Africa needs sound policies

LONDON - Over the last 20 years, the narrative on the African continent has shifted from Afro-pessimism to Afro-optimism.

The truth lies somewhere in between.

Now is the time for Afro-realism: for sound policies based on honest data, aimed at delivering results.

The potential of our continent is huge.

Compared to developed countries, or even to some major emerging countries, burdened by aging populations, financial crises, widening budget deficits, faltering faith in politics and growing social demands, Africa has become the world’s last “New Frontier”, a kind of “it-continent”.

By the end of this century, half of the world’s young people will be African.

Twenty years from now, by 2035, Africa’s working age population will exceed that of China or India.

Youth is our major resource. But our continent also harbours most of the world’s proven mineral reserves: 95 percent of platinum, over 75 percent of phosphate, 60 percent of diamonds, nearly half of cobalt and chromium, more than a quarter of bauxite.

Diamonds aside, 90 percent of this huge potential remains untapped. In a world of growing food demand, Africa is home to two-thirds of the world’s unexploited arable land. Its solar, water, wind and nuclear energy potential are considerable.

Already, over the last 10 years, Africa’s overall GDP growth has reached an annual average of 5, 4 percent; more than four times the European Union average. In 2012, 16 African countries experienced GDP growth in excess of 5 percent. The latest iteration of the Ibrahim Index of African Governance shows that 94 percent of the population of the continent is now living in a country where the overall level of governance has improved since 2000.

All of this is promising — but we are still a long way from realising our potential.

Let us first stop talking about “Africa” as a homogeneous and uniform whole. We are a mosaic of 54 countries, each with its own flag, its own borders, and its own embassies.

The African Union, whose 50th anniversary we have just celebrated, is still a long way from European-style Union, with its common market, single currency, supra-national political bodies and common and shared budget. And the road to convergence between the 54 countries is a long one.

Without effective economic and political regional integration, we will not carry sufficient weight in this globalised world, no matter how much “potential” we may have.

Only unity, coherence, and internal solidarity will allow us to assert ourselves on the global stage.

The building blocks to effective integration are not political declarations, expansive Heads of State Summits or our presence and commitments at impressive multilateral gatherings. The building blocks are the free movement of people, goods and financial resources between our countries. This is the way Europe was built.

As we approach Africa with an Afro-realist view, the progress made over the past decade must be understood in a nuanced fashion.

The major regional conflicts of the former century have mostly ended. However, the dawn of the new century has also seen a rise in social tension, domestic unrest, and trans-national problems. Terrorist networks have gained geographical ground and widened their operating sectors, often in direct association with large, cross-border criminal networks.

Young people are becoming the demographic majority. They are receiving better education than their elders. But they are also more unemployed and out of step with the demands of the global labour market.

They are also feeling increasingly disconnected from the political process and devoid of economic prospects -- a trend reflected in the rise in the trafficking and consumption of drugs on the continent.


Comments (4)

This narrative is tired. The much talked about GDP growth does not reach the majority poor. Natural resources are what they are, natural. Not much has come out of Africa's workshopping except actual shopping and no work. Improved governance index may just end up being a number. Where are the policies and the monitored implementation? We are still a continent that loves beautiful and dishonest numbers.

TM - 14 April 2014

It almost sound as myth to think that Africa is the richest continent in the world. Bad governance that has seen the massive looting of our natural resources has led africa to be a rich poor continent.

kt - 15 April 2014

Everything Mo Ibrahim is saying is the truth. We have countries with small populations and rich natural resources like Equitorial Guinea, Gabon and Zimbabwe whose wealth is only reflected on the elite ruling class and a few well connected people while the majority lives in abject poverty. We do however have a few shining examples in Botswana, the Seychelles and Mauritius where living standards continue rising.

Dr Know - 15 April 2014

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