Africa needs to get its house in order

Africa must get a seat at the main table with the big boys, but for that to happen, the continent needs to get governance and economic development right, YONELA DIKO writes. 

The overwhelming conclusion from this year’s Africa leg of the World Economic Forum (WEF) is that Africa knows what she must do to truly be the new frontier of global economic development. What is needed is for Africa to find a renewed sense of momentum to confront its challenges of the modern era.

The priorities for Africa are simple. Firstly, there must be peace and stability, which goes hand in hand with conflict resolution as the number one priority because without peace and stability, you cannot have development.

Peace and stability singularly depends on good leadership. Former President of the Republic of Ghana, John Kofi Agyekum Kufuor, speaking at the launch of the Mbeki Foundation said: “there is a new breed of leaders in Africa, who after their time has come, would accept the verdict of the people and step aside to make way for others to take over. It shows there is a new breed of leaders who do not want to be remembered by history for their notoriety, disregard for human rights and good governance but rather want to be part of the forward march towards the establishment of a better life for their people by using the expertise garnered over the years for the good of their people”.

Thabo Mbeki and his Foundation are part of this new culture with Mozambique’s Joaquim Chissano with his Foundation for Peace and Security also seen as representing this breed of former leaders using their expertise garnered over the years for the good of their people. General Olusegun Obassanjo of Nigeria has also instituted an ultra-modern Library Complex to serve as a centre of excellence in the acquisition of knowledge and development of skills for the youth throughout the continent. Then there is the John A Kufuor Foundation for Leadership focusing on Governance and Development in Accra, Ghana.

However, despite these institutions and their high minded goals, we have seen recently an almost reversal of good leadership on the continent, with previously stable countries deteriorating and being plagued by conflict, especially after elections. The World Economic Forum acknowledged this and has made efforts to encourage all our leaders to resolve these conflicts because as we stated, without peace and stability, there can be no development.

The second priority for Africa is good governance and the entrenchment of democracy in many parts of the continent that remain poorly governed and undemocratic. Again, the role of The African Leadership must be ”geared towards assisting in training and developing African leaders” who would dedicate themselves to the implementation of the African agenda in all its manifestations”.

The third challenge for Africa is the need to promote regional economic development as a precursor to continental economic development and integration. It’s more practical and realistic to start with regional economic development first and earn visible and short-term successes before we move to the rest of the continent.

Currently, intra-Africa trade stands at about 15% of total volume compared to 60% of inter-continental trade in the European Union, 53% in East Asia, 41% in North America, and 20% in Latin America and the Caribbean (WEF Report 2017).

This has perturbed even heads of state such as Uhuru Kenyatta of Kenya after his decision to increase imports from Uganda were questioned on the basis that it would be cheaper to buy from Brazil. What are the long term gains on increasing regional commerce? Certainly, lower prices will be a factor once volumes go up.

Finally, there is an issue of generating our own resources for our own economic developments. Once Africa increases its regional and continental trade, and starts generating new revenues for the private sector and for government, not only will commerce expand but Africa’s resources to create its own further development will be the long term gains. This would put Africa in a much better position to make meaningful and balanced partnerships with the rest of the world, when our own house is in order. This inevitably will mean more business and less aid into Africa giving more meaning to the ‘Africa Rising’ phenomenon.

This World Economic Forum’s theme of ‘Achieving Inclusive Growth through Responsive and Responsible Leadership was very timely because it cannot be that ’60 years since the first African states tasted freedom from colonialists, Africa is still plagued by leadership crises in large parts of the continent. This reflects an inability to plan, prepare, and produce the kinds of leaders capable of shaping a new, independent and prosperous Africa.

‘Wrong priorities; wrong policy choices led to most of the then newly independent states to declare one-party states with their leaders as life-presidents; intolerance of opposing views leading to imprisonment of opposition leaders, usually, without trial. Pursuit of faulted economic paths saw the stagnation and even retrogression of hitherto buoyant economies leading to hardships for the majority of their peoples in the early years of independence’. This is how Kufuor characterised Africa’s everlasting problems.

The theme of inclusive growth has come out of a realisation that Africa needed more than political independence to achieve the self-determination that it wished for itself and her people.

William H Draper III, who was the Administrator of the UNDP in 1990, said in his Foreword to the very first Human Development Report that: “We are rediscovering the essential truth that people must be at the centre of all development. The purpose of development is to offer people more options. One of their options is access to income – not as an end in itself but as a means to acquiring human well-being. But there are other options as well, including long life, knowledge, political freedom, personal security, community participation and guaranteed human rights. People cannot be reduced to a single dimension as economic creatures. What makes them and the study of the development process so fascinating is the entire spectrum through which human capabilities are expanded and utilised”.

‘Development with a human face’ has always been Africa’s developmental agenda. The OAU, established on 25 May 1963 in Addis Ababa, had among its major objectives to rid the continent of the remaining vestiges of colonisation and apartheid; promote unity and solidarity among African States; coordinate and intensify cooperation for development among other goals.  By 1999, African Leaders had found the OAU obsolete and African Heads of State and government decided to establish the African Union (AU ) in order to accelerate the process of integration of the continent to enable it to play its rightful role in the global economy while addressing multifaceted social, economic and political problems resulting from the globalization.

The AU, in 2001 formed NEPAD, who’s primary objectives are to eradicate poverty; place African countries, both individually and collectively, on a path of sustainable growth and development; halt the marginalisation of Africa in the globalisation process and enhance its full and beneficial integration into the global economy; accelerate the empowerment of women.

To complement their economic aspirations, African leaders adopted the African Peer Review Mechanism (APRM) as the political anchor for sustenance of good governance and democracy on the continent. Its primary purpose is to foster the implementation of policies, standards and practices that lead to political stability, high economic growth, sustainable development and accelerated sub-regional and continental economic integration through sharing of experiences and reinforcement of successful and best practice, including identifying deficiencies and assessing the needs for capacity building.

This year’s Africa leg of the WEF can be said to be responding to these earlier challenges and complexities of Africa’s renewal, with its theme ‘Achieving Inclusive Growth through Responsive and Responsible Leadership’. What kind of economic growth do we want? Where are the bottlenecks? What steps must be taken to unlock this growth, and most importantly, how do we ensure the benefits of that growth are widely spread?

As South Africa’s Finance Minister, Malusi Gigaba said, economic development must go hand in hand with economic transformation.

The time for Africa is now.

Diko is the spokesperson of the ANC in the Western Cape. He holds a BCom degree from the University of Cape Town where he majored in Economics

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