Africa’s big chal­lenge

In this ex­tract from their im­por­tant new book called Mak­ing Africa Work, Greg Mills, Oluse­gun Obasanjo, Jef­frey Herbst and Dickie Davis warn of the steps that African lead­ers will need to take to pro­mote growth and jobs as the pop­u­la­tion boom in­ten­si­fies

CityPress - - Voices -

Mak­ing Africa Work: A Hand­book for Eco­nomic Suc­cess by Greg Mills, Oluse­gun Obasanjo, Jef­frey Herbst and Dickie Davis Tafel­berg 240 pages R280

’lim’ uze ushay’et­sheni!’ – plough un­til you hit a boulder

African coun­tries, many of them still poor, must pre­pare for a mas­sive in­crease in pop­u­la­tion and, ac­cord­ingly, the num­ber of young peo­ple seek­ing em­ploy­ment. We are hope­ful about the prospects of African coun­tries, but only if tough de­ci­sions are made now. The old “busi­ness-as-usual” ap­proach of gov­ern­ments and lead­ers has to change if they are to cope with Africa’s pend­ing pop­u­la­tion boom. Re­form ne­ces­si­tates fun­da­men­tally chang­ing the way in which African economies work.

It means be­ing open to in­ter­na­tional trade and cap­i­tal rather than aid, be­ing re­liant on en­ter­prise rather than per­son­alised and pa­tron­age-rid­den sys­tems, while the aim of gov­ern­ment should be pri­vate sec­tor growth rather than pub­lic sec­tor re­dis­tri­bu­tion. Un­der­ly­ing all of th­ese ini­tia­tives is the im­per­a­tive for a sense of ur­gency to cre­ate jobs be­fore the pop­u­la­tion wave over­comes African so­ci­eties.

Even though the con­ti­nent en­joyed im­pres­sive eco­nomic growth rates in the 2000s of around 5%, not enough has changed. For one, this growth was in great part not the re­sult of im­proved gov­er­nance, but rather a sharp rise in com­mod­ity prices, un­der­pinned by soar­ing Chi­nese de­mand.

Now, with com­mod­ity prices in de­cline, there is con­cern that many African coun­tries did not do enough dur­ing the “fat” years to re­form their po­lit­i­cal and eco­nomic gov­er­nance prac­tices. As War­ren Buf­fett fa­mously ob­served: “Only when the tide goes out do you dis­cover who has been swim­ming naked.”

This is not about eco­nomic growth alone. An­other mea­sure of the suc­cess of African re­form is in the sta­bil­ity of its so­ci­eties. The con­ti­nent has been the site of twothirds of conflict-re­lated deaths world­wide since 1990. The poor are also still with us. More than 40% of Africans live in ex­treme poverty.

De­spite th­ese re­al­i­ties, so far, it has proven dif­fi­cult to change the old ways of run­ning Africa’s economies. The in­er­tia re­flects the contemporary re­treat of democ­racy and “mis­gov­er­nance” – when gov­ern­ment works ef­fi­ciently, but only for an elite. In this en­vi­ron­ment, the incentives for lib­er­al­is­ing economies are out­weighed by the ben­e­fits of keep­ing things just as they are, as elites are eas­ily able to man­age and de­flect in­ter­na­tional or other dis­in­cen­tives de­signed to en­cour­age change.

How­ever, those lead­ers who, to­day, have the fore­sight and vi­sion to make the nec­es­sary choices for change will, in the fu­ture, be renowned for the pros­per­ity and sta­bil­ity that they brought to their coun­tries.

Mean­while, those rulers who per­pet­u­ate the old ways will see the fur­ther im­pov­er­ish­ment of their na­tions and their own rule threat­ened. The Arab Spring, when young peo­ple who per­ceived that they had no fu­ture over­threw lead­ers and desta­bilised coun­tries in a mat­ter of weeks, high­lights how quickly such ten­sions can spill over, even into po­lit­i­cal col­lapse. The threat is par­tic­u­larly se­vere now that power is in­creas­ingly in the hands of in­di­vid­ual cit­i­zens en­abled by the rapid spread of mo­bile com­mu­ni­ca­tions.

It seems in­evitable that the num­ber of failed states in Africa – al­ready the largest in the world – will in­crease if lead­ers do not move to ad­dress the im­mi­nent chal­lenges pre­sented by the large pop­u­la­tion in­creases that are pro­jected, with the con­comi­tant suf­fer­ing and chaos that ac­com­pany in­sti­tu­tional col­lapse. Sim­i­larly, other crit­i­cal chal­lenges faced by African coun­tries, in­clud­ing ad­just­ing to cli­mate change, im­prov­ing the sta­tus of women and re­duc­ing in­equal­ity, can be ad­dressed only if states grow their economies and gen­er­ate more jobs. Oth­er­wise, the de­mo­graphic cri­sis will be­come all-en­gulf­ing and pre­vent ac­tion on any­thing else.

One of the stark­est fail­ings of post­colo­nial African gov­ern­ments has been their in­su­lar­ity. Africa’s chal­lenges should be un­der­stood in the con­text of univer­sal norms and prac­tices, and not as iso­lated or unique prob­lems. Not so long ago, af­ter all, many Asian and Latin Amer­i­can coun­tries found them­selves un­der cir­cum­stances that were very sim­i­lar to much of Africa to­day.

Whether de­vis­ing in­dus­trial pol­icy or try­ing to achieve eq­uity through growth, Africa does not have to reinvent the wheel: a lot can be learnt from others.


AFRICA AT A CROSS­ROADS A grow­ing pop­u­la­tion, ur­ban­i­sa­tion and drought have im­pacted badly on Somalia. Fu­ture African crises can be less­ened if lead­ers fo­cus on the right pri­or­i­ties – cli­mate change and job cre­ation, among them

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