The Challenges of Growth in Contemporary Africa

 

Africa has become a special continent. The continent is experiencing growth and attracting more investors than most of the other continents. The main global economic powers, namely the USA, China, EU countries and Asia are all competing to invest in Africa. The new scramble for Africa is more real than it was in the 1990s. Africa is assuring profit and growth for investors. It is also promising safety of investments from economic meltdown.

Historically, the scramble for resources is nothing new. It has been in place from ancient times. What is different about it today is the nature it assumes. At the Berlin conference of 1884 – 1885, the scramble manifested itself through colonialism. The second phase of the scramble Africa experienced since the 1990s is manifested through investment, liberalisation and privatisation platform. Today’s scramble is once more over resources such as minerals, oil and gas.

 

Growth in Africa

 

Africa is certainly experiencing growth. The pace and speed of the growth in Africa remains a subject of discussion. Over the past decade, six of the world’s 10 fastest-growing countries were African. In eight of the past 10 years, Africa has grown faster than East Asia, including Japan. IMF expects Africa to grow similarly as Asia with an annual growth rate of 6 percent. 

The growth is also manifested in terms of foreign investments and Aid flows to Africa as well as the discovery of new resources, especially minerals, gas and oil.

The question of the economic growth in Africa is no longer debatable. The debate is on how the common people will benefit from this growth. Will this growth make African people to achieve enhanced economic freedom? 

Will it free Africans from hunger, diseases, and poverty? Will it improve the living standards of the ordinary citizen? Will Africa’s abundant resources be used to benefit the majority of Africans? It should not be forgotten that Africans live on less than two dollars a day. Drought and famine are a common phenomenon. 

The climate is worsening, with deforestation and desertification still on the march.

To solve its developmental challenges, Africa has responded by soliciting for foreign or international aid, which its political leaders have often abused through corrupt practices. Whether international aid is the solution to Africa’s problems has been a subject of heated debate. While some scholars argue that international aid is not the perfect solution to Africa’s problems, others hold that it is key to alleviating suffering in Africa as most African countries are bankrupt and can barely raise enough funds to provide for public services.

Leap forward

Although African statistics are often unreliable, the numbers generally suggest that human development in sub – Saharan Africa has made huge leaps. Secondary school enrolment, for example, grew by 48 percent between 2000 and 2008 after many states expanded their education programmes and scraped 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 expectance across Africa has increased by about 10 percent and child mortality rates in most countries have been falling steeply.

Over the past ten years, real income per person has increased by more than 30 percent. Over the next decade its GDP is expected to rise by an average of 6 percent a year, not least thanks to foreign direct investment. FDI has gone from $15 billion in 2002 to US$37 billion in 2006 and US$46 billion in 2012. 

Many goods and services that used to be scarce, including telephones, are now widely available. Africa has three mobile phones for every four people, the same as India. By 2017, nearly 30 percent of households in Africa 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.

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 55 countries ‑ Eritrea, Swaziland, Libya and Somalia ‑ lack a multi-party constitution, and the last two will get one soon. Armies mostly stay in their barracks. Big-man leaders are becoming rare, though some authoritarian states survive. Democracy has led to better governance as politicians who want to be re-elected have to show results.

African countries have stopped fighting. War and civil strife have declined dramatically. 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. P

arts of Mali were seized by Islamists last year, and then liberated by French troops in January, though unrest continues. The number of coups, which averaged 20 per decade between 1960-90 has fallen to an average of 10.

 

Leap backward

 

Surprisingly, despite all the development shown above, it is reported that all 25 countries that rank lowest in terms of human development are African. Africa also finds itself on the losing side of globalisation, lacking both skills and infrastructure to attract the multinational corporations that drive it. 

The strategy employed by most African countries from escaping this decline is to depend heavily on western aid or assistance, a trend that impoverished Africa more and slowed economic growth, according to Dambisa Moyo, a Zambian economist, in an article titled “Why Foreign Aid is Hurting Africa”.

She argues that the insidious aid culture has left African countries more debt laden, more inflation prone, more vulnerable to the vagaries of the currency markets and more unattractive to higher quality investment. It also increases the risk of civil conflicts and unrest. The aid is most often misused, breeds corruption, keeps inefficient or bad governments in power and shifts govern accountability from the electorate to donors. Moyo argues that while charity based aid might help after a disaster, it cannot be a platform for a long term sustainable growth.

 

Leadership and governance

 

Africa’s future can completely be changed. The continent's biggest handicap is lack of good leadership and governance. African leadership from colonial times has alienated itself from its people.  The leadership should change and take advantage of the structures in place. Africa should be strategic, embrace modern technology, modern thinking and positive change of mind set. Development depends on the history of a country; country expectations; economic and non-economic values; incentives; attitudes; and beliefs. Africa should advance its national interests more before it embraces global interests. ‑ The African Executive

•  Khamis Mkanachi is a lecturer at the University of Dodoma, Tanzania.

December 2013
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