Africa Is Starving and the United Nations Shares the Blame

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Africa Is Starving and the United Nations Shares the Blame

January 14, 1986 19 min read Download Report
Roger A.

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480 January 14, 1986 AFRICA IS STARVING. AND THE UNITED NATIONS SHARES THE BLAME INTRODUCTION Much of Africa is st ill starving. One year after the Ethiopian catastrophe became international news, images of famished Africans continue to be broadcast to the West. Some experts estimate that one million Ethiopians have died from starvation while hunger also grips approxi m ately 31 million people in 14 African countries. Rallying to Africa's plight, the world has rushed food, transport, medical supplies, and cash to the suffering countries. Some $296 million of relief has been sped to Ethiopia from American sources alone in 1984 and 1985 United Nations agencies, meanwhile, through the U.N.'s Office' of Emergency Operations in Africa (OEOA have been working in cooperation with donor governments, official aid agencies nongovernmental organizations, and the African countries th e mselves to provide assistance to the countries most affected by famine. The U.N has concentrated on obtaining pledges from Western donor governments for cereal and noncereal food aid; transportation for food supplies and additional logistical support: hea lth care; relief survival items; and support for essential water projects As of August 1985, the U.N had obtained pledges totalling $493 million for 20 different African countries.

Yet all this generosity is doing little to resolve Africa's chronic food sh ortage problems unanimous. has been triggered by drought, the underlying causes. include On this the experts are just about And it is widely agreed that, although the current crisis I the flawed econofai? policies pursued by the majority of famine-plagued African countries.

In the past quarter century, the U.N. has made the economic development of Africa's newly independent nations a major priority and 1984 alone, the U.N. spent some 6 billion on development and humanitarian aid to Africa. Much of this mon ey tragically has been spent on programs that undermine agricultural output assisting African nations to achieve economic growth, the U.N. has contributed to the deterioration of Africa's agriculture-based economies by promoting and sustaining a philosoph y of economic development that encourages government interference in the rural economy and discourages the individual farmer from working hard and taking risks. And when the U.N. did not actively promote such anti-growth programs, it often toleratedo-and t hereby sanctioned--the ruinous economic policies imposed by many of Africa's post-colonial leaders For these policies the United Nations must share the blame.

Between 1980 Thus instead of One U.N. agency that has been involved intimately in African development is the Rome-based Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

Its five-year (1980-1984) expenditures were $853.2 million, of which the U.S. share was 210 mi llion. Edouard Saouma, the Lebanese who has been FA0 Director-General since 1975, pstimates that the FA0 spends half its budget on programs in Africa 132 million for 1,499 field projects in Africa. These included 5 million for Ethiopia 6.4 million for Lib y a 7.4 million for Mozambique; and $7.4 milliop for Tanzania--all countries with failing socialist economic systems In 1982, this amounted to Instead of promoting free market agricultural policies in these and other African countries, FA0 has supported pro j ects with a llgovernment-centeredll bias that excludes private sector and market-oriented policies despite the overwhelming evidence produced by economists from the World Bank and other organizations that economic growth in such And the FA0 has continued o n this bent 1. See U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Public Affairs Africa: The Potential for Higher Food Production," Washington, D.C., April 1985, p 6 2. Statement by Edouard Saouma, Director-General of the FA0 to the Second Committee of the Fortieth S ession of the General Assembly, New York, October 28, 1985 3. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, FA0 in Africa, Rome, 1983 pp. 40-41 2developing countries as Thailand, Malaysia, South Korep, and Kenya is strongly correlated with grow t h in the private sector countries, FA0 promotes the principles of the so-called New International Economic Order. This rejects any notion that developing countries have responsibility for their own growth but demands mandatory transfers of resources and i ncome from the developed nations. Support for this new lIorderl

is part of the FA0 development philosophy that holds that developing states have a I1right1' to development assistance from the West. FA0 recently endorsed, for example, a call by its develop ing nation majority for an abolition of patents on new seed varieties--knov as !'plant germ plasml!--bred by Western companies and universities. FA0 apparently views these new seed varieties as the IICommon Heritage of Mankind," and thus ba'cks the notion that any profits from these seeds be distributed to the developing countries where the seeds originated, often centuries ago.

What FA0 seems to ignore is that, if the possibility of future monetary gain is removed, these Western firms will be less willing to take the risks needed to develop the new seeds Instead of encouraging basic economic reforms in African In addition to sponsoring thousands of development and agricultural projects in Africa during the past decade, the U.N. has created programs to mon itor the state of African agriculture environment, and health. There is in fact, an FA0 early warning system for drought, pestilence, and other agricultural catastrophes.

This system has produced hundreds of studies, which, if properly analyzed and publici zed, could have lessened greatly the impact of the current African disaster. The FA0 first warned of a major food crisis in Ethiopia in December 1982, but the U.N. did not hold its full-scale donors' meeting until March 1985.

The famine in Ethiopia and ot her sub-Saharan African nations, of course, cannot be blamed on the United Nations alone development philosophy largely reflects an ideology and attitude toward foreign aid that is also shared by some Western governments and international organizations in Africa is mainly the obligation of the industrialized states and that development will be the result of the transfer of resources from these states to the developing world from recent U.N. projects in Africa showing that development occurs as African soci eties are transformed not by outside forces, but from within, and as they gain the "political stability, social mobility The U.N.

s This view insists that economic growth Disregarded is the evidence 4. See Keith Marsden Why Asia Boomed and Africa Busted," The Wall Street Journal, June 3, 1985 5. Philip J. Hills Battles Sprout Over Third World Seed Supply," The Washinnton Post November 4, 1985, p. A3 I -3 i economic incentives and many other socio-economic characteristics prevalent in Western society during its industrialization I6 If the U.N. is truly serious about ending Africa's food shortages, then the U.N. must stop advocating policies that almost guarantee such shortages. U.N. agencies should shake themselves loose of well-intentioned but discredited p h ilosophies that entrust government bureaucrats with the main role in economic growth and blame the West for Third World economic problems start encouraging African states to try the policies that have had a successful track record in more than a dozen dev eloping countries even mainland China's successful new agricultural policies have something to teach the U.N.

If the U.N. continues to ignore these examples, it will continue to share the blame for starvation in Africa. And U.S. taxpayers dollars going to the FA0 and other U.N. development agencies will continue to be wasted The U.N. rather should THE U.N. CONCEPT OF ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT In terms of money and personnel involved, most of the work of the United Nations is directed into the varied programs ai m ed at achieving a better life for all pe~ple During the past 20 years as developing country membership in the U.N. grew at a rapid pace, the U.N. has .expanded its economic and social activities greatly. Between 1980.and 1984, for example, the U.N. spent s ome $15 billion-or 75 percent of its total budget-on'economic development and humanitarian aid through ten different agencies or programs: International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD United Nations Development Program UNDP United Nations Educati o nal, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO World Health Organization (WHO); Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR); the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF United Nations Fund for Population Activities (UNFPA); Unite d Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA World Food Program (WFP): and Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO Of this $15 billion, the U.S. contributed around $4 billion. The U.S. has been contributing another $8 billion a year in bilateral humanitarian ai d and development assistance to the less developed countries. U.N. officials interviewed by The Heritage Foundation have estimated that between 30 and 40 percent of the U.N.'s development and humanitarian aid funds have been spent on Africa 6. Moredechai K r einin and J. M. Finger A Critical Survey of the New International Order," Journal of World Trade, 1981, p. 511 7. United Nations New York, December 1979, p. 117 4One of the hallmarks of the U.N. approach to economic development since 1961 has been its rel i ance on the proclamation of three separate Development decade The resolutions establishing each of these decades have called upon the industrialized states to increase financial and technical assistance to developing countries and to llimprove" commodity arrangements with developing countries. In sum the developed nations have been asked to assume responsibility for the development of the Third World countries.

In 1984, the Group of 77, which now comprises most of 130 developing countries at the U.N submit ted its review of the Third U.N. Development Decade. The document was laced with imperatives donor countries shall take early and effective action for the replenishment of all developed countries shall attain the target of donor countries shall fulfill th eir commitments," and so on.

This philosophy influences all U.N. development policies and programs but the Food and Agriculture Organization has put it into practice in its approach to development in Africa.

THE FOOD AND AGRICULTURE ORGANIZATION FA0 Budae t and Staff While the FA0 is not the largest U..N. development agency, it is one of the most significant in tenus of its influence on African development. FA0 Director-General Edouard Saouma estimates that the FA0 devotes about one-half of its budget to A frica; in 1984, this amounted to $105 million. The size of the FA0 budget increased 68 percent between 1980 and 19

84. This rate of growth is almost triple the rate of other U.N. development agencies during the same period and is exceeded only by the 92 percent increase in the budget of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD).

As in all U.N. specialized agencies, there is a difference at the FA0 between the ordinary, or regular, budget and the extraordinary budget. The ordinary budget is based on assessed contributions by all member countries in accordance with the U.N. scale. The extraordinary budget is based on voluntary contributions by other U.N. institutions and member states. In the FAO's case, these are provided, first and foremos t, by the U.N. Development Program for technical assistance.

Thus, for example, the regular budget for the FA0 in 1982-1983 was 366.6 million, of which the U.S. contributed $91.6 million. Yet, in 1982, the FA0 also received considerable funding from the UNDP for the development projects--$447.2 million for projects in Africa alone Of 8. Review and Aooraisal of the Imolementation of the International Develooment Stratenv U.N. Document A/AC.219/L.1, May 10, 1984, pp. 7, 9 5-this sum, the U.S. contributed another $149 million. Under the U.N.'s one-country one-vote syst e m, of course, while ten countries pay over 70 percent of FAO's costs1 they have but one vote each in setting policy for the almost 160-member organization staff has been difficult to estimate but the true figure is thought to be around 9,700 The size of t h e FA0 FA0 at 8,279 Poor Plannins and Inadecruate Prosram Evaluation The FA0 is making Africa's food shortages worse. American development experts at the World Bank and the Department of State have told The Heritage Foundation that the FA0 i s failing to tackle the basic problem of African development: mismanagement of agriculture.

Writing in the London Sundav Times in 1984, respected and experienced U.N. observer Rosemary Righter noted that "in the field the FA0 has become a byword for bad pl anning, poor coordination and irrelevance to the rural poor. Righter cited an independent critic who claims that, in the FAO, "what is planned doesn't happen if you take development to mean that a particular project leaves people better able to look after themselves, virtually no FA0 program serves development. Sudhir Sen, a former UNDP official described a United Nations Development Program (UNDP)/FAO project in South Asia, in which the FA0 had devoted much effort to "preinvestment activities1' rather tha n to actually furthering development. He writes By far the most urgent and obvious need was to 'inject more science and modern inputs--improved seeds and fertilizers to boost per acre productivity.

Preinvestment had nothing to do with these pressing tasks.

Yet FA0 managed to grab 40 percent of the UNDP's allocation and devote it largely to land and water surveys, each extending to about four years and ending with fat reports A senior FA0 aide who was especially adept at promoting these projects became a he ro within the figency for successfully procuring so much business 9. Rosemary Righter U.N. Bureaucracy Makes the Hungry Hungrier," Sundav Times (UK August 26, 1984 10. Ibid 11. Ibid 12. Sudhir Sen, "Farewell to Foreign Aid: At the United Nations," Worldvi e w, August 1982, p. 7 6- Several observers of FA0 activities have maintained that many FA0 programs lack focus and specific objectives. The U.S. General Accounting Office and others have found that these programs have no substantive evaluation procedures t o dehermine the quantitative benefits or results of project efforts where measuring results is possible, FA0 claims they are Itdifficult to quantify.Il UNDP/FAO projects were judged to be of good quality Even in crop production In one FA0 assessment, less than half oflfhe joint Examples of Failed Proiects Questions about projects and programs are not encouraged at FAO.

A $66 million IITechnical Cooperation Program,Il proposed by Director-General SaoBma as a tool for quick small-scale action, is shrouded in secrecy.

In a 1971 FA0 project for the production of commercial cotton in Southern Nepal, the FA0 recommended that the people who were to produce the cotton be settled in miles from any market. After ten years, by which time the costs had doubled to $3 mi llion, there had been no assessment of the economic effectiveness of the scheme.

Nepalese fanners increasingly showed that they preferred Ilalternative crops.l1 Yet the FA0 ignored their preference, convinced that Ilcotton is economically attractive for t he country.It The only reason the FA0 could give for the farmer's reluctance was that there had been no government marketing board to purchase thehr cotton. The FA0 recommended establishment of such a board remote area of virgin forestll During the life o f the project, the This example illustrates FAO's strong bias favoring government institutions as the primary vehicle for agricultural development not only excludes consideration of private sector initiatives, but reinforces the formidable legislative, reg u latory, and institutional barriers to agricultural production that plague many less developed countries, particularly in Africa It There are other examples of the inappropriate nature and lack of planning in the U.N. approach to development in Africa. A N e w York 13. Comptroller General of the United States The United States Should Play a Greater Role in the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations May 1977 14. FAO, Review of Field Programs, 1980-81, C81/14, Conference of the FAO, September 1 9 81 Rome 15. Righter, OD. cit 16. Ibid 7Times reporter recently documented a 1984 trip that he and other journalists made to Mozambique under the auspices of the U.N. Office of Emergency Operations in-Africa. The U.N. intended to show off model projects fu n ded by the U.N. Development Program (UN.DP) and implemented either through the FA0 or another U.N. specialized agency. The reporter described a UNDP/FAO maize grinding project in a small Mozambique village. The key component to the project was an automati c diesel-powered grinder three monFPs, waiting for expensive diesel fuel, which had to be imported The machine was there, but had lain idle for Today, Mozambique requires up to 568 million a year in hard currency for fuel, spare parts, and other essential p roducts. It earns only about $110 million a year from exports. The U.N. maize project, like other U.N. schemes shown the reporters, forces Mozambique and other countries, which cannot maintain large foreign exchange surpluses, to import expensive'resource s in order to keep projects going effect can o~ly be to add to Mozambique's poverty and dependence on foreign aid. Another failed program Since it also fails to provide export earnings, its A $14 million project in the Sudan, undertaken by the FA0 in coope r ation with the World Food Program, was designed to provide village wells, roads, and community structures for refugees fleeing civil strife. Because of the government's failure to build the necessary infrastructure, commodities were not delivered. With in a dequate,milling.and storage facilities, the food provided by the World Food Program was eventually distributed to government workers many of whom sold the food on the black market Because its targets were abandoned, the project's operations became so gene r al that "any activity could be fitted into A 1982 report by the U.N.'s external auditor at the FA0 painted a picture of chaotic bureaucracy, uncontrolled budgets, incompetence and delays in the organization's programs included The auditor's discoveries o A n African project that took four times longer than planned to complete and cost an extra $200,000, because the man initially appointed to head it was found to be llunsatisfactory'l and had to be replaced 17. Clifford May The Famine Workers The New York Ti m es Mapazinc, December 1, 1985 p. 73 18. Tbid. 4 19. Food and Agriculture Organization Summary Terminal Report," Sudan No. 634, Committee on Food Aid Policies and Programs of the World Food Program, Rome, February 1983 8- I 0 In Asia, a $3 million animal h e alth project was impeded by budget problems and had not fulfilled its major objectives, even after seven years in operation o A plan to help an Asian count-ry set up a cotton industry was running half a million dollars over budget, and had achieved ogly o ne of its nine designated objectives after a decade of operation.

Promotincr DeDendence on Food Aid More damaging than the deficiencies of the FA0 evaluation efforts and program planning is FAO's almost total refusal to question donor country development a ssistance and the benefits recipient countries derive from it development policies, effective or not. The FA0 simply endorses its members' economic and One measure, predictably popular with African governments but harmful to their long-term agricultural d e velopment, is food aid. At November's 23rd session of the FA0 conference in Rome Director-General Saouma pointed to I' food aid as ''one bright spot He boasted that ''for the first time, the target of 10 million tons of cereals set at the World Food Confe rence in 1974 has been attained and surpassed Ilz1 Yet this ignores the essential question of whether food aid has increased Africa's chances for: long-term economic development Two influential British economists, P. T. Bauer and B.

S. Yamey, recently repe ated the arguments, enunciated for some time that increasing food aid to developing countries can add to their problems. They write Aid can relieve immediate shortages. It thereby It also suggests conceals from the population, at least temporarily, the wo rst effects of destructive policies external endorsement of the activities of the government and this confers spurious respectability on the rulers these ways, aid keeps governments a&loat and enables them to persist in their damaging policies.

In 20. Mich ael Sheridan, Reuters News Agency, December 22, 1982, reprinted in "The Daily American," FA0 Dossier 2, April 15, 1983 21. Statement by the Director-General to the 23rd Session of the FA0 Conference, Rome November 9-28, 1985, p. 12 22. P. T. Bauer and B. S . Yamey Foreign Aid: -Rewarding Impoverishment Commentary September 1985. Deaf to this, Saouma has called for a doubling of food aid by the industrialized countries and has drawn up a list of 24 African countries he describes as Iton the brink of starvati on."

The FA0 and the U.N. in Ethiopia The FA0 and other U.N. agencies consistently support countries like Ethiopia which impose disastrous anti-free market agricultural policies some 90 percent of agricultural investment into inefficiens state farms, which produce only 6 percent of the nation's grain. Since seizing power eleven years ago this.regime has persecuted productive groups, particularly in rural areas, forcibly collectivized agriculture, confiscated rural property, and required fanners to accept l o w payments for their crops from state buying agencies any wonder that food output in Ethiopia has plummeted and would have done so even without a drought? Yet Ethiopia has not lacked for foreign aid multilateral assistance between 1979 and 1982, with some $260 million coming from five different U.N. sources (UNDP, WFP, UNICEF, U~CR, and IFAD). In 1982, the FA0 earmarked $25.2 million for Ethiopia The Mengistu Haile Mariam regime in Ethiopia has channeled Is it It received more than $900 million in bilatera l and Maurice Williams, Director of the World Food Council, the U.N body for coordinating "global food policy," argues that "the FA0 should be encouraging, even coppelling them to develop policies, and to look at the tough options.fl Looking at Vough optio n sw1 was not something that the FA0 or any other U.N. agency was willing to impose on the Mengistu regime in Addis Ababa. In 1982, for example, the Ethiopians were warned of impending famine by a joint International Labor Organization/U.N. Development Prog r am-sponsored study, directed by Keith Griffin of Oxford University. The study recommended immediate food rationing and a shift in agricultural investment away from state farms to local projects run by local peasant associations. According to Griffin, the Mengistu government rejected the study's findings because it would not tolerate autonomous groups.

UNDP then agreed to suppress the report.

Representative in Ethiopia during a visit to New York last September assured The Heritage Foundation that he would provide a copy of the report; it has not yet arrived Both the ILO and The UNDP Resident 23. Paul Henze Ethiopia," Wilson Oua rterlv, Winter 1984, p. 7

24. Also see James A.

Phillips and Richard D. Fisher A Plan for Rescuing Starving Ethiopians," Heritage Foundation Backgrounder No. 400, December 27, 1984 24. FA0 in Africa go. cit 25. Quoted in Righter, go. cit 10 - The FA0 and the New International Economic Order FA0 has acc e pted the food policies of its members from the less developed countries, particularly those in Africa that have adopted a state-controlled socialist economic model principles of the New International Economic Order in 1974, the FA0 has emphasized the redi s tribution of global resources and income. In an important 1981 FA0 document Agriculture: Toward 2000,11 FA0 Director-General Saouma calls for the !Ireasonable equitable distribution of incgme and output through the establishment of a global food system Si n ce adopting the FAOIs adherence to the principles of the New International Economic Order also means that the FA0 is hostile to the free market system and unwilling to recognize the beneficial role that free market agricultural policies have played in cou n tries like Sri Lanka, South Korea, and recently the People's Republic of China. In "Agriculture Toward 200011 and subsequent FA0 documents, the beneficial role of the multinational corporation is ignored completely. While the FA0 claims to consider the It i ndividual farmer the central actor in future production increases, it also believes that the central government should supply the necessary inputs the access to markets, appropriate prices, and other incentiges, which history teaches can be provided only by the market place.

THE UoNo'S RESPONSE TO THE AFRICAN FAMINE The U.N. record thus far in coping with the present African famine illustrates some of the limitations of the U.N. system. The basic lesson is that U.N. agencies are at their best when they sti ck to performing those functions for which they were created, and when staffed by professionals and technicians with a genuine concern for the substance of these functions. Yet the pervasive U.N. sympathy for socialist economic planning and its reluctance to criticize even such severe economic failures as those in Ethiopia and Mozambique have prevented the U.N. from taking the appropriate steps to solve the problems of the African famine.

The Economist Develooment Report recently observed that the World Fo od Program,.UNICEF, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees and the U.N. Disaster Relief Organization have the job of firemen when disasters occur. Yet here, too, there is a question about the 26. FAO, "Agriculture: Toward 2000 Rome, 1981 27. See Georges F auriol, The Food and Agriculture Organization: A Flawed Stratenv in the War Against Hunger (Washington, D.C The Heritage Foundation, 1984 11 i I 8 '8 I I I 8 i I il I I i i effectiveness of the firefighting team timidity prevents their going in, as the Economist observed, until Itall hell has broken loose A caution verging on The U.N. knew as early as 1982, for example, that a food crisis was impending in Ethiopia. Yet it was not until spring 1985 that the U.N. system was fully mobilized to act. As a result, the U.N. Office for Emergency Operations in Africa arrived on the scene after many private and governmental agencies were already in operation. Despite its good intentions, professional outlook, and real achievements, the U.N. Office of Emergency Operations in Africa will nost likely never play the pivotal role intended for it because of the unresponsiveness of the U.N. system.

CONCLUSION The desperate situation of the agriculture-dependent economies in Sub-Saharan Africa demonstrates that sizeabl e transfers of resources direct or through multilateral bodies, neither improve the climate for productive international investment nor contribute'generally to self-sustaining economic growth. Ironically, such financial transfers and development programs as those of the FA0 actually may hava kept many African nations from participating in the world economy.

Extensive research by World Bank economist Keith Marsden, among others, has shown that many Sub-Saharan African countries can learn a great deal from t he economic success stories.of Asia and other countries in Africa. Marsden's research. found that 0 In countries like South Korea and Thailand and Kenya, economic growth was strongly correlated with real growth of domestic credit to the private sector. Ec o nomic growth was also positively related to the private sectorls share in total domestic credit used its financial resources more effectively than did government and public enterprises as well as Cameroon This suggested that the private sector 0 Economic p erformance, in general much higher in East Asia, was not linked significantly to financial flows from abroad, which generally have been much higher in Africa o With the exception of Zaire, all countries in the study began the period with active private se c tors and domestic financial markets geared to their needs. It was only over the past 20 years that 28. The Economist Develooment Reoort, OD. cit, p. 2 29. Nick Eberstadt Famine, Development and Foreign Aid," Commentary, March 1985, p 30 I I I I 12 - their paths diverged opportunities created by appropriate policies, including relatively low taxes. But in most of Africa, state monopolies and massive deficits crowded out private companies. And government control over foreign exchange, investments, prices and interest rates caused market distortions and rigidkties resulting in inefficient resource utilization overall Private enterprise responded well to In one sense, today's food crisis in Africa is the harvest of Soviet and socialist policies embraced by Afri c an regimes been perpetuated by the U.N.'s acquiescence in, or even encowagement of, these policies. Many U.N. development projects, particularly those of the Food and Agriculture Organization, do not encourage private sector initiative or self-sustaining g rowth in low income countries. Indeed, they actually subsidize practices that perpetuate or even generate poverty in certain places. As such, the U.S. should consider diverting its annual 53 million funding from the FA0 to other U.N. and non-U.N. programs , which promote self-sufficiency and free markets in the production of agricultural commodities But it has I The World Bank, as well as several private U.S. and international volunteer organizations, has begun to discuss the importance of long-range strate gies and freg market agricultural approaches in ensuring Africa's prosperity. The U.N. must incorporate these lessons into its African programs to bring long-term solutions to African hunger.

Roger A. Brooks Roe Fellow in United Nations Studies 30. Keith M arsden Private Enterprise Boosts Growth," unpublished paper, April 1985 31. See, for example: The World Bank, Toward Sustained DeveloDment in Sub-Saharan Africa, Washington, D.C 1984; and American Council for Voluntary International Action INTERACTION Lon g-Term Development in Africa: Recommitment to Partnership," September 1985 13


Roger A.