Welcome news about Africa's economic recovery was announced at the recent World Economic Forum's (WEF) annual general meeting on Africa, in Cape Town.

Africa's economy is expected to grow at an impressive rate of 6.2 per cent, compared to last year's 5.5 per cent expansion

African governments have been applauded by multilateral institutions and western governments for making a determined effort to undertake economic reforms aimed at ridding themselves of a past often plagued by disease, civil wars, famine, economic mismanagement and corruption.

Remittances from the continent's diasporas stand at $8 billion annually, compared with an approximate $1 billion during the mid-1980s, while direct foreign investment has mushroomed during the past two decades, rising to $19 billion in 2006, compared to $2.2 billion per annum during the early 1980s.

Much still needs to be done to increase the continent's economic growth to seven per cent annually, which is the minimum threshold required to cut poverty and disease by half in 2015 -- one of the key UN Millennium Development Goals.

A large part of the continent's current growth was fuelled by external factors, in particular debt relief, high commodity prices and an upbeat international economic environment.

Poor infrastructure, insufficient access to finance, corruption and bureaucratic red tape were flagged by foreign investors and multilateral financial institutions as some of the impediments to sustainable economic growth.

These challenges notwithstanding, it would be a disservice to the continent for the international community to dwell on what is wrong, rather than to build on the steady stream of successes, encapsulated in the sheer level of optimism, shared by millions of Africans, about their future.

The improvements on a macroeconomic level came about, not thanks to increased levels of aid, as many advocates of aid would like to claim, but because African states are more self-reliant and have increasingly taken responsibility for their economic fortunes and misfortunes.

Africans realize the West's pledges of aid are not the silver bullet required to drive economic growth and alleviate poverty, and that these pledges should be accepted with caution.

When, at their latest summit in Heiligendamm, Germany, the G-8 nations agreed to allocate $60 billion, of which $30 billion would come from the U.S., to fight tuberculosis, HIV-AIDS and malaria, African and western aid organizations and NGOs protested against what they called a futile attempt to repackage old and broken promises.

There is a great deal of reluctance on the part of AIDS advocates and health organizations, who work with millions of victims living with AIDS and other devastating diseases in Africa, to jump on the bandwagon and offer their unequivocal support to the G-8 and their grand pledges.

International aid groups were quick to criticize the latest pledges, pointing out the lack of a definite timetable for the disbursement of funds and the lack of specificity regarding the size of individual countries' contributions.

They also raised the issue of how much of these stipulated funds were new money and how much formed part of unfulfilled previous G-8 pledges. Oxfam argued the new $60-billion aid package actually amounted to a mere $3 billion in additional aid, given that the previous pledge, made at the 2005 G-8 summit at Gleneagles, was spread over several years.

At Gleneagles, G-8 leaders endorsed a plan to double their aid to Africa to $50 billion annually by 2010. The plan called for debt cancellation of at least $40 billion, owed by 18 of the world's poorest states, of which the majority are African. It also included an agreement on providing universal access to HIV-AIDS treatment.

However, their track record, thus far, left even more skeptics on both sides of the economic divide.

Given the criticism surrounding these pledges of aid, African economists and international aid agencies were quick to point out the dangers for any African leader relying on external intervention as a panacea for the continent's developmental challenges.

Global trade with Africa, as well as intercontinental trade, sound macroeconomic policies by host governments, economic liberalization, strengthening of the private sector, and increased direct foreign investment are the real keys to sustainable, long-term development in Africa.

Sound domestic policies are more important than external assistance in creating the right conditions for prosperity, stability and growth.

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