At present, the three major countries of Africa – Nigeria, South Africa and Egypt – are facing various challenges. In Nigeria, the economic and security challenges facing the Buhari administration are daunting. President Buhari’s intentions are very clear but he simply does not have the right team who can articulate clear strategies, identify coherent roadmap based on his vision and implement an action plan for the development of the country. I have never seen a more practical example of the Hausa adage “Ba’a mugun sarki sai mugun bafade“ [there is no bad king, only bad courtiers] than what is happening now. It is the case of a strong leader with weak institutions operating in a weak political economy. After spending about a quarter of its tenure, this administration is suddenly having a retreat on the economy. Oops!
South Africa has a unique history. It is the country with one of the best physical infrastructure on the continent. It also has strong institutions. No wonder, any buffoon who emerges as leader can have his weakness covered by these strong institutions. It so happens that, right now; South Africa’s President Jacob Zuma is facing the battle of his political life. The Zuma administration is full of crisis and scandals. Even the ruling ANC is ashamed of what is happening. How this drama plays out will determine the future direction of that country.
Egypt is also having its own crisis. It is yet to fully recover from the aftermath of the Arab Spring which saw a succession of changes in leadership from Mubarak to Morsi and now Al Sisi. Egypt’s crisis is multi-faceted – political, economic, social, ideological and philosophical. That country is at a crossroads. If it is able to solve these problems, then it will be in a position to play the role expected of it in the comity of nations in the coming years.
Due to these problems in these major African countries, Africa’s voice is virtually absent at this very time of great geopolitical, geo-economic and geostrategic era in the world. There are many reasons for this great time. In America, an election that will have profound effect on the world, more than any in recent history, is about to take place. In China, the economic slowdown and crackdown on corruption by the Xi Jinging administration is resonating around the third world especially. In the Middle East, the rise of ISIS with its attendant migrations of millions to Europe is set to redraw the demography of many countries. It is a world in transition. What is the African response and agenda in all these?
Hakim Ben Hammouda, a Tunisian economist, in 2005 analysed Africa’s developmental challenges through global trade figures. Africa’s share declined from 7% in 1953 to 2% in 2003, while the size of its overall population increased from 9% to 14% in the same period. Many African countries, according to him, got caught in the trap of an economy based on oil, mining or timber revenues, with predatory rationales which support this type of economy. At present, unprocessed agricultural and mining products account for 70% of total African exports. Economic diversification is too slow, and indeed largely non-existent, when it comes to creating a local processing industry.
High-level political instability is also partly the reason for the prolonged crisis afflicting Africa’s economies. According to Christian Gambotti, since the end of the Cold War, out of 116 recorded conflicts, seven were fought between states and 109 are classified as internal wars, given that ethnic wars most often conceal a political reality where what is actually at stake is the conquest of power for the control of the country’s wealth. And, according to the African Union figures, between 1956 and 2001 Africa experienced 186 coups d’état, of which half occurred in the 1980s and 1990s.
Another critical factor worthy of being taken into account on Africa is population. According to UN projection, Africa will have over 2billion inhabitants by 2050 and over 4billion by the end of the 21st century. With this unprecedented demographic explosion, having increased tenfold in a century, the population will need to be housed, fed, educated and provided with jobs and healthcare. It will also mean rampant urbanization and an increase in territorial density. It will also mean very few, if any, places will have homogenous population.
Africa is overflowing with raw materials – oil, metal, timber and agricultural products. However, the continent still accounts for only 2% of world GDP and 3% of foreign direct investment (FDI). The FDI flows are concentrated in a small number of countries such as South Africa, Ghana, Mozambique, Nigeria or Sudan. There is chronic instability as shown by the wars in South Sudan, Central Africa Republic (CAR) and the actions of terror groups in Mali, Nigeria, Niger and Cameroon. It is estimated that 20% of the African population is affected by these conflicts. In the words of Phillipe Hugonm, “the future of the economy is dependent on the future of the state”. Where states continue to be weak, threats remain. And capital is a coward; it only goes to where it is safe. No wonder very few investors come.
A lot needs to be done by African leaders and people. The earlier these leaders realize that they need to come together to articulate clear agenda for their people the better for all. After all, one hand cannot clap. A situation where these leaders accept invitations to various world capitals and key into other people’s plans is simply not acceptable. Africa has to have its own strategies and plans so that whichever power is trying to engage with the continent should accept the African priorities or take a leave.
In this regard, agriculture is one area that Africa can continue to have comparative advantage. To satisfy the requirements by 2050, Africa will need to double its arable land and triple its agricultural output, according to many analysts. This requires investment, access to credit for producers, irrigation strategies and regional cooperation. As the second most dynamic continent after Asia, knowledge — scientific, technological and managerial — need to be pursued to bring up the human resources to world standard for all-round development. In short, education and production are the key to the future. And history is on the side of the oppressed.
— By ABBA MAHMOOD