Trou­ble amid plenty in emerg­ing Africa

Financial Mirror (Cyprus) - - FRONT PAGE -

Africa is chang­ing dra­mat­i­cally – and so are out­siders’ at­ti­tudes to­ward it, with the US fi­nally seem­ing de­ter­mined to catch up with China, Europe, and In­dia in their in­ter­est in the con­ti­nent. Pres­i­dent Barack Obama’s re­cent sum­mit with 40 African heads of state and more than 200 US and African business lead­ers sug­gests a new, more con­fi­dent mood. That is en­cour­ag­ing; but as long as parts of Sub-Sa­ha­ran Africa con­tinue to strug­gle with vi­o­lent con­flict, poverty, and cor­rup­tion, the con­ti­nent’s eco­nomic po­ten­tial will not be fully re­alised.

Africa’s eco­nomic growth and com­mer­cial op­por­tu­ni­ties are ex­cit­ing and en­tic­ing. The re­gion’s 300 mil­lion-strong mid­dle class is grow­ing by more than 5% an­nu­ally. The con­ti­nent leads in mo­bile bank­ing. Con­sumer spend­ing per capita is close to In­dian and Chi­nese lev­els. If for­eign in­vest­ment, in part­ner­ship with the con­ti­nent’s vi­brant pri­vate sec­tor, can ben­e­fit key sec­tors – par­tic­u­larly ed­u­ca­tion, health care, and in­fra­struc­ture – Africa may gain the broad-based de­vel­op­ment boost that its peo­ple need.

But in­vest­ment and growth – “Africa ris­ing” – are only part of the story. There is also the Africa that is strug­gling, with con­flict and cri­sis af­flict­ing much of the con­ti­nent, es­pe­cially the tens of mil­lions of peo­ple liv­ing in a belt of coun­tries run­ning from Mali to So­ma­lia. Even be­fore the re­cent Ebola out­break in Liberia and Sierra Leone, South Su­dan, the Cen­tral African Repub­lic (CAR), and Mali were at risk of join­ing a long list of frag­ile or fail­ing states that al­ready in­cludes So­ma­lia and the Demo­cratic Repub­lic of Congo. Eth­nic, re­li­gious, eco­nomic, and other forms of strife in th­ese coun­tries too of­ten over­shadow the ob­jec­tives of ef­fec­tive gov­er­nance and the de­liv­ery of the most ba­sic ser­vices.

Th­ese coun­tries come to the wider world’s at­ten­tion – and then only briefly – fol­low­ing a mass killing or a refugee cri­sis. Then at­ten­tion shifts, leav­ing prob­lems to grow and liv­ing con­di­tions to worsen. In South Su­dan, the world’s new­est coun­try, po­lit­i­cal unity across eth­nic lines was main­tained dur­ing the fight for in­de­pen­dence, but col­lapsed this year into vi­o­lent con­flict. Roughly 1.5 mln peo­ple have now lost their homes, and 400,000 have fled to neigh­bour­ing states.

Amid the wide­spread ter­ror, no one is safe. In April, my own or­gan­i­sa­tion lost two staff mem­bers work­ing inside a United Na­tions com­pound with dis­placed peo­ple. And, in early Au­gust, seven lo­cally hired aid work­ers were tar­geted and ex­e­cuted.

In the CAR, at­tacks on Chris­tians by Mus­lim ex-Séléka fight­ers have been su­per­seded by Christian and an­i­mist An­tibal­aka mili­tias’ vi­o­lence against flee­ing Mus­lims. CAR’s Mus­lim pop­u­la­tion has dropped from an es­ti­mated 15% to less than 5%. As al­ways, women and chil­dren suf­fer the most. In the past three months alone, In­ter­na­tional Res­cue Com­mit­tee cen­tres in the CAR’s cap­i­tal, Ban­gui, have wit­nessed a surge of women es­cap­ing vi­o­lence and abuse.

Help is ur­gently needed but slow to come. The UN ap­peal to raise $565 mln for the CAR is still only 39% funded. The UN ap­peal for South Su­dan, which faces famine after fight­ing pre­vented farm­ers from plant­ing crops, has reached only half of its fund­ing tar­get. Donor fa­tigue – and the mul­ti­tude of global crises now con­fronting pol­i­cy­mak­ers – is tak­ing its toll.

Hu­man­i­tar­ian ac­tion is un­doubt­edly es­sen­tial to ad­dress im­me­di­ate crises. But it is im­por­tant to recog­nise that, just as po­lit­i­cal crises of­ten lead to hu­man­i­tar­ian crises, hu­man­i­tar­ian need can cause po­lit­i­cal in­sta­bil­ity, with mass ex­o­dus from cri­sis-rid­den neigh­bor­ing coun­tries desta­bil­is­ing en­tire re­gions. In­deed, civil wars are rarely con­tained within the coun­tries where they be­gin.

Refugee prob­lems are deeply rooted. Half of the world’s poor, for ex­am­ple, live in frag­ile and con­flict-rid­den states – 20% more than ten years ago – and 75% of refugees live among lo­cals in ur­ban ar­eas. Cri­sis and un­der-de­vel­op­ment are closely in­ter­linked.

We in­creas­ingly know what kind of hu­man­i­tar­ian ac­tion works. Com­mu­nity-based ini­tia­tives that build trust are bet­ter than cen­trally or ex­ter­nally ad­min­is­tered projects. Em­pow­er­ing women to pro­tect them­selves from vi­o­lence, or teach­ing dis­placed chil­dren how to cope with their trauma, are among the most ef­fec­tive paths to re­cov­ery. We also know that with­out se­cu­rity, there can be no de­vel­op­ment. To­day, more than 100,000 UN and African Union peace­keep­ers are stretched across strug­gling African states. More are needed, es­pe­cially in the CAR and South Su­dan.

Eco­nomic in­vest­ment in Africa is im­por­tant and de­serves se­ri­ous thought and long-term plan­ning. The Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion is right to pro­mote com­mer­cial op­por­tu­ni­ties on the con­ti­nent. But that alone will not ad­dress the sources of vi­o­lent con­flict that still blight mil­lions of lives. Hu­man­i­tar­ian re­lief must stand along­side eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment and good gov­er­nance as the pil­lars of Africa’s drive to achieve its true po­ten­tial.

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