Review of a French Far-Right Development Plan for Africa

A few months from now in May 2017 France will have its presidential election. One relatively hard right wing candidate by the name of Nicolas Dupont-Aignan of the Debout la France (Arise France) party has laid out the international segment of his campaign platform. Dupont-Aignan is a purveyor of the strand of French political thought called social Gaullism. Gaullism being defined by the Oxford Dictionary as “the principles and policies of Charles de Gaulle, characterized by conservatism, nationalism, and advocacy for centralized government”, social Gaullism is generally presented as conservatism with a social conscience and thus, policies designed to ensure the disadvantaged are not left by the wayside of national development and prosperity.

Among Dupont-Aignan’s stated intentions should he be elected president – which is not particularly likely – are the setting up of what he calls a Marshall Plan for Africa, meant to finally ensure development once and for all of the continent’s resource rich by ultimately poor countries.

The reason behind his plan? One could perhaps call it international social Gaullism but the fact that Dupont-Aignan is from the hard right is not difficult to discern; while the goal of his ambitious plan for Africa’s development aims to improve standards of living on the continent, it is in particular to make sure that people can prosper in Africa and end up staying there instead of migrating to Europe in search of better economic conditions and opportunities. His singular focus on Africa is surely down to the fact that the vast majority of formerly French-influenced countries from which immigrant populations hail are in Africa – be it sub-Saharan or the Maghreb region. Were he from another European country his Marshall Plan would have been set to some other relevant geographical coordinates.

Since development is such a perennial issue, this post briefly looks at how his recommendations in 2017 stack up against general trends in development practice over the past few decades citing examples of recommendations from the Commonwealth Secretariat made at the end of the 1970s and at the start of the 1990s in reports entitled The Commonwealth: Special Responsibilities to Small States (1979) and Change for the Better: Global Change and Economic Development (1991). These reports were compiled in by “Group of Experts” teams made up of academics, diplomats, government ministers and private sector leaders from countries including Ghana, Australia, Jamaica, Zimbabwe, India, Nigeria, Malaysia, Canada, Guyana, the United Kingdom and Pakistan. Using many of the conclusions contained in the 1979 report and taking into consideration the 1980s context that would lead to the drafting of the 1991 report, representatives of the Commonwealth consulted with the United Nations on the preparation of the 1986 UN Declaration on the Right to Development. The UN of course has subdivisions working on development, those being its Development Programme (UNDP) – which created the Sustainable Development Goals on poverty, health, education, employment, hunger, energy, climate, water, justice and gender equalityand its Conference on Trade & Development (UNCTAD). The Commonwealth deals with development through Commonwealth through its Fund for Technical Cooperation (CFTC). Relevant points of the landmark 1986 Declaration will also be included where relevant.

UNCM.png

For the past half century development has been the headline issue on the agenda of national governments; developing country governments have wrestled with the task of economic and social development given their more or less scarce finances and developed country governments have committed a modest portion of their national budgets to forms of foreign aid like Official Development Assistance (ODA).

In addition to state actors and international organisations, regional groupings including but not limited to the Southern African Development Community (SADC), the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the Central African Economic & Monetary Community (CEMAC) have also made development a high priority issue.

BLOCS AFR.png 

ECOWAS

Since its creation on 28 May 1975 the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) has been promoting economic cooperation and regional integration as a tool for an accelerated development of the West African economy.

 

SADC

The main objectives of SADC are to achieve development, peace and security, and economic growth, to alleviate poverty, enhance the standard and quality of life of the peoples of Southern Africa, and support the socially disadvantaged through regional integration, built on democratic principles and equitable and sustainable development.

 

CEMAC

The Community […] has set itself the objective of promoting member States’ harmonious development within the context of the establishment of a true common market.

Below is a comparison of the French presidential candidate’s development plan with past Commonwealth recommendations for developing country economies:

1)

2017 recommendation: 

Create an OPEC-type organisation for agricultural products that would regulate supply and set profitable prices.

Commonwealth / UN development recommendation: 

The 1979 Special Responsibilities to Small States (small in terms of land size, population, resource base or GDP) report highlighted the fact that a great number of developing states were seen to have monocrop economies, almost entirely geared towards export production at the expense of domestic agriculture. The expansion of food production for local consumption is recommended, with the report saying that more developed countries’ bilateral aid programmes should pay special attention to projects aimed at diversifying agricultural production in monocrop states.

Against the backdrop of the fact that while prices of manufactured goods rose by a quarter between 1980 and 1989, the prices of primary products including agricultural products fell sharply due to decreasing demand, the 1991 Change for the Better report recommends that close attention be paid to the specific issues faced by underdeveloped member countries whose economies were driven by the sale of primary products including, but not limited to, agricultural products.

The UN Declaration on the Right to Development says that, for citizens of all countries, “the human right to development implies […] the exercise of their inalienable right to full sovereignty over all their natural wealth and resources”. (Article 1, subparagraph 2).

Comparison: The contemporary recommendation pays close attention to the price received for agricultural goods whereas the 1979 Commonwealth one was concerned with expanding the range of agricultural produce on offer. It is quite likely that the 2017 recommendation does not need to harp on diversifying the range as this issue would have been addressed in large part over the 4 decades that have gone by since the first recommendation was made.

The 1986 UN Declaration point on wealth and resource sovereignty fits in perfectly with the concept of creating a cartel by producer countries to regulate the sale of products from those countries’ agricultural resources.

2) 

2017 recommendation: 

Set up regional free trade areas to function as protected markets so as to avoid African agriculture being decimated by WTO rules.

Commonwealth / UN development recommendation: 

Recalling that African exports had declined in the early 1980s before a partial recovery late in that decade, Change for the Better calls for the existence of a safety net for economically weaker countries so that they are not overwhelmed by external shocks. Strategies to strengthen developing countries’ economic growth and export performance are stressed as an urgent need.

Developing countries are encouraged to embrace strength in numbers and pursue more united action as regional groupings, despite the “resultant constraints to independent action” and the “very real political and economic tensions” that this could bring on.

The Special Responsibilities to Small States report calls for more aid to be allocated to regional cooperation projects.

The same report also charged that trade had to be freed from “self-defeating” protectionism because of the pivotal role played by comparative advantage-based liberal international trade in competitive and efficient economic activity, leading to growth and development.  The report called for consistent adherence to multilateral trade rules.

“States have the duty to co-operate with each other in ensuring development and eliminating obstacles to development.  States should realize their rights and fulfil their duties in such a manner as to promote a new international economic order based on sovereign equality, interdependence, mutual interest and co-operation among all States […]” according to the UN (Article 3, subparagraph 3).

Change for the Better states that “the fact that in the 1980s major segments of world trade expanded faster between regions than within them” suggests that the system was “evolving more towards different growth poles than towards fortress trading blocs”.

Comparison: While the idea of protected markets from the modern day recommendation corresponds perfectly to the safety nets Commonwealth point, as well as to the UN’s call for an international economic order based on interdependence and co-operation, the calls for dynamic liberal international trade run counter to the reservations about WTO rules as expressed in Dupont-Aignan’s proposal. Further, the downplaying of regional trade in the Commonwealth report does not necessarily cast the 2017 regional trade area proposal in an optimistic light.

3) 

2017 recommendation: 

Make it mandatory for the European Central Bank (ECB) to set aside € 50 billion per annum for development in Africa.

This sum would equate to 5% of the €1 trillion allocated on a yearly basis by the ECB to private banks, and serves to illustrate the point made earlier that sums contributed by developed countries to development efforts are modest to put it lightly.

Commonwealth / UN development recommendation: 

The Change for the Better report explained that over the course of the 1980s, financial flows into developing countries slowed to a trickle, going instead to Eastern Europe and the unravelling Soviet Union. With their skilled labour base and their potential to be cheap bases of production, they attracted private finance that would otherwise have gone to developing countries elsewhere in the world. Also, the instability of those countries coupled with fears of mass migration into Western Europe prompted Western countries to direct financial flows their way to avert the problem before it became one. It is interesting to note that this may be Dupont-Aignan’s inspiration for wanting to send ECB money Africa’s way as part of efforts to remove push factors of poverty that see Africans migrate to Europe.

To deal with the problem of inadequate financial flows, developing countries are encouraged in the Change for the Better report to reform domestic economic policy to tackle inflation, and to adopt realistic interest rates, both of which would ward off capital flight. They are also urged to cut defence expenditures. The report also notes that countries saddled with heavy debt burdens needed to have repayments rescheduled by reluctant multilateral institutions like the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

Article 4 of the 1986 UN Declaration affirms that, to help achieve development goals, “as a complement to the efforts of developing countries, effective international co-operation is essential in providing these countries with appropriate means and facilities to foster their comprehensive development” (subparagraph 2).

Comparison: Whereas the 2017 Dupont-Aignan recommendation hinges on financial transfers from Europe to Africa and matches up nicely to the UN Declaration point about international steps to be taken to provide the necessary means for the development task, the Commonwealth’s recommendations placed more emphasis on what developing countries could do in the way of domestic policy than on what could be transferred to them from outside, while recognising the need for debt restructuring.

4)

2017 recommendation: 

Promote education and training in Africa through partnerships and develop online learning.

Commonwealth / UN development recommendation: 

From Change for the Better it is learned that after many strides being made in education and training prior to the 1980s progress in this area ended up stagnating during that decade.

Given the costly nature of setting up and maintaining quality training facilities developing states (small ones in particular) are called upon to begin or continue setting up regional academic institutions. It is explained that such schools would counteract the brain drain by providing a quality education that would decrease the incidence of citizens studying and possibly indefinitely settling abroad.

The report additionally expresses the view that developing country education systems needed to be retooled so as to provide modern technology-enhanced curricula.

Comparison: Both recommendations strike a similar general tone. The Commonwealth of Learning (CoL) – an arm of the Commonwealth – works to promote distance education in member countries. Perhaps the would-be president Dupont-Aignan would seek to pursue a similar endeavour through the French-speaking La Francophonie cooperation organisation and its Agence universitaire de la francophonie (AUF), which is to an extent the equivalent of the CoL in the French-speaking world.

* * *

In conclusion, in a 1984 article in the Commonwealth international affairs journal known as Roundtable Magazine it was opined that “the current state of world altruism is not such that we can expect […] any form of international organization to extend to small countries the financial aid, the subsidized services and the rights of migration” that developing countries’ citizens would need in order to have the best chance of ensuring development in the long run (Article, Island Micro States: Problems of Viability).

Similarly, Change for the Better singled out strengthened “inward looking”, regional integration in developed countries as a threat likely to push the concerns of developing countries to the back burner, alluding, of course, to European integration and the prioritizing of integration affairs over all else.

A full-on Eurosceptic who rejoiced when Brexit was voted in the United Kingdom and relishes the idea of a Frexit, Nicolas Dupont-Aignan is seeking to buck certain aspects of that pessimistic 1980s trend in 2017: he wants to extend financial aid at the very least, but certainly not rights of migration. His can be said to be a form of self-interested altruism – permit the obvious oxymoron.

One of the UNDP’s Sustainable Development Goals is to enhance both North-South and South-South cooperation. By bulking up aid flows from Europe to Africa and encouraging regionalisation of trade in Africa, Dupont-Aignan wants to kill two international development birds with one stone.

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