This is Africa's Century

Published on 29th June 2010

The importance of Africa to the G8 and G20 summits saw Canada’s leading daily newspaper The Globe And Mail for weeks, give its cover space to in-depth analysis of Africa development issues.

The series featured, among others, Liberia’s President Ellen Johnson Sirfeaf, ex-British Prime Minister Tony Blair, Nigerian writer Ken Wiwa, the Oxford University development expert Prof. Paul Collier, and the Canadian Geoffrey York, author of numerous books on development and the Africa bureau chief of The Globe and Mail. Dignitaries such ex-UN chief Kofi Annan, diplomats such as World Bank’s president Robert Zoellick, academics such as Harvard University’s Jeffrey Sacks, musicians such as Benin Republic’s Angelique Kidjo, models such as the French First Lady Carla Bruni Sarkozy, and media practitioners such as Amadou Mahtar Ba, founder of the giant, and others were also asked by The Mail to give their insights about “how Africa will change the world.”

John Stackhouse, The Globe and Mail’s veteran international development journalist, observed that “Africa is key to this century, a resource-rich and youthful continent that has found itself and is set to take on the world.”

Stackhouse’s optimistic view is backed not only by Africa’s improving governance index and its 1-billion population expected to rise to 2-billion by 2050 as market magnet but also the fact that “Africa attracted approximately US$63.6-billion in foreign investment in 2008, up from US$4-billion in 1995.” Stackhouse’s optimism is also revealed in the latest UN report that says Benin Republic, one of Africa’s credible democracies, has made significant gains in reducing poverty and infant mortality, increasing access to safe drinking water and expanding primary education, as part of the anti-poverty programs of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

Saying the G8 and G20 countries better recognize Africa’s opportunities (as China has swiftly envisioned) or they will be taken by events, The Globe And Mail argued that “Africa, with its vast geographic advantages (the power of the Sahara sun, the flow of great rivers, and the geothermal potential of the Rift valley), resources (it produces half the world’s chromium, half of its diamonds, half its platinum, one third of its gold, and has one-tenth the world’s proven oil reserves and one-sixth of its forest cover) and population, is an unstoppable force. It is also an attractive place to invest.”

Notwithstanding these natural potentials, The Globe And Mail's African special edition depicted the two realities of Africa: the traditional and the modern, complimenting each other. For example, on Healthcare: “In Senegal, a woman is sprayed with a liquid believed to be medicinal to treat a fertility problem. But in South Africa, top surgeons perform complex operations with state-of-the-art technology.” On Education: “Children in Ethiopia take notes on paper. In Ghana, though, students are taught computer skills in a modern classroom.”

Technology is transforming Africa, knocking down old values and creating new ones. Democratic tenets such as the rule of law, human rights and freedoms, too, are increasingly being used to refine inhibitions of progress within the African culture.

Africa is being transformed. Africa’s mobile phone subscriptions rose from 55 million (five years ago) to 350 million in 2008, according to a UN report cited by The Globe And Mail. In Nigeria alone, phone subscription exploded from 400,000 to 70 million in just 9 years, “helping Mobile Television Networks become a global telecom player in the process,” said Papa Ndiaye, founder of pan-African venture Advanced Finance and Investment Group. That growth is the fastest in the world. With 1,500 ethnic languages and over 2,000 ethnic groups, Africa will have more than 500-million cell phone users by 2013. This is changing Africa’s businesses, agriculture, trade, security, medicine and democratic practices. “Video-enabled phones are helping Africa record human rights violations committed by oppressive regimes or corporations.”

African governments are hatching better foreign investment policies that have seen “inflows increasing 10 times in just 10 years,” and helped reduce dependence on the public sector.  “The result,” The Globe And Mail reveals, “is an astonishing growth in entrepreneurialism. Some 330 million people are estimated to now fall into the continent’s burgeoning middle classes. Where there are middle classes, there is consumerism.”  Ramesh Thakur, director of Balsillie School of International Affairs at Canada’s Wilfred Laurier and Waterloo universities elucidates that educated and informed, expanding middle-class (such as Africa’s) starts to assert itself democratically by exploiting the citizen’s levers in a free society, including the judiciary and a vigorous competitive mass media.

As part of the tenets of globalization, the African middle class has empowered its members to travel abroad and evaluate domestic governance against international standards. The Sudanese UK-based billionaire Mo Ibrahim has instituted a governance prize to check the health of Africa governance annually. The Globe And Mail used this to analyze the strength of Africa’s governance index and rankings in 2009.

In regards to the International Criminal Court investigating Kenya’s post-election violence and indictment of Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir, African civil society is pushing for justice and gradually helping to change the behaviour of Africa’s notorious Big Men. Lawyers, human rights advocates and social activists such as the Nigerian Nobel laureate Wole Soyinka and the Ghanaian prominent journalist Kwesi Pratt have maintained the demand for criminal accountability through the growing mass media, the political process and the justice system. African democracy activists have joined forces with international counterparts to publicize and exert pressure for a settling of accounts in Africa’s lethargic courts. This partly explains Tony Blair’s explanation that the African development picture is promising, five years after the Gleneagles, UK G8 summit.

Liberia today illustrates the encouraging effects of good governance. The negatives: “For 14 years, our infrastructure was systematically destroyed, schools were demolished, hospitals were ransacked and plantations were ripped up.” The positives: “Since then, with the help of the international community, including aid agencies and private partners, a democratically elected government has begun rebuilding a shattered nation.” Rationalizing these, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf thoughtfully makes it clear that in the long run, Liberia, like the rest of Africa, must rid itself of aid. “We can then continue our economic development and, with the right policies and international support, eventually leave the need for aid behind entirely.”

If Sirleaf’s call for good leadership, democracy and accountability is observed, it will contain “the scramble for” Africa’s natural resources to the good of Africans. In the past Africa’s natural resources have been “plundered.” Prof. Collier argues for the natural resources assets to be “harnessed – not plundered,” since “Africa is the last frontier for discovery…With high global commodity prices, these assets will be discovered. We are at the early stages of what will, over the next decade, be the scramble for Africa, Mark 11.”

As Equatorial Guinea negatively exemplifies (its huge oil and gas incomes have not lifted most citizens from poverty), the pillaging of natural resources is at the heart of economic tragedy, and “not necessarily environmental one,” making assets for citizens prosperity embezzled for the enrichment of the few. Collier argues, and Kofi Annan agrees, as Botswana positively shows, that the “struggle begins with the accountability of government to citizen.”

Today, the global atmosphere makes accountability to citizens about revenues from their natural resources compelling. In the coming years, this will be seen more in the giant and confused Democratic Republic of Congo whose mineral wealth is worth US$24-trillion. Collier says since 2003, “The Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative has been successful in pressing for the rights of citizens to know the details of resources revenues…A new civil society initiative, the Natural Resource Charter, compliments the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative.” Collier’s hope is that Ottawa should use the June G20 summit to reach global concern regarding decisions required for “natural assets to be harnessed to ending poverty.” The challenge of Ottawa using its powerful clout to help end Africa’s poverty is that “at the end of 2008, Canadian companies had mining assets of US$21-billion in 33 African countries.”

To be continued.

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