The one-eyed man

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Business Action for Africa has just come out with a report on what business can do to help sustain the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). The report collects the thoughts of various business and NGO leaders, plus the likes of Paul Collier and Kofi Annan. Many contributions contain the standard bromides about improved transparency, more efficient public private partnerships, business environment reforms, etc. There was one real standout, though. Peter Eigen, the chairman of the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative, started off his contribution with this tart observation:

In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king. When it comes to knowing how the global financial crisis will affect Africa we are all living in the land of the blind. Usually we can rely on the IMF to be the one-eyed man, but the IMF’s growth predictions for 2009 give such a mixture of signals that it is impossible to form a clear overall picture. We do know, however, that 2009 will see a series of difficult social and political changes in Africa: elections, strikes, civil unrest, rising fuel and food prices, and a more challenging environment for exports.

Eigen's willingness to acknowledge uncertainty about the future (and how we can shape it) is pretty welcome relief from a lot of the commentary out there. He is also very cautious about the organization of which he is the chairman: "EITI has long been held up as a shining example...but much of this praise has been premature." This couldn't contrast more with the approach enshrined in the MDGs, which sets out exact goals to be achieved by a specific date after the receipt of X dollars. For a skeptical take on the MDGs, check out Bill Easterly's commentary on the United Nations recent MDG 2009 Report.


Ryan Hahn

Operations Officer

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