Globalization Slips Through Africa

Published on 12th December 2006

Reducing the knowledge gap


The biggest gap between industrialized countries and Africa today is the knowledge gap.  The developing world and Africa especially, desperately needs  to position its universities as real centers of excellence, in which African answers to African problems can be worked out. This does not mean ignoring the advances made on other continents, but studying them thoroughly and finding ways to improve them in an African context. The Southern Africa Regional Institute of Policy Studies (SARIPS) in Zimbabwe is a case in point of a center of learning that pools African academics, entrepreneurs and thinking professionals to foster Africa’s competitiveness in the rest of the world.


It is vital that Africa plays its full part in the global economy, from which, at present, it is in many ways excluded.  Private capital flows into Africa are a tiny fraction of global flows. For some countries, outward flows amount to several times their Gross Domestic Product.  Many African countries spend more than 25 per cent of their export earnings on servicing debts. Out of 1.2 billion people in the world living on less than $1 per day, 300 million are in Africa. While in other regions average incomes are rising, Africans in sub-Saharan Africa are almost as poor today as they were 20 years ago. 


Countries that successfully integrated into the global economy, and attracted foreign investment have achieved higher growth. In the last 25 years, Asia has grown at an annual rate of 7 per cent and Latin America, at 5 per cent, while much of Africa has stagnated or even gone backwards.


Accelerate Information Technology


We must bridge the gap between the fortunate few who are hooked up to the new world economy, and half of the world’s population that is yet to make or receive a telephone call, let alone use a computer.Currently, less than half of one per cent of all Africans has used the Internet.


Information technology does not require vast reserves of financial capital.  The main input is brain-power, the one commodity that is equally distributed throughout the human race.  A relatively small investment could release that power, enabling the poorest societies to forge ahead, leapfrogging some of the long and painful stages of development that other countries had to go through.  The attempts by the ageing President of Zimbabwe to donate 10 computers to every school in Zimbabwe might be hap-hazard, as some schools have no capacity to take computers (they lack power and manpower among others), but the effort is commendable. Information technology is a self-paced learning tool that spreads like veldt fire. Africa needs it now.


In India, for example, the city of Bangalore has become a centre of the world software industry, boasting more than 300 high-tech companies. In 2005, Costa Rica achieved the highest growth rate in Latin America (8.3 per cent) through its exports of microchips.  Mauritius, an African country, is already using the Internet to position its textile industry globally.  Women in tiny villages of Bangladesh are using cellular phones, bought with small loans from the Grameen Bank and then rented out to other villagers, to sell their home-produced textiles in the world market.   


Invest in Education and Health


Investing in education will release and mobilize the brainpower of Africa. Good primary school education for all has to be our first priority, because every person who is deprived of it loses the chance to develop their potential. There are still many families, and societies who think it is less important to educate their daughters than their sons.We have to free Africa’s people from the crippling burden of disease, which not only robs families of their meager resources, but  also locks them in a vicious circle of high mortality, high fertility, and unending poverty. 


End conflicts in Africa


The state of Africa today with regards to international trade is in shambles. The strong link to Internationalism is through Aid and relief work due to escalating conflict. We have to overcome the prevalence of conflict in Africa.  Nothing is more inimical to growth and likely to spread poverty, than armed conflict. If conflict perpetuates poverty, poverty also makes conflict harder to avoid and resolve. 


Peace within a state depends on its own citizens. It is only the government and citizens of a country who can protect it from tearing apart in the first place.  While poor countries are in greater danger than rich ones, poverty alone does not cause conflict.  Even relatively rich countries can be dragged into the abyss of conflict by self-serving leaders, who play on the fears and grievances of divided populations. The USA in Iraqi is a good example. Many poor countries live in peace despite their poverty, thanks to enlightened leadership. Such countries include Botswana, Zambia, Swaziland and Tanzania among others.


Improve the quality of governance


The final and fundamental prescription for breaking barriers between Africa and global prosperity is to improve the quality of governance. This is the decisive factor in any country’s success.  In a country where leaders use power to monopolize wealth, exploit their fellow citizens and repress peaceful dissent, conflict is inevitable and investment will be scarce.  But in a country where human and property rights are protected, where the government is accountable, and where those affected by decisions play a part in the decision-making, poverty can be reduced, conflict avoided, and capital mobilized.


Once a country - or, even better, a whole region adopts that approach to its own problems, others in the global trade can more easily be persuaded to open their markets to its products.

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