Any new global deals must benefit Africans

IN the failed global talks on climate change before Christmas, African and developing countries allowed themselves to be bullied again by industrial nations.

The "deal" that came out of the climate talks in Copenhagen is flawed and against the interests of African and developing countries.

Compared to rich nations, who dictated the terms of the climate change "deal", African countries contribute the least to green house emissions.

However, they suffer the consequences the worse: water shortages, plummeting food production and the possible vanishing of entire island states at risk of being submerged because of rising sea levels.

The final "deal" signed by 28 countries kicked aside a UN brokered deal that was more inclusive and more sensitive to the needs of African and developing countries.

The bigger lesson from the failed Copenhagen climate change talks, and the negotiations earlier this year over a global agreement on how to deal with the fallout of the global financial crisis, is that the current world political, economic and trade architecture has run its course.

This is perhaps the best moment for African and developing countries to change the global trade, economic and political system.

The world's inability to find equitable solutions, that will benefit rich and poor countries, for the global financial and climate change crises, has finally confirmed that existing global rules and institutions are obsolete.

It is reminiscent of the international crisis following the end of the Second World War. Then the victors of the war drew up new global rules such as the Bretton Woods accord, and international institutions such as the World Bank, International Monetary Fund and the UN to govern a new era.

Then African and developing countries, most of them colonies at the time, had little say in the drawing up of the world finance, trade and political architecture.

Now the rise of giant developing countries' emerging markets has tilted the balance a little bit away from the powerful rich industrial countries. The twin global crises - financial and climate change - could be used by African and developing countries to refashion not only inequitable global finance, trade and political rules, but also to refashion their individual economies.

In Copenhagen, industrial nations have again successfully managed to divide African and developing countries, by co-opting the bigger developing countries such as China, India, Brazil and South Africa in private deals.

Furthermore, industrial nations also intimidated smaller African and developing nations, who do not have the power to resist, into allying with them, either promising or withdrawing future aid.

But China is also increasingly manipulating smaller developing - especially African - countries using the same underhand tactics used by industrial nations.

African countries lack the money and access to technology - restricted by patent laws in industrial nations - to counter the effects of climate change, build green economies, and implement stimulus packages that can create jobs and boost social and economic infrastructure.

African and developing countries must insist that any new global deal, whether on climate change, trade or finance, must include such guarantees.

Civil society groups in Africa will have to provide intellectual leadership. Civil society, together with ordinary citizens and communities, must hold their leaders and governments more accountable, or Africans will emerge the equivalent of colonies again in a new (industrial nation-led, partnered by selected big developing countries) refashioned global political, financial and trade architecture.

l Gumede is co-editor (with Leslie Dikeni) of the recently released The Poverty of Ideas.