G20 Vs. Africa: Still Same Old Tokenism, By Rafiq Raji

These are mostly related to aids for the development of youth and women. One initiative aims to create 1.1 million new jobs by 2022, with a skills programme for more than five million youth… With one-third of Africa’s 420 million youth unemployed and another third in vulnerable employment, these initiatives would barely scratch the surface of the problem.

Evidence that America’s stature has diminished under the leadership of the erratic incumbent, Donald Trump, was writ large at this year’s heads of state meeting of the group of 20 major world economies (G20) in Hamburg, Germany. (Together, they constitute more than 80 percent of global economic output.) Mr Trump was a sorry sight, to say the least, isolated consipicously from other leaders, with less seeming ones like Russia’s for instance, far more at ease. Even as world leaders are beginning to learn how to work around or without Mr. Trump, America’s divergence from the other 19 members (and indeed the world) on the hard-fought global consensus on trade and climate change is going to be of cost to everyone. In contrast, Mr. Trump very happily obliged four African countries US$639 million in food and other humanitarian assistance. Almost 20 percent of the funds would go to Nigeria to deal with the desperate situation in the North-East. When summed with the earlier declared aid, the total American pledged assistance for Africa in the 2017 fiscal year comes to about US$1.8 billion.

When Trump’s proposed aid cuts to United Nations’ African peacekeeping operations and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), a major funder of crucial family planning programmes on the continent, and the closure of some African-focused government agencies (like the US African Development Foundation), and so on, are considered, the announced American aid at the G20 summit rings somewhat hollow. The South African president, Jacob Zuma, whose country is the only African member of the G20, shed more light on the African gains from the summit. These are mostly related to aids for the development of youth and women. One initiative aims to create 1.1 million new jobs by 2022, with a skills programme for more than five million youth over the same period. Another would finance women entrepreneurs and boost the technological savvy of girls. With one-third of Africa’s 420 million youth unemployed and another third in vulnerable employment, these initiatives would barely scratch the surface of the problem. Agriculture and labour-intensive manufacturing remain the most viable way to create jobs. Africa’s richest man, Aliko Dangote, already recognises the urgency and opportunity, and has announced plans to invest US$4.6 billion in the Nigerian agricultural setor. The level of his commitment is a good way to assess the relative pittance of such nonsensical assistance like the announced American one. Quite frankly, until the world’s advanced economies genuinely desire that African countries succeed, their initiatives would continue to fall short.

Self-interested Intentions

Still, much credit must be given to the German presidency of the G20 this year, which tried against daunting odds to focus on African issues. Considering myriad tensions among members over more pressing issues, German Chancellor Angela Merkel must be applauded for enabling Africa to feature as prominently as it did. Unfortunately, it did not seem like her colleagues, Mr. Trump for instance, shared her vision that what Africa needs is not more aid but partnerships. Of course, the symbolism of the German city, Berlin, being were the fabled “scramble for Africa” was decided adds a tinge of irony to her advocacy. With illegal African immigration to Europe continuing unabated, there is a recognition that should Europe and other developed economies not do their utmost to make living in Africa more encouraging to the continent’s youth, there is not much that can be done to stem the tide. It makes sense then that the focus of the G20 German presidency’s African initiatives were on youth and women. Simpler but more far-reaching moves could have been made, however.

…it is probably foolhardy to expect that these advanced economies would simply block at least US$50 billion in financial inflows, though illicit, from African countries. Fortunately, there is much more African countries can do to recover the significant portion of stolen public funds within their borders.

The advocacy made by Nigeria’s acting president, Yemi Osinbajo, ahead of the summit, did not receive the much deserved attention it deserved, for instance. Professor Osinbajo thought to reiterate how often these summits end with nice pledges for African countries, which hardly translate into concrete action. Aptly titled “It’s time to move beyond pledges to back Africa’s future”, Prof. Osinbajo was primarily interested in what the G20 would do to ensure information about the beneficial owners of secretive companies and trusts used to hide illicit wealth is made public. Corruption investigations by African governments on the trail of treasury looters who have stashed their ill-gotten wealth in Europe and elsewhere would continue to prove difficult otherwise. Of course, it is probably foolhardy to expect that these advanced economies would simply block at least US$50 billion in financial inflows, though illicit, from African countries. Fortunately, there is much more African countries can do to recover the significant portion of stolen public funds within their borders.

Holier Than Thou

In the Nigerian case, for instance, the authorities have recorded greater success in recovering looted funds locally. A whistle-blowing policy, increasingly a double-edged sword, also proved to be helpful initially. With whistleblowers now realising that the government’s protective measures for them underwhelm in the face of the greater resources in the hands of beneficiaries of corruption, the initial momentum has begun to slow somewhat. If Nigeria, which is in dire need of funds for its ambitious budget this year and later on, hopes to secure greater recoveries in the quickest time and at the lowest cost possible, there needs to be a wiser approach. Just this week, for instance, finance minister Kemi Adeosun announced the country could not borrow any further this year, asserting that needed funds for the 2017 budget would have to be sourced internally. The recent tax amnesty executive order for those who either are currently not within the tax net or have underreported their asset hitherto, which the government hopes would bring at least US$1 billion in additional revenue, is a little step in this direction. It is highly unlikely, however, that treasury looters that have thus far managed to escape the long hands of the law, would be willing to take the risk of disclosing their ill-gotten wealth. The only way this set of thieves would be willing to confess their sins is if they are assured of amnesty backed by law. So those who have been railing against the proposed economic amnesty bill in the Nigerian lower legislature should think again. Many are hypocrites, anyway, barely cringing when similar initiatives were proposed for people who committed murders and destroyed crucial infrastructure because it bordered on their personal security.

If truth and reconciliation commissions can be instituted to grant amnesty to people who committed genocide in exchange for their confessions, what is the difficulty in an arrangement that allows us recover our stolen wealth from these shameless thieves in exchange for amnesty from prosecution? If it is made time-bound, and the tax on the declared stolen wealth set very high, 90 percent, say, would it be so bad an outcome? To be effective though, the law should be in tandem with blocking the loopholes that allowed the pilferage to occur in the first place. During the Goodluck Jonathan presidency, Central Bank governor, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi claimed at least US$20 billion had been stolen, a move that cost him his job. Now Emir of Kano, Muhammad Sanusi II has been vindicated. Of course, that was just the hole he could see. Much more was pilfered. But tell me, how much of that has been or would ever be recovered? About half thus far – US$9.1 billion in asset and funds. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) estimates Nigeria’s stolen wealth almost forty years since independence to 1999, when the country embarked on its most recent democratic experiment, at about US$600 billion. Another USD$125 billion is believed to have been embezzled since 1999. The sum, US$725 billion, is almost twice the size of Nigeria’s economy in 2016 of about US$406 billion. There is no way a punitive approach would succeed in recovering even a quarter of that. Unless we start taking pragmatic approaches to solving our problems, we will continue to flounder.

Rafiq Raji, a writer and researcher, is based in Lagos, Nigeria.

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