Talks in Dakar, Senegal, aimed at mapping out steps to be taken to confront Africa’s hydra-headed challenges have collapsed.
The talks collapsed after delegates failed to reach a consensus after three days on the interpretation of rules of procedures governing the Tenth Joint Annual Meetings of the African Union Specialised Technical Committee on Finance, Monetary Affairs, Economic Planning and Integration and the Economic Commission for Africa Conference of African Ministers of Finance, Planning and Economic Development.
Just when experts and stakeholders were about breathing the air of relief as meetings scheduled for Saturday all appeared to have gone well without hitch, the chairman of Bureau of Committee of Experts announced the annulment of the meetings.
South Africa, Zimbabwe and Libya joined Algeria and Nigeria in voicing out disgust at the turn of events. Delegates from Morocco and Saharawi Arab Democratic Republic, however, continued with accusations and counter-accusations against each other as the saboteurs of the meetings.
Billed to start on Thursday, the meetings were stalled by the sharp differences among participants on the interpretations of rules and procedures to govern them. They also shifted the blames on the principal partners of the event.
There had been palpable fears that the differences, at the event, otherwise known as African Development Week, may yet have serious adverse effect on the works and submission of ministers’ meeting billed to commence on Tuesday, 27 March .
The UN Economic Commission for African insisted, as an organ of the United Nations, that it would not participate or contribute to any of the joint meetings.
The key partner in the event stressed its desire to strictly adhere to the UN’s regulations.
The global body is clear on the participation of non-member entity in any of its events. Non-members are only permitted to attend on the condition no UN member country objects to such participation.
In this instance, delegates from Morocco expressed concerns over participation of delegates from Western Sahara.
The News Agency of Nigeria gathered, from diplomatic sources that the King Mohammed VI of Morocco, called heads of government across the continent and beyond on the implication of snubbing Morocco’s concern.
On Friday, the election on a new Bureau of Committee of Experts was haphazardly done, as the outgoing chairman of the Bureau, South African Lizenga Maluleka unceremoniously vacated the seat for the Senegalese chairman of the Bureau.
Indications of what was in the offing started to emerge when the press briefing earlier scheduled for Saturday was cancelled without any convincing explanation.
Despite the political uncertainties, the atmosphere at the King Fahd Hotel, venue of the events, seemed to have belied the seriousness of the crisis on the horizon. Six side events held smoothly.
At the joint Economic Commission for Africa-World Health Organization event on health financing in Africa, experts discussed ways to increase health financing and social protection as a way of ensuring that there is universal access to health on the continent. This is amid worries that commitments by most governments and stakeholders on this issue were not being translated into action on the ground.
The ECA’s Social Development Policy Division Director, Ms. Takyiwaa Manuh, said though African governments committed through the Abuja Declaration of 2001 and more recently the Tunis Declaration and others to put more money into health, many such commitments remain untranslated into concrete actions for reasons that range from inadequate resources to weak administrative and institutional mechanisms.
“In recent years, investment in health has been getting a raw deal in comparison to other sectors in the economy,” said Manuh.
African countries are on average still far from meeting key health financial financing goals of allocating 15 percent of their national budgets towards health.
By 2015, only Liberia, Madagascar, Malawi, Rwanda, Togo and Zambia had met the Abuja Declaration target.
World Health Organisation (WHO) Afro Regional Director, Ms. Matshidiso Moeti, said all efforts have to be taken to ensure health financing works for Africa.
“It is important for us to put more resources into the health sector because it is good for economic development and economic development is what we all want for the African continent and we feel that the health sector has more to contribute towards human capital which is so essential for countries to be successful in that regard,” said Moeti.
Experts have long been pleading with political leaders that people should not be dying needlessly due to preventable diseases and that health should be treated as a human right.
“Investing in health is a smart investment. We could save almost half of our GDP in future if we invest in health and if we look at how much we should invest it would be far less than what we will save in future or the trillions we will lose if we do not invest in health,” she said.
Senegal’s health minister Amarie Coll Seck gave an passionate plea to health ministers and experts present, calling on the continent to have a holistic and sustainable human development approach, to ensure greater budgetary allocations to health.
Other events that also held on Saturday include the Capacity-building for development planning; Expert group meeting on the New Urban Agenda and demographic dividend: investments for Africa’s Youth; Managing and coordinating Large-scale infrastructure projects for development planning in Africa; launching of 2017 Economic Report on Africa: Urbanisation and Industrialisation for Africa’s Transformation; and Meeting of senior officials of the Committee of Ten Ministers of Finance on the implementation of the 0.2 per cent levy on imports.
As all the side discussions went on, there were concerns about the fate of their decisions.
The Coalition of Civil Society Organisations (CSO) at the event called for less emphasis on political interpretations. Instead it suggested more concentration on the fundamental developmental issues.
The political controversy , according to the CSOs, is a disservice to the people of Africa who are urgently looking forward to the continent’s technocrats and political leaders to take advantage of the meeting to chart ways out of the prevalent challenges of hunger, poverty, diseases and inequality in the continent.
“This is not the time and place to play the politics with the lives of the African people. Africans cannot afford to wait while bureaucrats and politicians play politics. We are concerned that two days of huge time and resources have been wasted while we bring what ordinarily should have been dealt with at political level to technical sessions,” they stated.
They described as a huge waste the money invested in the conference by the member states, the AU, the UN, the CSOs attending and the media.
“The economic and social cost of the conference being stalled is huge and enormous that if it was invested in the response to the current drought ravaging most member states such as Ethiopia, Somalia and Kenya, that would have made a greater impact on the people of Africa who desperately look forward to a solution to the state of inequality, hunger and pestilence on the continent,” it said.