Interview with Ibrahim Assane Mayaki, Chief Executive Officer of the NEPAD Planning and Coordinating Agency

11 October 2011

TNI: How should Aid for Trade (AfT) be used in order to further Africa's growth, development and participation in the global economy in the most effective way?

I think that first of all, ideologically, trade is like war: you go in the pursuit of conquering territories, almost in the same logic as you do in war, but you use different types of arms. If you assume that trade is like war, then the issue of providing aid to a potential competitor becomes a critical and interesting issue. The agenda of AfT as it has developed in the last years has been mainly embedded in development thinking and practice. In that sense it really provides instruments which can help to see trade as an instrument for development.

It is in this regard that the issue of capacity becomes important: capacity at the national level, and at the regional level. Capacity goes beyond being able to negotiate in global conferences, it is the capacity to produce, to meet quality standards, the capacity to have an efficient private sector, the capacity to have a state providing an enabling environment for the private sector to perform, the capacity to have policymakers understand what trade is about and how we can fit in this context.

In that sense aid for trade really makes sense and in the last years some progress has been made. The role of Pascal Lamy should be recognized as a key actor in that process.

TNI: Countries and regions in Africa have put a great emphasis on AfT as a means to mobilise additional resources. How do you reconcile this high level of expectations and the fact that disbursement rates have, in some countries, been low?

Let us contextualise this question. In the last 15 years the statistics show that on a population of about 900 million, about 500 million Africans, roughly, live in countries where domestic resources are ten times more important than aid. The numbers of Africans that live in countries where aid is more important than domestic resources is 60 million.

The figures have evolved for three reasons: good macroeconomic polices, better governance, accountability, democratic intensity and so on. That has allowed a better mobilisation of domestic resources. Therefore the AfT architecture has to be looked at in terms of African themselves putting more money in the AfT logic and instruments.

TNI: What is NEPAD's strategy to overcome the bottlenecks to Regional Integration (RI) in Africa?

RI is a process that will be slow and that will have to show concrete results in terms of regional polices. To make the story short, there are issues and subjects that cannot be dealt with nationally in an optimal way. Policymakers need to understand that, and l believe they do. In the issue of energy and power they do absolutely understand it. The power cuts in Africa cost us fifty-six days of power during the year, two points of economic growth. We will not be able to tackle this issue if it is not done at the regional level.

The role of NEPAD is to facilitate, with its new mandate, the implementation of regional programmes and projects in transport, in power, in energy, in agriculture and so on, and make policymakers understand the necessity to have regional programmes on these issues. We then facilitate their implementation.

This means that we work closely with the Regional Economic Communities (RECs) in order to work on good feasibility studies, on bankable projects, on the capacity to mobilize resources on bankable projects, open to the private sector. We know that Africa has a lot of capacity problems in the domain of elaborating bankable projects, so we need to strengthen that.

TNI: What do you think governments should do in Africa in order for small-scale producers to benefit from regional integration?

This is a tough question! It is now admitted that we should aim for regional agriculture policies that will help us build regional markets. Demand is now at the regional levels. Agriculture and food products are exchanged across the borders of our countries. Trade preceded the political integration. The food security issue is no longer national but regional. It has taken a long time to admit that. But now, at the last G 20 agriculture ministers meeting, it was proposed, by the G 20 experts to have regional food reserve systems. ECOWAS is a pilot region in this regard: it has already started working on the interconnection of national food reserve systems and the creation of a model that will allow for the creation of a regional food reserve system in order to solve food security issues through regional means. I think that we have progressed a lot.

At another level, in relations to the small farmers, I think there are some issue that have to be highlighted. The issue of price guarantees, at the level of agricultural producers, has to be looked at not only on a national basis if we aim at constructing regional markets. Let us not forget that, and we are doing that in CAADP, we have a kind of public sector thinking. But at the end of the day we need people who produce. And these people are the farmers. These people have to be supported, and in order to do that we need to work at the regional level and take advantage of the complementarities of our agro-ecological conditions.

TNI: Donor support to agriculture has perhaps not been very effective in the past. What is needed in your own opinion, to make a difference this time around?

I am not saying that the role of donors has been negative. I am saying that there have been negative aspects and positive aspects. But that debate is over because Africa should count more on its domestic resources. We are the continent with the highest density of natural resources, and we are also the poorest continent. Governance-wise things have to be looked at.

We in NEPAD are coordinating the African position on the road to Busan. Our position is that what is important is development effectiveness. If you want to increase development effectiveness you should work on capacity. And in order to work on capacity we need to develop south-south cooperation. So we take the best practices from the south, Brazil, Colombia, China, Malaysia, etc. This is our position: we should focus much more on mobilising domestic resources and recuperate our planning concepts and implementation.

Let me give you an example: agriculture. In some cases in the implementation of CAADP, national policy makers were thinking that the use of the CAADP process to get to the compact and to the national plan was going to serve donor money mobilisation. They did not really own the process. They said: "we will do the process because we will get money from somewhere". That thinking is wrong.

So this is why whenever we go in countries, in the CAADP process, we say: "first of all count on your domestic resources and increase what you invest in agriculture". Secondly, donors funding is highly welcome, but it has to feed into your strategy. This is what development effectiveness is all about.

TNI: How is strengthening the coordination between the implementation of the CAADP and the other regional programmes (such as AfT support to trade corridors) possible? How is NEPAD supporting the RECs to ensure these synergies are capitalised upon?

This is a challenge because agriculture is a multi-sectoral domain. Most of the development challenges are multi-sectoral, but we are not organisationally structured to face that multisectorality: we keep planning and doing policies per sector. We in NEPAD are conscious of this and we fight it in several ways.

First of all, the idea of planning, of comprehensive planning, has to come back - and it is coming back - in the development agenda. In the 60's we had some incipient planning processes in place after independence, but planning processes were totally erased with structural adjustment programmes and we started thinking in terms of donor priorities. This is why agriculture was not a priority in more than 20 years: because were we not planning, or were planning sectorally according to donor needs and donor priorities.

The second issue is the capacity of RECs: the institutional, intrinsic, capacity has to be up-scaled and enhanced. We have RECs where capacity is being built, ECOWAS and COMESA are good examples, but in others it has to be strengthened. By strengthening the intrinsic institutional capacity we will be able to coordinate apparently conflicting issues. This is still a challenge in NEPAD. We are re-enforcing our capacity to monitor and evaluate, and that will be key on the implementation of CAADP. We should remember that up to now we have been working on CAADP processes, but the real increments in agricultural productivity are still to be seen on the ground.

TNI: How do you ensure that the relationship with the RECs runs smoothly, particularly when the NPCA works with countries?

The AUC's role is to design the strategic continental framework; the RECs then implement this framework. So you have the policy design function, and the implementation function. Before the creation of NPCA you did not have anything between the AUC and the RECs. So the RECs might go in a way and the AUC might go in another way.(Might, I said might). The role of the NPCA is to make sure that these two wagons are linked. So this is why, in the example of CAADP, we are the ones who take CAADP to SADC and COMESA and work with them in order to regionalise it. During the delivery process we have to go to the country level and help the countries see what are the deficit at the country level which we can help compensate by working together.

I have talked about the theory. We have to make this new mandate very well understood at the REC level. It is not always easy, because sometimes confusion can happen on the verb "implement". We don't want to be seen as implementing and that has to be very well understood at the level of RECs. And we cannot do that by just sending memos.

TNI: ECOWAS is the region that has made most progress in the context of regional compact while the others are lagging behind. Why is that? On the other hand you have COMESA, EAC and SADC, discussing a tripartite FTA. In this context do you think a tripartite compact is feasible?

I think that the idea is good because it could really boost agricultural development in the zone. Now we need to formally put in place the methodology that will allow us to attain that objective.

What do I mean? Well, COMESA has done quite well in CAADP implementation, SADC less, but most of the countries in SADC which are in COMESA have finalised their compact. So it shows that something has to be done with SADC in order to enhance the implementation of CAADP in the countries which have no compact. If the common regional compact idea can help rationalise and give coherence to the development of the sector that would be wonderful.

ECOWAS is an illustration of collective behaviour, not only in agriculture, but also in energy and in peace and security. ECOWAS is used to tackling difficult issues, the coup in Niger, the Cote d'Ivoire crisis, etc. The Conference of Agricultural Ministers has invested a lot in ECOWAP, the regional agricultural policy. They have put their own resources as a regional body in national plans: the political will has been very strong.

TNI: You keep mentioning private sector and private sector involvement. What has been the degree of private sector involvement in CAADP so far, and do you expect private sector contributions to be substantial?

First of all, we need to implicate them much more, in the design of the national investment plans of agriculture. Secondly, we need to provide the right information. Thirdly, we need to push towards the creation of an enabling environment in the countries. But most of all, in terms of mentality, policymakers have to see agriculture as a business, as profitable. The experiences that we see from Mozambique and Tanzania confirm this.

It will be very critical for us, on a regional basis, to make sure that private capital comes into the agricultural sector. It is being done more and more. Nigeria, Tanzania, Mozambique, and Kenya are good examples. So we have best practices that can be shared, but it implies a change in the way policymakers think. This is because their main partner in developing that sector up until now has been the donor community. There needs to be a shift to the private sector community.

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