#16 food & farming
Ibrahim Assane Mayaki

"A New Generation is Emerging"

Ibrahim Mayaki, CEO of NEPAD talks about the possibilities to strategically design Africa’s future and the role agriculture will play in a transformation.

Africa is changing like no other continent. The population is very young and new approaches and leaders will emerge in the coming decades. At the same time, the international image depicted of Africa is often still negative. The direction of continental development remains unclear. One program influencing the development of Africa is NEPAD (New Partnership for Africa's Development). In 2009 Ibrahim Assane Mayaki was appointed CEO of NEPAD. Mayaki has been involved in African politics for decades: He served as Prime Minister of Niger from 1997 to 2007. DDD had a chance to talk with Mayaki about the role of regional integration, the importance of smallholder farming, and how the perception of women has changed.

DDD: For some scholars, the founding of NEPAD in 2002 meant a shift in the thinking of African leaders to focus more on Africa itself, and addressing problems like corruption and the rule of law. Looking at Africa 15 years after NEPAD was founded, what is the approach today?

Mayaki: In 2000, the NEPAD program was designed and backed by a very strong political will under the initiative of Olusegun Obasanjo, Thabo Mbeki, and Abdelaziz Bouteflika. Africa was coming out of a process of very extensive structural adjustment. Our capacity to think strategically had been completely totally erased because structural adjustment – just like in Greece now – is about cutting, cutting, cutting, and not about constructing a development strategy. Our planning institutions had been de-constructed, our planning processes erased. Africa will not transform if we don’t have the capacity to think strategically over the long term. And the main trigger of that transformation should not come from the outside; it should be governance. With its density of mineral and natural resources and a very young population, Africa has strong advantages, but we are not really thinking about governance. The key and fundamental criterion for designing NEPAD was governance – how to restore governance as a key factor that can allow strategic thinking. That is how NEPAD and the African peer review mechanism were designed.

This was a paradigm shift from political liberation to economic transformation and governance.

Governance needs to be built on a certain type of partnership. At the national level, policies should not be designed top down. You should involve civil society and the private sector. Then you have partnership at a regional level as regional integration, and at an international level between Africa and the rest of the world. For Africa, partnership at the national and regional levels was critical. So we designed a program with agricultural, infrastructure, energy, and education on an integrated basis, based on regional integration. When the African Union followed as successor to the Organisation of African Unity in 2002, NEPAD became the African Union’s development program. This was a paradigm shift from political liberation to economic transformation and governance. NEPAD helps to implement the decisions taken above by providing programs – such as the CAADP for agriculture. If you look at it now 15 years later, we have what we call the Agenda 2063, a prospective 50-year program, which seems like a long time in the future. The idea is not to have a rigid program for the next 50 years, but to give countries, governments, and regions a blueprint for tackling the critical African issues.

A new generation is emerging out of a new context which will attract a greater breadth of civil society and the youth.

If you look at the current pace of democratisation, the role of civil society is growing and it is getting increasingly difficult to be an African leader today, because your abilities are questioned more and more. Individuals need to be more accountable and the number of examples of populations shaking the system is growing, from Tunisia, to Burkina Faso to Burundi. There is no more passivity towards political institutions and governments and this trend will increase in the next 10 to 15 years. 10 years from now, none of the current presidents that you have in Africa will be in leadership as presidents because of age or constitutional restrictions. A new generation is emerging out of a new context which will attract a greater breadth of civil society and the youth.

DDD: When you talk about regional integration compared to international partnerships, how do you see agreements between the European Union and African countries?

Given the asymmetry that exists between Europe and Africa, I think we should have a learning curve of competitiveness at a regional level. I think free trade areas would be most useful at the regional level, where we could learn how to be competitive and then slowly open our economies. This has been done in most global regions, but the complexity and context in which we find ourselves in makes it more difficult.

Obviously, you need to follow trade, but you cannot look at it disconnected from your national interest.

It also turns into the question of governance I was talking about earlier. Most farmers' organisations are combating EPAs and demanding subsidies from their governments, just as the US farm bill does. Small-scale farmers produce 80% of the food that Africans consume. So a solution could be positive discrimination in favour of small-scale farmers. Obviously, you need to follow trade, but you cannot look at it disconnected from your national interest. Small-scale farmers are part of that national interest in the long term, and they are contesting policies more and more.

If we want to be competitive at the global level, we need a learning curve – starting at the regional level.

We have seen lots of discussions taking place nationally and regionally. It often goes one step forward, then two steps back. This shows that there is no good consensus; a lot depends on relationships and long-term thinking is not embedded in these negotiations. These policy processes will be tested through social dynamics and how the farmers’ organisations and civil society react to it. If we want to be competitive at the global level, we need a learning curve – starting at the regional level.

DDD: In recent decades, there has been a lot of awareness of the importance of small-scale farmers. While we are on the subject of the learning curve: It seems like small-scale farming plays a minor role in most industrialised countries. It is of key importance in other areas of the world, especially for the most vulnerable sectors of societies. What strategy does NEPAD follow? Is the focus more on helping small-scale farmers progress technologically or is it more on bigger industrialised farming?

We need investment in the sector, and we need these multinationals in the sector. The only thing we have to ensure is that we also take care of the interests of small-scale farmers.

I think both processes are complementary. I chair an organisation called “Grow Africa”. Grow Africa was designed by the World Economic Forum and African countries with the task of getting multinationals to invest in Africa’s agriculture without compromising the interests of small-scale farmers. It’s a question of having the right principles, such as the FAO principles on responsible investment that take land issues into account. Multinationals are becoming increasingly open to that way of thinking and ready to respect those principles. There is no black and white here, and agribusiness is extremely important for transformation. We need investment in the sector, and we need these multinationals in the sector. The only thing we have to ensure is that we also take care of the interests of small-scale farmers. We can guarantee this by having principles, having a responsible state, and having transparency. Grow Africa will be made part of NEPAD and contribute by supervising agreements between big companies and governments.

DDD: Does this framework also provide initiatives for African states to better coordinate in order to combat land grabbing?

Not really. I will not say there is none, but cooperation on the regional level on issues like land grabbing is very low. Any time there is land grabbing you have corruption, because land grabbing is never transparent. Otherwise it is not land grabbing. The good thing about the regional level is that the regional space reduces the potential for corruption compared to the national level. Rationally, we should tackle issues like land grabbing more through regional cooperation.

One mechanism to reduce corruption could be the African peer review mechanism you talked about earlier. How successful is it and what are the biggest challenges to it?

The APRM has 3 steps. The first step is to ask a country to do a self-diagnosis of governance. The second step is to have a panel of politically independent specialists come and do a review. The review involves everybody: opposition parties, labour unions, government parties, and civil society organisations. There is generally a gap between the review and the national self-diagnosis from the first step. The specialists write up a report, and the country’s head of state has to comment on it, defend his government regarding the issues raised.

Nothing is taboo in these reports.

In 2007 when the report was compiled for South Africa, it noted strong xenophobia at the time. When the report was drafted for Kenya, it warned about potential conflicts from the elections. In Mauritius the report said discrimination was very problematic. Nothing is taboo in these reports. When the report has been presented to the head of state, a national plan of action is drafted to address the recommendations from the report. So far we have been very good at diagnosis, but we could have done much better in implementing national plans of action. Few countries have done a second review yet, apart from a few exceptions like Nigeria and Kenya. It is a slow process, and there are a lot of challenges in implementing the recommendations, but the process is fair and the path is long. The number of governments applying voluntarily is increasing. No one obliges them to come in. And the reports written up are very harsh reports, so they know they’ll receive a harsh report.

DDD: In the field of agriculture and combating hunger, NEPAD applies a range of different initiatives. What initiative has been most important to you and is there an example of a successful initiative?

We have now intervened in more than 40 countries to help them design national investment plans for agriculture. In nutrition we have worked with partners and succeeded in really integrating the nutrition dimension into the issue of agricultural development. This was not the case before we intervened. What really helped us convince policy-makers is that we organised studies on the cost of hunger. Together with experts from the FAO, the World Food Programme, we demonstrated that the cost of hunger amounts to 10-15 % of a country’s GDP. To tell you the truth, when I looked at the cost summaries in the hunger reports, I did not believe that the methodology could be entirely accurate. I was biased because I thought that there was no way it could cost ten to fifteen points in GDP – but it does. This provided the basis for arguing with policy-makers.

You cannot consider human capital development if you don’t solve the issue of nutrition.

If you do not tackle nutrition, if you think it will tackle itself, if you don’t have specific policies, if you don’t have a public capacity of trained people who can insert nutrition into your agricultural policies, it will cost you a lot. Re-prioritizing nutrition as a key element of development – stressing its importance for the entire economy was also crucial. In many countries, we are seeing issues of hate, of brain development, that are linked to nutrition. You cannot consider human capital development if you don’t solve the issue of nutrition. That initiative we had on nutrition was extremely important.

DDD: The sustainable development goals have been globally formulated. One goal is not just to minimize the number of people who are starving, but to eradicate the number of people who die from hunger by 2030. Do you think these are realistic goals and what do you think are the most important lessons learnt from the MDG process and the most important policies for implementing or achieving this goal?

We also need to derive African Development Goals from the SDGs that will tackle our problems more specifically.

I think one of the important advantages of the MDGs was that they helped African countries plan concrete targets in ten very clear objectives. They helped reignite planning processes, evaluations, reports and so on. The MDGs played an important role here. Now we have the SDGs which are much more complex, with many more targets, and a high number of indicators that apply to all countries. We are clearly taking the SDGs very seriously, and were very involved in the negotiation process. We also need to derive African Development Goals from the SDGs that will tackle our problems more specifically. The Common African Position during negotiations on the Post-2015 Development Agenda focused on youth employment, for example. 75% of Africans are under 25; if we don’t provide employment to them through industrial policies, our government systems will collapse. Did you know a Boko Haram fighter is an average of 17 years old? How much does he earn? Between seven and eight dollars a day. If you don’t give this Boko Haram fighter an opportunity to get involved in a productive process, he will be lost. So the idea of a Common African Position would be to look at productivity capacities and youth employment and link these different segments so that transformation can take place. We have to tackle more specific problems within Africa.

DDD: You said focusing on the youth is very important for the African agenda. What else would you say is especially important for the development of African countries?

In addition to youth, I think the role of women is a core issue. I have to admit, I wasn’t always a believer in the role women could play. I have an anecdote from when I was Prime Minister of Niger 20 years ago. Back then, when you formed a government, the last thing you did after assigning roles to everybody else was to look for someone to take on the Ministerial Department for Women’s Development. It was not considered important. Twenty years later the situation has completely changed because the youth cannot be transformed without the involvement of women, nor can fields like agriculture, education and nutrition.

Agriculture is another very important area. If you take Mali as an example: The majority of the population lives in rural areas, the main activities are related to agriculture, and the majority of the population is young. A high percentage is migrating to the cities and to the informal sectors. So every year there are 300,000 young people between 18 and 24 who enter the employment markets in Mali. How do you give them a job? Your public sector cannot hire them because of macro-economic constraints. Your industry is still emerging, so you have no place for them there. Agriculture becomes key. The support of smallholder farmers and agribusiness is fundamental. In most African countries, agriculture is vital because it is the only place where you can provide employment by transforming the sector - and as I stressed earlier, intra-African trade is an important issue as well.

Interview: Frederik Caselitz

Photo: „Investing in Africa´s farms - and its future“ by Africa Renewal
2006 - licenced under Creative Commons Attribution (2.0)

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