences. The controversy seems to be something that has kept African policymakers busy since Independence, namely how to leapfrog to being a modern industrial nation without putting a lot of emphasis on agriculture and rural development, or milking the rural masses to feed the modern urban elites and their industrial dreams.

Apartment building in Addis - under construction (photo Karin Nijenhuis).

Apartment building in Addis – under construction (photo Karin Nijenhuis).

Policies full of beautiful words
Four African thinkers had the chance to summarize their reflections after the two days of seminars: Sarah Ssewanyana from the Economic Policy Research Centre in Kampala (and a member of the KPDP), Yaw Ansu from the African Center for Economic Transformation in Accra (who is also a member of the KPDP), Fantu Cheru (who works at the African Studies Centre in Leiden) and Blandina Kilama (currently working at REPOA in Dar es Salaam but who was part of the TD team and did a comparative study of Tanzania and Vietnam). Let me reflect on their reflections.
Sarah started by saying that she really felt a disconnect between the discussions on the four topics and between the various stakeholders present in the debates. She highlighted the importance of stakeholder mapping and bringing them together (indeed, that is one of the big things the KPDP has decided to do) and also the relevance of putting far more emphasis on studying policy implementation, as many African policymakers seem to enjoy writing policy statements full of beautiful words and talking about them, but do not seem to be bothered by the fact that very few of these policies are ever implemented and, if they are, it is in ways that are often far from any originally declared intentions. So, assuming that these policies are basically correct, she suggested that capacity issues, incentive structures, pilot up-scaling and evaluation capabilities are the issues that should be addressed first. And she wondered what the best ways were for policy analysts to deal with policymakers and how they could strengthen their abilities in understanding political economy and find a way to combine the language and approaches of hard-core economists and political scientists.

Lack of necessary data
Yaw thought that the most crucial problem was a lack of necessary data. According to him the emphasis had been on data about macro-economic aspects, like inflation and GDP data, in World-Bank assisted attempts during the 1980s and 1990s, followed by MDG-derived attempts to get data about education, health care and poverty during the 2000s. This emphasis resulted in a lack of attention for structural data about the African economies, about employment and labour statistics, about the composition of the agricultural and manufacturing sectors, and particularly about government budgets and actual expenditure.  He felt that governments and other institutions responsible for prioritization and monitoring broke down during the implementation of the so-called Washington Consensus and that it is now high time for Africa to regain ownership of data collection and budget prioritization. Earlier, he had shown that whatever data are available indicates that Africa’s economy, despite high growth figures, is not yet showing any signs of structural transformation and the current growth figures might be illusive in terms of sustainable growth.

Addis Ababa (photo Karin Nijenhuis).

Addis Ababa (photo Karin Nijenhuis).

Transformational leadership
Fantu Cheru started by saying that Africa was in a crucial phase; a ‘historical moment’, with the old ideologically inspired ‘boxes’ breaking down and that it is searching for new analytical narratives, new policies and new institutions in many places across the continent. According to him, a transformational change is needed but one that is based on the simultaneous involvement of the private sector, civil society and the state, and not just a ‘better’ or more effective state is needed. What is most important is transformational leadership and the institutions nurturing such new leadership. This should go beyond ‘sectors’. The 1980s saw the destruction of these institutions of leadership: African universities and research institutes were thwarted and marginalized, and the hoped-for private sector did not adequately step in. Knowledge production for policymaking was basically killed and became dependent on foreign agencies like the Bretton Woods institutions and Western donor agencies. He continued by saying that a social contract is needed for transformation and one that is politically viable, socially rooted and with a shared and integral vision of the future. This demands a learning culture and a lot of experimentation (Asian style), and not the umpteenth declaration of desires. Transformational change is a political project, not some technocratic declaration. And, like politics in general, it is full of contradictions. The most fundamental question is the way transformational politics addresses the issue of inequality and how, through political decision making and adequate policy implementation, growth translates into redistribution and real poverty alleviation, particularly of the rural masses. So basically, it is about the merging of economic growth politics and social policy discourses.

All conference members in Addis.

All conference members in Addis.

Africa’s reality
Blandina added that the sustainability of the transformation agenda depends on internal checks and balances and the level of tolerance created in and around the political arena in Africa. It will become important how African states implement the post-2015 agenda and how they streamline their initiatives in a pan-African project, which will also result in more regional integration. She pleaded for a much more creative use of data and evidence, connecting the micro and the macro level approaches and triangulating the different datasets to come up with shared narratives of inclusive development successes. She noted that, at the level of the African Union and in many African states, aspirations have been formulated that show Africa’s wish to act, to push African politicians into actions and to make them go beyond paying lip service alone to all the nice new visions formulated over the last few years. She agreed with Fantu that we need better knowledge development to capture the political process connected to implementing these visions. On the other hand, many African leaders accepted the Maputo Declaration of a few years ago in which they agreed to spend at least 10% of government budgets on agricultural transformation. And what is actually happening is still far removed from that (meagre) goal. There is no integrated policy to connect this agricultural policy with rural infrastructure development, to connect government spending with private-sector initiatives, to improve value chains of agricultural and mineral products and to develop adequate clusters of innovation connecting the state, the private sector and civil society, as was so clearly formulated by Fantu. And there is a lot of confusion about the ‘manufacturing’ and ‘service sector’ part of economic transformation: the sector approach seems to disconnect from Africa’s reality of multi-sector activities by individuals, families and enterprises. It does not see small farmers as genuine entrepreneurs. It does not link easily to their demands and desires. And hence it continues to look at the mass of poor rural people with a paternalistic, urban-modern gaze that does not take them seriously enough. It is interesting to study what states that declare themselves to be ‘developmental states’ (Rwanda, Ethiopia) are doing to integrate these rural farmers/multi-sector entrepreneurs in their efforts to transform economies in ways that genuinely create possibilities for the poorest 40% in society to improve their lives. And the same is also true for the people at the bottom of the pyramid in the urban informal sector.