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Africa rising: Breaking out of challenges

By Gerald Nwokocha
20 June 2016   |   1:08 am
On the 25th of May every year, Africa countries celebrate “Africa day” to commemorate the formation of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) 53years ago, now called African Union (AU).
African Union

African Union

On the 25th of May every year, Africa countries celebrate “Africa day” to commemorate the formation of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) 53years ago, now called African Union (AU). It is always marked with the hope; “Africa Rising.”

However, the calamitous state of the economic development in African countries has continued to raise concerns despite the fact that the continent has huge mineral deposits and vast arable lands.

With decades of independence of African countries, one would expect that Africa would have by now, risen to the admiration of all. The sub-Saharan Africa is the least successful region of the world in poverty alleviation.

From the United Nations Human Development report in last year, it was observed that African countries maintained a high poverty level. Twenty five out of 54 African countries are still within the low-income countries with GNI per capita of US$1,026 and less.

Africa’s progress has been marred by disrespect for human rights, occasional conflicts, over dependency on foreign aid, food importation even when she is endowed with arable lands, hunger, child mortality, unemployment, corruption, poor governance, etc, and it appears she is comfortable with it.

At some points then, some African countries were competing with Malaysia, Singapore, South Korea, Indonesia, Taiwan, UAE, Kuwait, Iran, Israel, etc in GDP ratios, HDI and per capita measurements. But today, these countries mentioned have migrated from third-world countries to first-world countries, leaving Africa behind. So Africa has no reason to remain backward and brood over being a third-world country because those other countries did not sit, wail and cry over being third-world countries. They worked their ways out.

Some of those countries are not endowed with mineral resources and arable land as Africa is. They didn’t allow themselves to be stagnated because of lack of mineral resources or arable land. They devised other means of developing their economy thereby bidden farewell to hunger, unemployment and other problems associated with third world countries. Some of these countries’ economies thrive in tourism, education, and local manufacturing.

For instance, Israel, a desert country is driving her economy through irrigational agriculture. Dubai, a desert city in UAE is driving her economy through tourism and has become one of the finest cities and most visited cities in the world. One would imagine the kind of technology invented in building the skyscrapers on an unsuitable desert soil and how the buildings are sustained from terrible desert wind.

Singapore, on the other hand, is driving her economy through education. Brazil has diversified her economy. Today, she is not only good at Agriculture but also one of the world’s producers of jet engines. Sadly, Africa currently imports food products worth $34bilion from some of these countries that were once in the same pedestal with her as third-world countries even with her natural endowment of arable lands and good climate for agriculture.

Even at that, a recent survey showed that about 240milion people in sub-Saharan Africa is affected by hunger. Africa’s backwardness has been said to emanate from acute corrupt, failed central planning, illiteracy, poverty, hunger, bad governance, lack of visionary and selfless leaders, infrastructure deficit and efficient public transportation, low manufacturing capacity and industrialisation deficit. Exploration of the mineral resources she has continued to aggravate corruption, cause environmental degradation and intensify crisis.

In many occasions, African leaders have apportioned blames on her colonialists for their backwardness. Whether this is true or not, but how long shall we continue to make blames?

But for Kofi Annan and some other African leaders, they think differently.

In 1998, Kofi Annan, first Secretary-General of the United Nations from Sub-Saharan Africa made the following assertions: “It is time for Africans to hold their political leaders and not colonialism responsible for the civil wars and economic failures that ravage their lives.”

“Where there is insufficient accountability of leaders, lack of transparency in regimes, inadequate checks and balances, non-adherence to the rule of law, absence of peaceful means to change or replace leadership, or lack of respect for human rights, political control become excessively important and the stakes become dangerously high.” – The Kofi Annan

As a way of consolation, Africa economic growth is rising but the available economic growth recorded in most African countries do not translate to realities in economic development. However, African countries have achieved some progress in the areas of return to democracy and civil rule, civil liberties, establishment of institutions to fight corruption, reduced military coup, and public awareness on demanding accountability etc. These have given birth to the slogan “AFRICA RISING”, which appears more like fictional than factual.

In order to fix the abnormalities befalling Africa as a continent, corruption (an obstacle to economic development) should be fought with zeal through credible, efficient and transparent institutions. In a recent survey, the African Union Commission estimates that Africa as a whole loses about $148 billion to corruption annually. This cannot continue to go on.

African leaders should create policies aimed at addressing infrastructure deficit in the region (good road, railway, and energy) which currently serve as a barrier to development. About 600 million homes across African countries have no access to electricity.

Based on the current indices, by the year 2050, Africa’s population may have doubled. Something has to be done about the rising population in the continent, which poses danger to the development hence the capacity to feed, educate, and gain employment is not commensurate with the rising population.

Poverty, hunger and uneven distribution of wealth and patrimony among the elite should be tackled head on. There should be social welfare and equal access to healthcare for citizens. As Mexico did, policies like the Mexican

Oportunidades could be replicated to address poverty by African governments that can afford it. Promotion of “demographic dividends” would help facilitate more economic growth, rising income, rising life expectancy rates and put less strain on families.

Cancer, HIV AIDS and other endemic diseases rising in the continent must be jointly tackled if Africa must achieve maximum development.

African leaders must as a matter of urgency implement regional integration (free trade zone, agreements, projects etc) to help the continent overcome her small economic size, thereby attracting investments from Multinational Corporations that are motivated by economies of scale. Of course, that will help drive free movement of goods, services, labour, capital, and reduce business transaction cost as well. The UN Economic Commission for Africa said that Africa could gain over $300 billion within a decade if it implemented a Continental Free Trade Area.

The economy of most African countries is dependent on exporting primary goods. There should be an economic blueprint to strengthen the Africa Development Bank (AFDB) to braze up to her challenges. Efforts should be intensified towards economic diversification and industrialisation to limit the consequences of dependence on primary commodity export. It is therefore imperative that Africa needs to migrate to scientific and technological advancements.

If African leaders could come together and build a stronger and more united region to be proud of, that would speak with one voice and exercise influence measurable with her size and population in international affairs, then, Africa will become a threat to other continents, drive better negotiations with other world leaders, support one another and pursue development together.

Also, African leaders should institutionalise policymaking, reduce cost of governance, improve governance and reform public institutions and carryout land reforms. African governments should prioritize women and youth empowerment, human rights, social security, education for all and provide jobs.

All these would help to address the gender inequality ratio, youth restiveness, unemployment, hunger and population explosion. There should be further policies on peace building to prevent conflicts that have devastated the continent. These policies should be pursued with vigor, rigor and efficiency.

In summary, demographic dividend should be carried out now. It is either a demographic dividend or Africa would continue to face developmental challenges.

• Nwokocha, a writer, lives in Abuja. 08032565094.