Africa at the crossroads: Let's talk Brazil
- Jay Naidoo
- 28 Nov 2011 07:00 (South Africa)
Having just returned from Brazil where I was hosted by the Lula Institute, I was struck by the conversations I had with ordinary people: taxi drivers, hotel staff, youths in the streets, activists working in the favelas to business tycoons and ministers in government. There is an overwhelming sense of hope in spite of the challenges they still face in a country of 190 million people, almost four times the population of South Africa. In office for less than a year, President Dilma Rousseff has taken a tough line firing six ministers for corruption, misuse of funds and influence peddling.
At the core of Brazil's success is undoubtedly the successful public and social policies pursued by the charismatic former president Lula and his team. Building on the stabilisation efforts laid by previous administrations, he aggressively confronted the problems of Brazil’s poor, arguing that the key strategic objectives of government policy should be the right of every Brazilian family to have three nutritious meals a day. By launching the Zero Hunger Campaign, it focused the minds of government bureaucrats on the needs of the people. Underpinned by the social protection programme Bolsha Familia, 13 million families receive a grant which goes to the women in 93% of the homes. It has taken close to 30 million people out of hunger and poverty and had a huge impact on increasing school attendance and immunisation of children. The school feeding scheme has linked meals to family agriculture and strengthened local economic development.
At the same time implementing strong and pragmatic economic policies which were often criticised by the Left, Lula drove a vision of a strong partnership between the public and private sectors which in his eight-year term resulted in the creation of at least ten million jobs. The central roles of BNDES, the Brazilian national development bank, and leading parastatal corporations were critical in taking the risks that drove an industrial and infrastructure strategy that opened up new sectors and crowded in private capital.
The expansion of the ethanol industry drove Brazil towards energy self-sufficiency and opened up new opportunities for farmers on lands previously unsuitable for agriculture. Scientific agencies such as Embrapa harnessed new technologies that created new and better seed varieties and inputs that drove farming efficiencies that have made Brazil food-secure and the powerhouse of global agriculture.
With the African Development Bank, I was invited to address the heads of Brazil’s major public and private sectors investing in Africa. I argued investment philosophy had to embrace the social policies that made Brazil a success. Our greatest challenge in Africa is to feed our people and address the overwhelming poverty and inequality. Africa has gone from a net food exporter in the 1960s to being heavily dependent on food aid – as demonstrated by the recent crisis in the Horn of Africa. Of the world’s hungry, 250 million live in Africa and one in three children are stunted or malnourished. As the population of Africa rises to 2.5 billion by 2050, more than half will be living in cities and the vast majority be under the age of 25. Youth unemployment and the despair of hunger are time bombs waiting to explode.
With 80% of arable land uncultivated and nearly two-thirds of African countries net importers of food, this is a huge opportunity for the right type of partnership between Brazil and Africa to bring mutual benefits such as transfer of skills, technology and the building of the capacity of African small-scale farmers. This will distinguish countries from the notorious “land grabs” where often deals are struck with corrupt leaders and end up serving only the food security needs of foreign countries and, ultimately, nations capsized by social resentment and instability.
Secondly, Africa is moving towards greater transparency in addressing our “resource curse”. Momentum is building for greater transparency in mining deals. The Natural Recourse Charter has set down principles on how exploiting natural wealth must bring the full benefits of taxes to promote environmental and social development. This implies inclusive social development that benefits the majority of citizens and not just to a predatory political elite.
The Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative sets the global standard for transparency in oil, gas and mining and has now been adopted by the G20. Civil society and a partnership of committed governments and businesses are now building a global campaign for the public disclosure of all contracts and that companies should publish what they pay and governments must disclose what they receive. As one Ghanaian elderly woman remarked, “If we are walking on gold, why are we so poor?”. Hundreds of millions of Africans are demanding the answer to this question. We have had enough of the corruption of the few that has left the majority living in conditions of civil war, conflict, hunger and poverty.
Thirdly, my appeal was for the transfer of technology that made Brazil energy self-sufficient. More than two billion people do not have access to electricity and the bulk of these live in Africa. Not only was Brazil successful in advancing the scientific barriers to ethanol production, it also sharpened abilities in no-grid platforms such as solar, wind, biomass, hydro, water purification and dry sanitation. Africa would be able to harness these technologies – as we did with mobile phones – and leapfrog into the 21st century.
I believe our biggest weaknesses in the height of the global commodities boom was policy uncertainty, corruption and lack of transparency in building an African bargaining position that could extract the maximum benefit for the people of Africa, rather than the avaricious elites who rule today in many countries. Building up a robust and dynamic civil society acting with progressive voices in governments and businesses globally is a wanted-it-yesterday priority, and in Africa we should start demanding our right to accountable governance that places the interests our people centre stage.
More than anything else, South Africa, and indeed Africa, needs a hope. Hope and belief that tomorrow is going to be better than today. If people of Africa keep waking up in the world that is a bit worse than yesterday, the “Arab Spring” will become the “African Summer” that will sweep out of power the corrupt who have kept our continent in chains long after we have won our struggles for freedom. Pretty picture it will not be. DM