Ex: Jonathan Power.
Subject: What Obama will see in Africa.
Date: June 24th 2013.
In June,1994, Nelson Mandela, South Africa's first black president, spoke at a
summit meeting of the Organisation of African States: “We
must face squarely that there is something wrong in how
we govern ourselves. It must be said that the fault is not
in our stars but in ourselves.” At last Africa seems to have
taken his words of wisdom to heart.
This week President Barack Obama will be in Africa to see for himself how most of Africa over the nine years since that speech has taken the high road.
One by one throughout the 1990s governing elites
began to come to their senses. Twenty-five States
established multi-party democracies.
Approximately two-thirds of the people of Africa
own a mobile phone. In many African countries phone
technology is ahead of Europe and North America. Money
can be transferred from the city to an upcountry village.
Bills can be paid. In Ghana farmers can receive text
messages reporting the price of yams and corn two towns
away and thus find the best market without a middleman.
In Kenya residents of small villages can receive texts to say
when the perambulating doctor will next be coming. In parts
of West Africa nurses are storing patients’ data on phones.
It may be more difficult to build up fast internet
penetration on PCs but in some countries 40% of mobile
owners are using phones for email and the internet.
Black Africa has come late to the party but a majority of
its 48 countries is charging ahead. One advantage of being
late is that one can leapfrog over old concepts and tools and
get today’s version at cheaper prices than the old. This is
true for everything from state of the art well digging
equipment to new seeds and mineral mapping.
Welcome to the new Africa! Lions roar and poverty drops!
All over infant mortality rates are falling, literacy is
improving, longevity is rising and infectious diseases
including AIDs are falling steadily, as is malaria.
A number of African countries have oil and valuable
minerals sold at good prices. But East Africa, which is the
fastest growing region of sub-Saharan Africa, has little of
these- at least until very recently, when there have been
significant oil and gas finds. And even landlocked resource-poor Mali is doing well.
Paced by the Chinese and Indians, Western firms are
now getting in on the act. Some countries are floating bonds on Western exchanges.
African stock markets are flourishing and home grown
banks are pushing out their tentacles to small towns whilst
making good profits. Micro-lending is on the up, pulling
distant villagers into the modern economy.
For the first time a middle class is emerging in
significant numbers. Consumer products are in high
demand. Motorbikes fill the roads. Good private schools,
universities and hospitals are in high demand. The upper
middle classes send their children to school and university
in Europe and North America. Increasingly these graduates
and the some of the rest of the Diaspora are returning to
their land of opportunities.
Debt is down – partly thanks to write-offs by
Western countries which were prodded into action by
Western NGOs. Inflation is falling. Corruption is being
tackled even though it is very much an uphill fight.
Countries are finding new non-traditional items that they
can export- flowers from Kenya and Zimbabwe and out of
season vegetables from a number of countries. Intra-African
trade has gone up from 6% to 13% of all trade.
High commodity prices for everything from palm oil to
cocoa to soya beans have given most countries a boost, yet
commodities provide a smaller proportion of exports than
they did a decade ago. Only about one third of Africa’s
recent growth is due to commodity exports. A decade ago trade with Brazil,
India and China made up only 1% of total trade. Now it is
When the world economic crisis of 2008 hit Africa,
sub-Saharan Africa weathered it. Commodity prices fell but
the structure of the reformed African economies was strong
enough to resist the pressure. Banks had been self-disciplined and are not over
exposed to the ailments of Western ones.
Growth rates (GDP) are today very encouraging. Last year, according to the International Monetary Fund, the average growth rate for sub-Saharan Africa was a handsome
These are the top-performing ones: Niger is 14%,
Angola 9.7%, Mozambique 9%, Sierra Leone 9%, Liberia
9%, Ghana 8.8%, Zambia 7.7%, Nigeria 7.1%,Congo 6.5%,
Tanzania 6.4%, Gabon 5.6%, Lesotho 5.2%, Kenya 5.2%
and Gambia 5%. Unfortunately, mismanaged South
Africa, the continent’s largest economy, is a lowly 2.7%.
Nigeria will soon overtake it. Six of the top ten fastest growing countries in the world are African.
Ten years ago The Economist labelled Africa as “The
hopeless continent”. Much has changed. But don’t go out in in the bush unaccompanied! The lions are roaring!
Copyright: Jonathan Power
Obama's African trip is some vacation or safari adventure, and nothing close to stimulating economic or political development. Candidate Obama's 2008 speeches in N. Africa which propelled revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt had little or no impact on Black Africa. I thought the president would spent sometime in his first four years to realize the peculiarity of this region and would initiate moves that will jolt some of the world's worst seat tight leaders in this region. Unfortunately, the president's second term will elapse even without a single frank statement. It's mind bugling that US presidents' African trips applaud countries that have attained high levels of advancements,, while ignoring those that really need a push. I think the rest of the world will have to realize the vulnerability of weak, impoverished and ethnically fragmented African people in the face of very wealthy, powerful and foreign-backed dictators. The reverse of this would mean inaction, in the face of genocide.
That Africa has made some strides in its developmental efforts is indisputable. President Obama's visit should be seen, among others, as America's endorsement of the African agenda. Yet there are issues of governance that need to be addressed in some African states. Human rights abuses continue unabated, blatant corruption is going on in some hitherto democratic and corrupt-free countries. The politicians and top public servants continue to pillage. Don't mention poverty! Indeed the poor are always with us, apologies to the Master Christ. That is the more reason that we need to be careful about China's overturres. The country's 'care free' atitude towards poor governance should be a cause for serious concern. We need its investment, yes. But not at the cost of endorsing poor governance. Better the devil you know than the angel you don't know.