Friday, October 5, 2007
By: Julia N. Opoti
MINNEAPOLIS – Dean J. Brian Atwood of the Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs at the University of Minnesota urged Western governments to revisit their economic policies, especially their offer of huge agricultural subsidies to their farmers, which he said hinder growth in Africa.
Atwood was addressing conference attendees on the last formal day of the Pan African Trade Summit, which has been going on at the university since Thursday.
While Atwood agreed that he was in support of more trade than aid, he acknowledged that some African countries have very limited economic growth as a result needed aid. However, he cautioned, foreign companies seeking to invest in Africa to do business ethically.
“In the absence of human growth development, poor infrastructure and rule of law among other things, it is difficult to convince an American company to invest in Africa,” he said.
Atwood also urged foreign investors to look beyond the traditional resources for exploitation. He cited Rwanda, a country that has recovered from the 1994 genocide to make steady strides in economic growth by developing the internet industry.
As had been echoed by many speakers throughout the summit, Atwood stressed the importance of an economically empowered middle class.
“A country cannot depend on only low wages,” he said.
Speaking on diversification of African commodities to enhance economic growth, Atwood cited Nigerian use of cassava. For many years, Nigeria, which is the world’s largest producer of cassava, had only one use for it – to make Gari, a cassava-based staple bread. Now, Nigeria has found that there is a market to export cassava to Europe for making cassava chips and that they can produce starch from cassava instead of importing it.
When someone in the audience noted that many Western multinationals do not practice social responsibility and wondered on ways to make them accountable, Atwood agreed and urged the United Nations to take the initiative to place accountability measures in place.
On capacity building on African businesses and investors, Atwood said that the Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs, subject to funding, was interested in taking an initiative to engage in trade training seminars.
Finally, Atwood criticized structural adjustment programs with Western financial institutions, which he insisted are crippling African economies. He continued to say that a country that demonstrates that it is on track to sound economic development should have its debts forgiven.
“These nations spend more money on servicing debts that were incurred in previous administrations, instead of building their economies,” Atwood said.