Unbundling the dynamics of transition in Africa (2)
Africa in Transition: A New Way of Looking at Progress in the Region; Ejeviome Eloho Otobo; AMV Publishing, Princeton, New Jersey; 2017; 358 pages
Professor Otobo equally has one or two commendations to dish out to African countries on the nascent successes recorded with advancing democratic tradition, as the reverberating effects of the change of democratic guards in Nigeria and Ghana have had on other countries. According to him, “The smooth transfer of power, in Nigeria and Ghana respectively after the 2015 and 2016 presidential elections in the two countries, has been hailed as models of peaceful alternation of power between two political parties and contestants. The elections in half a dozen other countries during 2015 and 2016 followed similar pattern.”
On managing economic transition and the challenges thereof, Otobo notes that the core challenges include the evolution from state-dominated economies to market-oriented economies; undertaking and maintaining economic liberalisation and institutional reforms; diversifying economies away from heavy dependence on primary commodities. The kernel of the argument is that agriculture remains a dominant feature of African trade, a trend that ought to be reversed if the continent is ever to matter in the knowledge-based, IT-dominated world of the future.
Reflecting on where the earliest challenges emanated from, he writes: “The structural adjustment programmes did little to affect the actual structure of many African economies, which were and remain heavily reliant on production and export of primary commodities: agricultural raw materials, gas and petroleum, minerals and metal ores. Instead, the main structural components of the reforms focused on privatization and commercialization of the economic framework; establishing legal and regulatory frameworks; and allowing the private sector to provide infrastructure.”
In advancing this argument he noted that the states in Africa had to reconsider the nature of their involvement with the economy, which led to the evolvement of a new thinking in statecraft known as the ‘development state’ a phrase that embodies the philosophy that the peculiar challenges of the African continent required the active involvement of the state, due to a plethora of reasons, one of which is the preponderance of “poverty and vicious cycles.”
The challenge of job creation, and the ever-increasing need to catch up with the rest of the world has constituted one of the biggest issues in the quest for economic growth, hence demanding that policy makers align policies with the realities of the modern, globalized world. In Nigeria, the fledgling technology ecosystem has seen policy makers skirting around the movers and shakers of the technology hubs, the budding new kids on the block. The increasing influence this demography holds is reflected in the recent visits of the founder of Facebook and a Chief executive at Google to Nigeria.
Recognizing this fact, Otobo writes that, “most African countries lack a critical mass of managerial and scientific and technological capacity to move up the value chain. This has many policy and practical implications for Africa’s development prospects: it deprives African countries the ability to penetrate and participate in the global production chain of competitive industrial sectors; it impedes their ability to engage in processing their agricultural raw materials to finished products; and it delays the opportunity for Africa to move from an agricultural-oriented to an industrial-oriented economy. Though the use and diffusion of information technology might help accelerate progress in specific niches of the economy, Africa would need to make investments, if not in basic science research, then in adapting existing technologies to its myriad of problems.”
How African Countries Can Lead the Future
Though much has been predicted and written about how Africa can either lead the next phase of human history or wallow in wanton obscurity as a result of lack of political will of its leaders and the feeble institutional infrastructure available to engender meaningful progress, the future of the continent, as it stands, still rest on making the right choice. And this is what Otobo might have had in mind when he attempted to make a case of how African countries can lead the future, if only they can overcome the three deficits of stability, organization and technology, with which they grapple with at present.
In analyzing the stability deficit, he argues that the core issues that define the peculiar experiences of the different countries are how well they manage coups and conflicts, their natural resource wealth and the maintenance of order and the rule of law to create a conducive space for investment. In the same vein, on organizational deficit, the author maintains that the managerial capabilities, avenues for transparency and accountability and other institutional framework that facilitate economic and political transactions are key. The continued export of primary commodities and the low capacity for manufacturing, meagre research investment and output in many African countries are identified as manifest signs of technological deficits.
However, to overcome all these, and be positioned to lead the future, Otobo writes that” Those African countries that manage to combine political stability, organizational competence, scientific and technological prowess will emerge as the most prosperous and competitive. They will exert significant influence on the continent and even beyond. Their companies— by growing their organisational competence and mastering science and technology—will extend their presence, beyond national and continental frontiers.” There are preconditions for all these to happen, however, the other two scenarios, show how failing to tackle any of the three deficits can limit the ability of countries to command global dominance in years to come.
The book captures the imperative of women employment in a manner that sheds light on the success recorded and shortcomings that African countries have experiences in expanding the space for women involvement in social, political and economic issues. Otobo ensures that each critical narrative he weaves recognizes the increasing opportunities that African women have been presented with and the political and social constructs that impede their full exploitation of such opportunities. A key complaint expressed in the book was the fact that despite affirmative action and the increasing spaces for engagement women have enjoyed, very few of them get elected or make successful journey to political apogee.
Making a case for the inclusion of women in the transition framework, he notes that, “indeed, the inclusion and empowerment of women in politics, economics, and conflict resolution and peacebuilding must be accorded high priority if African countries are to realise their full national potentials.”
Otobo notes that the increased participation of women in the private sector as well as in governance would be a symptom of allowing equality seep not only into the boardroom, but also in the political space. Examples from Liberia and Malawi are drawn to stress this point. Underscoring this, he notes that “women representatives accounted for over 30 percent of members of the lower or single parliament in African countries,” especially in Rwanda, Sychelles, Senegal, South Africa, among others.
The attention on women taking up decision-making space is an acknowledgement of the strategy of opening up the space of engagement by all to ensure that not only are gender considerations attended to, but that everyone has an equal space to live to their full potentials.
In delineating foreign policy in Africa, Otobo argues, “regionalism holds much promise in Africa.” With this, he reinvigorates the clamour for close-knit continent which not only trades with its self, but has far-reaching economic and political ties that may go as far as even harmonizing monetary policies, fiscal and trade policies with regional integration goals.
According to him, “One might have thought that the existence of several regional economic groups in Africa would result in significant intra-regional trade. This has proved not to be the case. Intra-Africa trade remains rather low. The share of intra-African trade as a percentage of its overall trade is 10.5 percent for exports; and 10.1 percent for imports.”
He notes that there is a need for African countries to move from public-sector led approach to integration to private-sector driven orientation. This, according to him, can be better strengthened with support of private sector players in intra-continental trade relations.
Otobo takes a far-reaching analyses of foreign policy in Africa, and in an effort to cast a spotlight on the great deal of rivalry that exists between Nigeria and South Africa — Africa’s two largest economies—he draws on the growing contestation of the two countries on the influence of the two in policy formation and coordination on the continent.
According to him. “Nigeria was once deemed Africa’s bellwether nation. Not anymore. Today, South Africa presents multi-layered challenge to Nigeria in Africa and on the global scene. Nigeria’s ability and willingness to overcome its domestic political challenges will be an essential first step to improving its image internationally. Nigeria needs to recover its place in some of the global economic institutions to which South Africa now belongs, at the time it was the largest economy in Africa. Yet this is not to suggest that Nigeria should not collaborate with South Africa. Quite the contrary, enhanced collaboration between these two countries will be vital to advancing Africa’s development agenda, for example, as their cooperation in articulating NEPAD showed.
Book to be launched at the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs (NIIA), Lagos on Monday August 28, 2017. Former Commonwealth Secretary General, Emeka Anyaoku and President of the African Roundtable/Chairman of NEPAD Business Group, Alhaji Bamanga Tukur will ‘host’ the book launch.
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