Former Prime Minister of Niger, Ibrahim Assane Mayaki, is the Executive Secretary of NEPAD, the African Union’s Development Agency. He tells Marie Hourtoule from The Parliament Magazine that there is an inextricable link between the quality and robustness of Africa’s institutions and its prosperity. This interview was first published in The Parliament Magazine March 2019 issue.
Marie Hourtoule: NEPAD is set to become the AU’s Development Agency. What changes will this involve?
Ibrahim Assane Mayaki: The pan-African idea is not a new one. It was supported by the founding fathers of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU), at the forefront of whom was Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana. The original version of pan-Africanism had a single aim: the decolonisation of the continent. The emancipation of the last Portuguese colonies in 1975, the accession of Namibia to international sovereignty in March 1990 and the abolition of the Apartheid Regime in June 1991 signalled the triumph of the pan-African idea as an ideology of liberation.
Yet in a sense, this achievement deprived the OAU of its raison d’être; it then had to redirect its attention elsewhere and overcome internal disagreements. At the turn of the millennium, the idea of an “African Renaissance” emerged, under the impetus of personalities such as South Africa’s Thabo Mbeki, Nigeria’s Olusegun Obasanjo, Algeria’s Abdelaziz Bouteflika and Senegal’s Abdoulaye Wade. The transformation of the OAU into the African Union (AU), launched at the 2002 Durban Summit, laid the foundations for “pragmatic pan-Africanism”.
During the same period, NEPAD was set up to achieve economic, alongside Africa’s political, independence, by adopting an innovative approach and reconciling public sector planning and private sector investment. Today, 17 years later, the transformation of NEPAD into the African Union’s Development Agency, a technical organisation with its own articles of association and its own legal identity, marks a significant strengthening of this pragmatic ambition. Prompted by a special recommendation in the report by President Paul Kagamé, this change will take effect in 2019 at the next AU summit. We look forward to this transformation, as it will enable us to implement more effectively our development programmes for our continent.
MH: Do you think the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme can succeed?
IAM: Development in Africa will not be possible until its agriculture has undergone significant change. Don’t forget that agriculture provides 60 percent of Africa’s jobs and 25 percent of its GDP.The Comprehensive Africa
Agriculture Development Programme is an important part of NEPAD and one of its pillars. NEPAD provides AU member states with support for its implementation, through close collaboration with the AU Commission and the various Regional Economic Communities. This programme aims to achieve at least a 10 percent increase in public investment in agriculture and at least a 6 percent increase in farming productivity. We are still some way off this goal, as over half the member states have not achieved these targets.
NEPAD recently launched the African partnership platform for the environment in Nairobi, with the aim of producing a road-map for the development of sustainable agriculture. We need to work together, to mobilise our resources, develop agricultural technology and increase productivity, without losing sight of food security. Inclusivity must be our watchword.
MH: In your latest book, you write that there are not enough countries with institutions able to confront the challenges facing Africa. Can you expand on this?
IAM: Our continent is faced with enormous challenges, starting with population growth and climate change. The African workforce is set to rise to 880 million people by 2050. This figure alone gives some insight into what we are facing. As the former Prime Minister of Ethiopia, Mélès Zenawi – one of the most remarkable personalities I have met – used to say, “analyse your problems in your own terms”. This lack of an appropriate analytical approach has been the basic reason for the failure of development policies attempted in various African countries. It is the failure to take ownership. The same applies to our institutions. It is not enough to replicate foreign institutions; they have to be adapted to the conditions in Africa, to our resources, both human and material. The outcome is not inevitable. Botswana and the Central African Republic, two states similar in many ways, were in similar positions forty years ago. However, both have followed very different paths. The institutions play a decisive role. It will take Africa about ten years to establish sound institutions that will provide a basis for its future progress.
It is one of the tragedies of our continent is that our best minds eschew politics and the public realm. It is not my place to point the finger at particular countries or situations. I ask for a clear-sighted examination and consideration of how we can make up for the shortcomings of our institutions. The World Bank’s latest assessment of public policy and institutions in Africa showed a drop in the quality of policies and institutions in sub-Saharan Africa. This was particularly marked in those countries exporting raw materials and in fragile states. By contrast, the countries that have sound institutions are those demonstrating the greatest economic resilience. This supports my belief that there is an inextricable link between the quality and robustness of the institutions and prosperity.