Africa has been the butt of countless jokes over the past few decades with regard to its sluggish economic growth. The continent has been mocked time and again for its alleged lack of rapid development. The ridicule has gotten so intense that there are entire forums online that often describe Africa as a starving, drought-stricken wasteland full of flies and dying children.
While this may be the case in a number of clusters across the continent, Africa is full of lush forests, flowing rivers, thriving cities, shining skyscrapers, magnificent resorts, exotic wildlife and limitless potential.
But the narrative that Africa is a walking corpse simply refuses to die. Some ill-informed critics believe that the continent is developmentally stagnant.
In fact, some pundits refer to Africa as 19th Century Great Britain, inferring that the region has been confined to an era where electric-powered trains did not exist and knee-high socks for men were a sign of prestige.
Many people believe that Africa’s numerous nations have refused to move forward since gaining independence, while others believe some countries have gotten worse. There are even scholars who believe that some nations would be better off under colonial rule.
The truth of the matter is, Africa is not one country, but more than 50 diverse nations. And its development cannot really be seen as a single march driven by a single shift in policy.
Africa is Wealthy
The fact is, Africa is rich in resources, talent and potential, but crippled by corruption, ignorance, greed and misinformation.
In 2012, an estimated 1.07 billion people were living in 54 different countries in Africa, which is often touted as a resource-rich continent. And Africa’s economies are indeed growing, albeit not as fast as they could be.
The continent is home to the world’s largest reserves of gold, accounting for more than 80% of the world’s supply. African diamonds constitute more than 70% of the global supply with Botswana representing 35%; Congo (Kinshasa) 34%; South Africa 17%; and Angola with 8%.
Oil reserves have been discovered in at least two countries over the past decade, including Kenya and Tanzania. The world’s largest platinum producer is South Africa. And even Namibia and Niger produce Uranium, which is used to fuel nuclear power plants.
This adds to the fact that economists agree that the continent is doing relatively well, all things considered. Economies are expanding and, in some countries, new employment opportunities are emerging.
Recent growth has been due to a rise in sales in commodities, services, and manufacturing. Sub-Saharan Africa, in particular, is expected to reach a GDP of $29 trillion by 2050. But some may argue that this is not enough.
Why is Africa at the rear end of global development when it should be at the front?
Why can China recover from an economic crisis in a matter of years while Africa can’t even build an intercontinental railway line despite being possibly the richest continent on the globe?
Some say it’s a lack of Pan-African unity. They argue that post-colonial borders have made it impossible to create lasting regional partnerships. Others say that African nations with strong economic growth prospects do not want to partner with ‘weaker’ economies. Many agree that corruption is the leading cause of this stagnation.
Africa’s development has indeed been slow when compared to other regions across the globe. Japan for instance, was in a state of financial disarray following the events of World War II, especially after its defeat in the late 40s. However, the country quickly recovered in an event that came to be known as the Japanese Miracle, a term for the remarkable economic growth Japan experienced after its devastation in World War II.
The growth is credited to a combination of American investment immediately after the war and government regulation of the economy. The Japanese government restricted imports and promoted exports, a move that African countries have come to adopt in recent years.
However, while Japan was able to show astounding growth and development in the span of less than a decade, many African countries are less developed even 50 years after the fall of colonial rule.
Kenya for instance, is still using trains that were decommissioned more than a generation ago in many developed countries. The East African nation boasts a number of urban areas but many of its roads are still pathways carved from human and animal foot traffic. In Kenya, there are entire counties that only have a few hundred kilometers of tarmacked road and many still that lack proper well-equipped hospitals.
This is despite the fact that Kenya is a leading tourist destination, a regional technology hub and one of the most-promising economies in Sub-Saharan Africa.
Across the Lake, in Uganda and Tanzania, many schools lack the facilities to provide young learners with a proper education. Dilapidated structures, torn-up books and a lack of modern facilities make it nearly impossible for some to lift themselves out of poverty.
Across East Africa, the story is the same. Some rural areas look like they are stuck in the 1900s, lacking in utilities and social amenities that are common place in urban areas and a staple in more developed nations such as Finland, Australia and the UK.
Worse still, Africa’s development is out of whack. Only in rural Africa can a mother of 12 live in a mud-thatched house, own a mobile phone, walk to a river to fetch water and use kerosene to light her home – all while her neighbor lives in a stone structure, complete with indoor plumbing and electricity.
This is proof that there are elements of development spread across the continent while others remain elusive.
There is Hope but no Commitment
In 2018, six of the world’s 10 fastest growing economies are in Africa. They include Côte d’Ivoire, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Ghana, Senegal and Tanzania.
This was highlighted during this year’s Africa Investment Forum, a unique gathering for international business and social impact investors looking to transact and deploy funds in Africa.
And while their efforts are welcome and commendable, real change must come from within. In order to join the ranks of the developed world, Africa must weed out its structural and institutional troublemakers. Corrupt politicians must be burned on the proverbial stake and ineffective policies must be abolished.
Hundreds of millions of people in Africa have lived in poverty and even those in the middle are living a sub-standard lifestyle when compared to their eastern and western counterparts. In order for Africa to really grow to shift the narrative from ‘Africa is Rising’ to ‘Africa has Risen’, ineffective regimes should be phased out.
Politicians at the wheel should be put under intense amounts of pressure in order to squeeze out results. Africa cannot keep relying on foreign aid when local resources are more than enough to meet the needs of the continent’s people.
Accountability is not enough, and prosecuting corrupt leaders does little to stop the flow of corruption. Game-changing, wide-sweeping changes are what will help speed up Africa’s economic growth. The African Union (AU), for instance, could have more oversight, and more authority over how development funds are allocated. Politicians should be ranked on their performance and not their popularity. In fact, in order to drive sustainable change, African governments must adopt an actual score sheet available to the public in order to prove that elected lawmakers and policymakers are doing their jobs.
Without proper, transparent and unbridled accountability, Africa will remain 200 years behind the rest of the world for maybe another 200 years.