A Hopeful Continent

Nairobi – American broadcaster CNN, during its Kenya pre-election coverage in 2013, aired a documentary revisiting the Rift Valley province – the spotlight of the 2007 bloodbath.
It showed Kikuyus – current President Uhuru Kenyatta’s ethnic group – preparing to defend themselves from any sort of attack from their Luo rivals (former Prime Minister Raila Odinga’s ethnic group).
What this looked like, despite claims to the contrary by the journalists, was a bid to pre-empt another massacre in an election that then turned out to be quite peaceful.
The CNN’s coverage received criticism from citizens of the East African economic giant. The major grievance was that CNN continued to broadcast stereotypes while ignoring the massive work that Kenya has gone into re-building itself following the tragedy of 2007.
Ignored too was the new constitutional dispensation that provides checks and balances on executive powers, cutting edge innovations from Kenya’s world famous tech entrepreneurs to monitor and control violent incidences, careful international advocacy from regional monitors, and a more responsible overall tone by the political parties.
The US-based TV channel shows precisely how Western powers expect and want Africa to behave not only in conducting elections, but in her economic management too – portraying the continent as disease-infested, ignorant, dying from mass starvation and intolerant to human rights.
According to the book “Emerging Africa: A Hopeful Continent”, written by Steven Radelet with an introduction by Liberian President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, the positive strides Africa is making are all too often overlooked.
In Africa, four fundamental and sustained breakthroughs are making old assumptions increasingly untenable. These are: the rise of democracy following the end of colonialism, the end of the Cold War and apartheid; stronger economic management; the end of the debt crisis; and a more constructive relationship with the international community.
“With these significant changes, the countries of emerging Africa seem poised to lead the continent out of the conflict, stagnation, and dictatorships of the past.  
“It’s true that in Africa, people still struggle to make ends meet, just as they do in China and India. They don’t always have enough to eat, they may lack education, they despair at daily injustices and some want to emigrate.
“But broadly the numbers suggest that human development in sub-Saharan Africa has made huge leaps,” says Radelet.
He states that in Africa south of the Sahara, secondary school enrolment grew by 48 percent between 2000 and 2008 after many states expanded their education programmes and scrapped school fees.
Over the past decade malaria deaths in some of the worst-affected countries have declined by 30 percent and HIV infections by up to 74 percent.
Life expectancy across Africa has increased by about 10 percent and child mortality rates in most countries have been falling steeply.
A booming economy has made a big difference, according to the report, stating that over the past ten years real income per person has increased by more than 30 percent, whereas in the previous 20 years it shrank by nearly 10 percent.
Africa is the world’s fastest-growing continent.
Over the next decade, its GDP is expected to rise by an average of six percent annually. FDI went from US$15 billion in 2002 to US$37b in 2006, and then to US$46b in 2012.
Many goods and services that used to be scarce, including communications, are now widely available. Africa has three mobile phones for every four people, the same as India.
By 2017 nearly 30 percent of households are expected to have a television set, an almost five-fold increase over ten years.
Nigeria produces more movies than America does. Film-makers, novelists, designers, musicians and artists thrive in a new climate of hope.
Opinion polls show that almost two-thirds of Africans think this year will be better than last, double the European rate.
Radelet posits that at the end of the Cold War only three African countries (out of 53 at the time) had democracies; since then the number has risen to 25, of varying shades, and many more countries hold imperfect but worthwhile elections (22 in 2012 alone).
Only four out of now 54 countries – Eritrea, Swaziland, Libya and Somalia – lack a multi-party constitution, and the last two will get theirs soon.
Armies mostly stay in their barracks. Big-man leaders are becoming rarer, though some authoritarian states survive. And on the whole more democracy has led to better governance: politicians who want to be re-elected need to show results.
Where democracy has struggled to establish itself, African countries have taken three other paths to improving their citizens’ lives.
First, many have stopped fighting. War and civil strife have declined dramatically. Local conflicts occasionally flare up, but in the past decade Africa’s wars have become a lot less deadly.
Perennial hotspots such as Angola, Chad, Eritrea, Liberia and Sierra Leone are quiet, leaving millions better off, and even Congo, Somalia and Sudan are much less violent than they used to be.
The number of coups, which averaged 20 per decade in 1960-90, has fallen to an average of ten, Radelet states.
“Second, more private citizens are engaging with politics, some in civil-society groups, others in aid efforts or as protesters.
“The beginnings of the Arab spring in North Africa two years ago inspired the rest of the continent. In Angola youth activists invoke the events farther north. In Senegal a group of rap artists formed the nucleus of the coalition that ousted Mr Wade,” the book recounts. Some countries, such as Ethiopia and Rwanda, still put the state in the lead.
Meles Zenawi, Ethiopia’s Prime Minister from 1995 until his death last year, achieved impressive gains by taking development into his own hands.
Others, such as Kenya and Nigeria, have empowered private business by removing red tape.
Yet others are benefiting from a commodities boom, driven by increased demand from China, which has become Africa’s biggest trading partner.
Over the past decade African trade with China has risen from US$11b to US$166b.
Copper-rich Zambia and oil-soaked Ghana are using full coffers to pay for new schools and hospitals, even if there are concerns about corruption.
Radelet says: “The biggest reason to be hopeful is that it takes time for results from past investment to come through, and many such benefits have yet to materialise.
“Billions have already been put into roads and schools over the past decade; the tech revolution has only just reached the more remote corners of the continent; plenty of new oilfields and gold mines have been tapped but are not yet producing revenues. The aid pipeline too is fairly full.
“The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation alone has invested US$1.7b in Africa since 2006 but acknowledges that ‘it takes years and years to shift the system’.
“Some aid will be wasted, some new roads will remain empty and more than a few barrels of oil will be stolen. Yet whereas currently not even half of Africa’s countries are what the World Bank calls ‘middle income’ (defined as at least US$1 000 per person per year), by 2025 the Bank expects most African countries to have reached that stage.”


July 2013
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