The process of achieving state-ness in Africa, without changing the political elite will be a messy affair that will at best only be mildly ameliorated, if not made worse, by inconsistent and contradictory meddling by major world powers. Even the magic wand of political democracy might not be of much help in this regard.
Founded in 2004 on the virtue that “talent is universal, but opportunity is not,” the African Leadership Academy (ALA) is an institution striving for exactly this objective. The secondary school for students aged 15-18 has recruited 4000 applicants for only 100 spots every year. These applicants come from all fifty-four nations across the continent and derive from every social class – many from refugee camps.
In its highly interdisciplinary approach, students study “hunger eradication, health care provision, economic growth, and conflict resolution” in Africa, ending their two years with their Culminating Project. ALA also encourages its students to pass on their amassed skill set and knowledge to their community. The ALA is only one example of initiatives that create a generation without which economic growth will become a short-term illusion.
A plethora of false dawnsWhile economic development is crucial in maintaining a rise for Africa, educating the brightest minds has been neglected for too long. The continent has begun tackling the deteriorated educational systems, as investment in education is low. In order to ensure a sustainable economic powerhouse, generations of young people must be educated for new positions and jobs. Local, national, and international solutions are being created in order to solve the universal dilemma of access to education and the quality thereof, as well as the creation of an entrepreneur class developed to scale these solutions.
With many countries resolving their conflicts, there is also a surge in migration back to the continent from members of the African Diaspora community. While abroad, numerous members received western education that taught democratic ideals, which they plan to foster in their homeland. The children of the Diaspora community also carry inherited memories of the land of their forefathers –which in turn fosters a desire to one day return and join their two worlds. Africa’s real growth potential lies in a new generation of open-minded and international students who are willing to transform Africa.
In the past decade, there has been a stark decrease in preterm deaths, child mortality rates, and HIV and malaria infections among the African population. In addition, there has been an increase in life expectancy rates and real income per person by 30%. Also, in 2002, foreign investment in Africa was $15 billion, compared to $46 billion in 2012 – which is higher than in any developing region. All of this is rapidly speeding Africa’s economic pulse. However, the continent has seen a plethora of false dawns set rather quickly due to rampant violence, corruption, and improper governance.
Africa’s prospects are in fact overwhelmingly positive – but only if a new generation of leaders is ready to tackle the continent’s bad governance and to embrace its international opportunities. The economies of the fifty-four states are booming, a factor which is due to their high commodity prices as well as their good macroeconomic policies, which allowed the majority of the continent to withstand the global financial crisis and the chaotic euro zone. All of this while, at the same time, it maintained economic growth and macro-stability. It should be noted that Africa now holds a lower public debt than certain EU nations, a major feat on the part of the developing continent.
Currently, urbanization is flourishing throughout the continent. In 1980, only 28% of Africans lived in cities; today, 40% of Africans live in urban centers. Urbanization boosts productivity levels, investment, and demand. Greater economies of scale are achieved when companies have the ability to hone a larger customer base. These factors also help to produce a more viable middle-class.
With much of Africa seen as quite virgin, foreign states are all clamoring to invest in the virtually untouched continent. The vast amounts of oil, minerals, food, natural gas, and arable land will allow Africa to continuously prosper, as global demand remains high. Despite colonial ties to Europe, more than half of Africa’s trade is with Asia. States like China, for instance, bid for natural resources and minerals in exchange for billion dollar packages of infrastructure investments – including (but not limited to) roads, railroads, schools, hospitals and mine improvements. These direct investments increase the spread of modernity across the continent.
Helping or robbing?It is apparent that these investments improve the quality of life in Africa; nevertheless, the question of whether these foreign states are attempting to help the continent rise or to rob it of its resources surfaces. But because of the widespread, improper governance in Africa, many foreign nations take advantage of the continent.
In June, despite China being an important trading partner to Ghana, thousands of Chinese nationals were expelled from the nation for illegal mining and the pillage of the nation’s gold. In 2012, the Brazilian and Japanese governments collaborated in order to create a project that would utilize 14 million hectares of land in Mozambique in order to produce commodity crops to be sold and distributed in Brazil – resulting in the displacement of millions of farming families.
Hence, neither China, the US, nor the EU can solve Africa’s problems. But Africa still needs their support to create conditions for both economic growth and the rise of a generation educated under democratic principles.
By Guylain Gustave Moke
African Affairs Expert