A reader of this blog made the observation that they couldn’t find in its content anything referring to the rising continent, or the lions on the move, which both connotations are defining terms for our online outlet as one can see at the top of this screen. The reply was that the focus had so far been on one central aspect of African characteristics, which is as important as seeing the entire continent rising and progressing towards better pastures.
As that reader, and any other who might have similar concerns, may probably agree, respecting human rights is part of the defining elements of societies which are today characterized by better life standards, particularly in material terms and available opportunities of improving people’s lives. There are obviously exceptions where you have countries with high GDP per capita but experiencing poor record of human rights. This does not dismiss the fact that the general rule is that economic development and respect of human rights go hand in hand.
In the last 40 years, the United Nations for Development Programme reports that Africa development has been very slow; some few countries have even registered absolute regression. But during the last decade there has been a significant shift, and by that contradicting the usual pessimistic picture that paints the continent. At the opposite of such a positive trend from a continent nothing good is generally expected, at the global scene, the financial crisis of 2007/8 saw most developed governments pulling trillions of dollars or Euros into their banking systems, in order to avoid the collapse of Capitalism. One of the consequences of the crisis was a quite significant reduction of sources of revenues for developed countries to address their needs for investment and economic growth.
Developed countries are currently experiencing drastic budget cuts across the board. The reality right now is about being able to face payment of public debts in a context of slow economic recovery. Consequently, it has been wise for some governments including Britain, to take the bull by its horns, and cut back on not necessary expenses but only those that don’t kill. While economic recovery is still stagnant globally, every developed economy is particularly looking at alternative channels to add value to their balance sheet. In that quest, Africa as always is seen by many as one that could be the answer.
African economic prospects have been changing drastically in recent years. The momentum of the observable change took by surprise non informed observers. Interested watchers collected facts about the continent which should objectively prompt a complete shift from the usual pessimistic portrayal of the continent. In May 2010 Boston Consulting Group identified across the continent 40 companies which are making annual turnovers varying between 380 millions and 80 billions of dollars. McKinsey Global Institute on its part reported in June 2010 that, ‘Africa’s economic pulse has quickened, infusing the continent with a new commercial vibrancy. Real GDP rose 4.9 percent per year from 2000 through 2008, more than twice its pace in the 1980s and 90s. Telecom, banking, and retail are flourishing. Construction is booming. Foreign investment is surging.’
What may happen? For some more years, Africa will continue to be the source of raw material: oil, rare and strategic minerals. But with the increase of the working class population, consequent to existing and emerging business opportunities on the continent, Africans will be more a consumer market than a supplier bloc for the rest of the world. Deficits in external commercial balances will increase more than they have been so far as long as governments on the continent will not be responsible enough to think strategically in the interests of their citizens. Developed countries are aggressively tapping into current African opportunities individually and as economic blocs. Henry Berlingham, UK Minister for Africa, explained recently that business offensive towards Africa at Lancaster House. ‘I am on track to visit all 53 states in Africa by our next elections in 2015! These trips allow me to see firsthand the challenges and opportunities facing Africa,’ he pointed out to the attention of his audience. By the time of his speech on 16th December 2010, the minister had already visited Uganda, Sudan, Libya, DRC, Kenya, South Africa and Angola.
Important considerations – As opposed to previous historical periods where the rest of the world was interested in Africa for its riches, Africans shouldn’t let themselves marched over this time as Americano-Indians or Aborigines of Australia who got nearly eradicated as communities. This may seem to be an exaggerated picture of the future of Africa. But if African children continue to be exposed to Hollywood movies though they don’t have access to education or clean water, consequences could be dramatic for the continent. Or if the continent continues to be led by self centred strongmen without particular interest in the well being of the people they lead, present economic opportunities that Africa has may be wasted. Unfortunately, they may not come around again for a very long time.
Allegiances to international financial institutions such as World Bank or International Monetary Fund should cease. It has emerged that these institutions are there to enslave Africans countries economically and financially. At the time when developed countries are favouring private investment, what works for them and has been tested over time, should be extensively applied in the case of African countries. There are numerous positive cases across the continent which should be emulated.
Ingenuity and new skills will need to be given prominence as countries will have to become less dependent on gimmicks of international aid which have kept most of them far behind their real potential development. Education (not selective and discriminatory as practiced in some countries) will need to be the pillar of the new era of the continent’s economic rise in the global market.
Pitfalls can be avoided. If enough willingness to take advantage of available opportunities is there, chances exist that the continent could effectively make a giant step towards its sustainable development. Below are some actions which are being tested or need being undertaken to optimise the current trajectory that Africa has embarked on for a few years now
- Stopping countries from addressing individually problems which transcend national boundaries
- Having common policies on infrastructures, industries, business contracts, human resources, technology, etc, and shared benefits
- Ensuring that African opportunities are negotiated at their right and not discounted or distorted value because of lack of accountability and transparency from countries’ representatives
- Operating as One Africa avoiding to succumb at the mercy of global predators; African Union and Regional Economic Communities and other continental specialised institutions could for example develop and produce best practices in all major sectors of development that individual countries could use as guides/ directives
- Developing and operating cartels of specialised suppliers of specific commodities
- Adding value to products through industrial processing – the example of China is well significant to learn from
- Promoting African local sourcing and incentivising home grown producers and suppliers
- Learning from what other economic blocs across the world are doing in specific areas of development
- Developing African pools of funds from revenues coming from increased incomes that new structures of generating wealth create; these pools would aim to address continental issues such as investments in transport networks connecting several countries; strengthening the unification of the continent
- Making the African Diaspora around the world an important component in the process of maximising outcomes from available opportunities on the continent
It would look shameful for Africa to miss out on opportunities the continent has at the moment of economic growth, which are making the usual global predators of riches around the world keener to grab them at the expense of African people. There are things people cannot control in their lives. African current economic positive prospects are in the people’s reach. Not taking charge and assuming more responsibility will historically be judged accordingly. No excuses will be permitted in the case of failure.