“ POSSIBLY WE HAD AN OVEROPTIMISTIC VIEW ON THINGS”
The symposium was definitely marked by the intensity of the debates, the depth of intellectual arguments, passion, and the search for solutions. At the end of the day, participants were exhausted by reflection, but encouraged by promise of progress. Through ten hours of discussion, dark visions were transformed into a glimmer of light, and terrible realities were placed into a framework of the achievable.
16 speakers of nations far apart, from Poland to Uganda, Portugal to the USA, Morocco to Senegal, Ghana to South Africa, representing 16 opinions and 16 options presented by some of the most qualified economists of the world. Some of them, like Matata Ponyo Mapon, the former Prime Minister of the Democratic Republic of Congo, were able to change theories into reality. Cadman Atta Mills, who until 2017 was special advisor to the President of Ghana argued with the certitude of an intellectual who could point to almost 45 years of post-PHD professional experience. Marek Dabrowski was member of the Polish parliament and First Deputy Finance Minister of his native Poland, and he is familiar with the economic struggles of politically opposed countries like Saudi Arabia and Russia, where the respected economist is teaching at The Higher School of Economics of Moscow.
The first African Economic Policy Symposium hosted by the “OCP Policy Center” in Rabat was not a gathering of theories or an intellectual exercise of self-satisfaction, but rather the earnest and urgent attempt to find answers to urgent questions. Among these questions one could note: “is Africa doomed to suffer from the lack of adequate infrastructures”, or “what is the optimal middle ground between intra-and inter-continental trade?”, or “is the continent on the right way to deepen its financial sector?”, “what are the appropriate policies to adopt in order to lift the African industrial competitiveness”? There was intensive questioning during the session on” Financial deepening and infrastructure development ”, enriched by thoughtful and logic arguments of Mounssif Aderkaoui, the director of studies and financial forecasts at the Moroccan Ministry of Finance. Vietnam born and Washington based Pr Hinh Dinh, who worked almost four decades with the World Bank, bolstered his arguments through his experience in a multitude of countries on the African continent struggling with regional integration and future growth which are, for now, limited by low manufacturing and processing capacity. Worse, symptoms of deindustrialization are visible in some nations, and the catastrophic infrastructures, as telecommunication systems, supply of electricity or water, do not allow dreams of lifting Africa’s industrial competitiveness in the near future. 100 billion dollars yearly are needed to modernize these infrastructures. 100 billions! Who can finance these amounts, who is willing the risk on a continent that often seems on the brink of exhaustion?
Informed economists like Theodore H. Moran, Georgetown University Professor and Senior fellow of the Peterson Institute for International Economics in Washington DC, questioned that immediate remedies for the African continent were available. ”The future is not predictable, but not all indicators are leading to desperation”. Setbacks were documented by deadly, supposed ethnic violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo on the day of the symposium itself, indicating Africa would need to overcome violence, social unrest, terrorist disruptions and military disobedience in order to reassure possible Foreign investors willing to risk funds for infrastructure projects and commercial or industrial opportunities.
The first “African Economic Policy Symposium” is the attempt to open channels of communications between enlightened politicians and seasoned economists, attempting to unite constructive ideas, searching for new avenues for progress, urgently needed on a continent rich in potential. There is oil, raw materials, agriculture, that are not exploited yet to their fullest. Despite the rather careful judgement of Africa’s future by many participants, the overall assessment was surprisingly optimistic. Young educated African intellectuals as Ms. Hamukoma are questioning the egotism of their elders, who often are misusing government funds for their private needs, and those of their clans. To establish order and stability, Matata Ponyo Mapon, the former Prime minister of the Democratic Republic of Congo argued that one needs a strong hand in government, “willing to clamp down on those who serve themselves with funds, meant for and needed by the people”. This politician did not have political ambitions. He was a technocrat, chosen by the President to bring order into the budget, streamlining the economy. And he did: during his time in government, six years in all, Matata Ponyo Mapon achieved debt cancellation with the IMF, monetary stability, controlled inflation, and an annual GDP growth rate of 7 percent. In other words, he achieved a strong upswing in the economy, rated among the best performing economies in the world. His country’s poverty rate has gone down from 80 percent to 63.4 and education has increased from 1 percent to 16 in the state budget. During his years in power (until December 2016), his government also intensified its reforms in infrastructure, transport, agriculture, energy. The government was praised by the world bank as one of 10 countries in the world which carried out the most reforms.
He argued at the intense symposium that a ”strong hand” was needed in Africa’s governments and by that he did not mean “the brutality of dictators”. Cadman Mills said that indeed, “foreign capital was urgently needed to support, reform and stabilize the continent”, but not “just any kind of deal” did he warn his audience. Mills, once a member of the board of directors of the Ghana National Petroleum Company, documented his scepticism by remembering his experience with the Chinese. He was Chairman of the Sino-Ghana Presidential Task Force— negotiating a three billion Chinese Infrastructure Loan for Ghana. It was a great opportunity, a blueprint for the future. It could ensure electricity for all, water, trains connecting cities, new schools, modern universities, and work for the poor, the laborers, who were unemployed and desperate. It was a done deal, not empty promises. But the Chinese did not hire local companies, nor they reduced unemployment in Ghana. They arrived with their own Chinese construction crews, Chinese workers and even Chinese food. Possibly, Mr. Mills said in hindsight, “we did not look enough on the small print in our contracts, or possibly we just had an overoptimistic look at things”.