Feature: The Flowering Of the African Century

Source: KOFI AKOSAH-SARPONG. - thewillnigeria.com

Kofi Akosah-Sarpong, in Ottawa, previews the G8 and G20 summits that are to take place in the Canadian cities of Huntsville and Toronto, and justifies that they will reflect the fact that Africa is a development partner, which is rising, and not a development problem, as has been the case some years ago.

Once again, Africa’s development affairs are coming up at the G8 and G20 summits to be held in Canada from June 25 to 27. The summits will not only review Africa’s progress but also the way forward for the continent. The importance of Africa to the summits have seen Canada’s leading daily newspaper, the Toronto-based The Globe And Mail, for weeks, giving its cover space to in-dept analysis of African development issues.

The series were edited by the British pro-Africa development campaigners Bono and Bob Geldof, founders of ONE, a non-partisan global development advocacy organization. The series featured, among others, Liberia’s President Ellen Johnson Sirfeaf, ex-British Prime Minister Tony Blair, Nigerian writer Ken Saro Wiwa, the Oxford University development expert Prof. Paul Collier, and the Canadian Geoffrey York, author of numerous books on development and the Africa bureau chief of The Mail.

Dignitaries such ex-UN chief Kofi Annan, diplomats such as World Bank’s president Robert Zoellick, academics such as Harvard University’s Jeffrey Sacks, musicians such as Benin Republic’s Angelique Kidjo, models such as the French First Lady Carla Bruni Sarkozy, and media practitioners such as Amadou Mahtar Ba, founder of the giant AllAfrica.com, and others were also asked by The Mail to give their insights on "how Africa will change the world."

John Stackhouse, The Mail’s veteran international development journalist, explaining why his newspaper devoted such huge space to Africa (and it was prepared to defend their stand), argued that "…just as Africa should not leave Canada unchanged…motivated not by tragedy or sadness, but by a growing awareness that Africa is key to this century, a resource-rich and youthful continent that has found itself and is set to take on the world."

Stackhouse’s optimistic view is backed not only by Africa’s improving governance index and its 1-billion population expected to rise to 2-billion by 2050 as market magnet but also the fact that "Africa attracted approximately US$63.6-billion in foreign investment in 2008, up from US$4-billion in 1995." Stackhouse’s hopefulness is also revealed in the latest UN report that Benin Republic, one of Africa’s credible democracies, has made significant gains in reducing poverty and infant mortality, increasing access to safe drinking water and expanding primary education, as part of the anti-poverty programs of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

In an optimistic editorial entitled "Africa’s moment," filled with practical hopes, and not years of tragedy and agony, The Mail made a case for the African agenda for the Toronto-Huntsville summits. "It is time to see Africa another way, as an unshackled continent. This century is being invented before our eyes, and Africa is the site of the greatest transformation."

Saying the G8 and G20 countries better recognize Africa’s opportunities, as China has swiftly envisioned, or they will be taken by events, The Mail argued that "Africa, with its vast geographic advantages (the power of the Sahara sun, the flow of great rivers, and the geothermal potential of the Rift valley), resources (it produces half the world’s chromium, half of its diamonds, half its platinum, one third of its gold, and has one-tenth the world’s proven oil reserves and one-sixth of its forest cover) and population, is an unstoppable force. It is also an attractive place to invest."

Notwithstanding these natural potentials, most yet to be exploited for progress, as Guinea-Conakry shows, in numerous pictures used to illustrate The Mail’s African special edition, the two realities of Africa were depicted: the traditional and the modern complimenting each other without propaganda. For example, two pictures, juxtaposed, on Health care show: "In Senegal, a woman is sprayed with a liquid believed to be medicinal to treat a fertility problem. But in South Africa, top surgeons perform complex operations with state-of-the-art technology." Another two pictures, equally juxtaposed, on Education show: "Children in Ethiopia take notes on paper. In Ghana, though, students are taught computer skills in a modern classroom."

More than anywhere in the world technology is transforming Africa, knocking down old values and creating new ones. Added to that, democratic tenets such as the rule of law, human rights and freedoms, too, are increasingly being used to refine inhibitions within the African culture that have been stifling progress - the destructive African Big Men and their associated Pull Him/Her Down (PHD) syndromes are under intense refinement from these values.

From farmers, commerce, government and society, Africa is being transformed. Africans lead in subscriptions of mobile phones, from 55 million five years ago to 350 million in 2008, according to a UN report cited by The Mail. In Nigeria alone, phone subscribers exploded from 400,000 to 70 million in just 9 years, "helping Mobile Television Networks become a global telecom player in the process," said Papa Ndiaye, founder of pan-African venture Advanced Finance and Investment Group. That growth is the fastest in mobile telephone usage in the world. With 1,500 ethnic languages and over 2,000 ethnic groups, by 2013, Africa will have more than 500-million cell phone users. This is changing Africa in businesses, agriculture, trade, security, medicine and democratic practices. "Video-enabled phones are helping Africa record human rights violations committed by oppressive regimes or corporations."

With governance issues seriously coming into the forefront of development, African governments are tackling deficit matters, have been hatching better foreign investment policies that have seen "inflows increasing 10 times in just 10 years," and helped reduce dependence on the public sector. "The result," The Mail reveals, "is an astonishing growth in entrepreneurialism. Some 330 million people are estimated to now fall into the continent’s burgeoning middle classes. Where there are middle classes, there is consumerism."

The insight into the growing middle classes is seen in the analysis of Ramesh Thakur, director of Balsillie School of International Affairs at Canada’s Wilfred Laurier and Waterloo universities. Thakur elucidates that educated and informed, expanding middle-classes (such as Africa’s) start to assert itself democratically by exploiting the citizen’s levers in a free society, including the judiciary and a vigorous competitive mass media.

Added to the emergent African middle classes, as part of the tenets of globalization and diaspora Africans dealings with their homelands, the rising prosperity of the growing African middle classes have empowered its members to travel abroad and start evaluating domestic governance against international standards. The thinking is what is good for Americans is equally good for Africans – no less, no more. The Sudanese London, UK-based billionaire Mo Ibrahim has instituted governance prize to check the health of Africa governance annually, of which The Mail used to analyze the strength of Africa’s governance index and rankings in 2009.

And as Kenya demonstrates in regards to the International Criminal Court investigating post-election violence and Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir’s indictment by the ICC and the campaign for al-Bashir to be arrested, African civil society is pushing for justice and gradually helping to change the behaviour of Africa’s notorious Big Men, who have brought the continent down. Lawyers, human rights advocates and social activists such as the Nigerian Nobel prize-winning laureate Wole Soyinka and the Ghanaian prominent journalist Kwesi Pratt have maintained the demand for criminal accountability through the growing mass media, the political process and the justice system. In an increasingly connected world, African democracy activists have joined forces with international counterparts to publicize, pester and otherwise exert pressure for a settling of accounts in Africa’s lethargic courts.

Part of this is responsible for Tony Blair explaining that the African development picture is promising, five years after the Gleneagles, UK G8 summit, as the NGO, African Progress Panel highlights. "Africa is rapidly emerging as a major destination for investment and powerful trading partner for countries around the world," said the Canadian Council on Africa CEO Lucien Bradet, whose private outfit is hosting event in Toronto on the eve of the G20 summit to "ensure the private sector’s role in Africa’s development is heard by the G20 leaders." To support such private venture, The Mail urged G8 to deliver on its word to "make trade work for Africa" and "make other Gleneagles promises concrete, critically by reducing their agricultural subsidies and opening up their markets to African countries."

In this sense, arguing that "aid makes difference, but we control our own fate," Sirleaf, Africa’s first elected President, made the case, drawn more from her emerging Liberia after 14 years of state disaster, that "For more than a century, Africa’s fate was more often than not decided by people beyond its shores." With the primordial anarchic one-party systems and self-serving military juntas giving way to freedoms, human rights, the rule of law, good leadership and accountable have come growing economies, fall in poverty and conflicts. "There are fewer conflicts in Africa" today "than in Asia," The Mail revealed. "To stay in this path," Sirleaf argued that "African governments and, crucially, their development partners too, must continue demonstrating equal commitment to the leadership and accountability that are making a difference."

Liberia today illustrates the encouraging effects of good governance. The negatives: "For 14 years, our infrastructure was systematically destroyed, schools were demolished, hospitals were ransacked and plantations were ripped up." The positives: "Since then, with the help of the international community, including aid agencies and private partners, a democratically elected government has begun rebuilding a shattered nation." Rationalizing these, Sirleaf thoughtfully makes it clear that in the long run, Liberia, like the rest of Africa, must rid itself of aid. "We can then continue our economic development and, with the right policies and international support, eventually leave the need for aid behind entirely."

And if Sirleaf’s Africa making a constructive difference is anchored in good leadership, democracy and accountability, then these governance attributes will be in huge need in containing "the scramble for" Africa’s natural resources to the good of Africans. In the past Africa’s natural resources have been "plundered," now Prof. Collier argued for the natural resources assets to be "harnessed – not plundered," especially the fact that "Africa is the last frontier for discovery…With high global commodity prices, these assets will be discovered. We are at the early stages of what will, over the next decade, be the scramble for Africa, Mark 11."

As Equatorial Guinea negatively exemplifies (where despite its huge oil and gas income most citizens live in poverty), the pillaging of natural resources is at the heart of economic tragedy, and "not necessarily environmental one," making assets for citizens’ prosperity embezzled for the enrichment of the few. Collier argues, and Kofi Annan agrees, as Botswana positively shows, that the "struggle begins with the accountability of government to citizen."

Unlike 50 years ago, today the global atmosphere makes accountability to citizens about revenues from their natural resources compelling. In the coming years, this will be seen more in the giant and confused Democratic Republic of Congo where its mineral wealth is worth US$24-trillion. Collier says since 2003, "The Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative has been successful in pressing for the rights of citizens to know the details of resource revenues…A new civil society initiative, the Natural Resource Charter, compliments the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative." Collier’s hope is that Ottawa should use the June G20 summit to reach global concern regarding decisions required for "natural assets to be harnessed to ending poverty." The challenge of Ottawa using its powerful clout to help end Africa’s poverty is that "at the end of 2008, Canadian companies had mining assets of US$21-billion in 33 African countries."

Whether in how to deal with Africa’s natural resources, especially its emerging oil and gas boom, the difficulty of handling its ever bulging youth population, cultural productions (as the growing Nigerian film industry show), elections reforms and democracy enlargement, climate change, conflicts, peace and security, businesses, capacity building, women/gender issues, foreign investment, job creation, maternal and infant mortalities, sanitation/environment, agriculture, food, and water, the main thrust is the quality of governance as motor to tackle these development issues, as Botswana, Cape Verde, Seychelles and Mauritius solidly demonstrate.

How Africa uses its emerging democratic tenets to deal with its pressing "youth bulge" is eloquently analyzed by Ken Wiwa, son of the Nigerian environmentalist Ken Saro-Wiwa killed in 1995 by the Gen. Sani Abacha military junta. In "The energy to liberate – or detonate," Wiwa argues that as Africa is swelled by millions of youth who form majority of its population (between 60 to 70 percent), how African leaders "channel that potential…will determine" Africa’s "future." More demanding of the development challenge is the fact that 44% of Africans are under 15 years.

In the absence of broader democratic tenets to address burning development issues such as the bulging youth, wrong-headed African Big Men and self-serving rebel leaders such as Sierra Leone’s Foday Sankoh and Liberia’s Charles Taylor easily exploited the "youth bulge" to their advantage and in the end destroyed their countries. That the youth is potential boom that can be detonated is seen in Ghana where ex-President Jerry Rawlings, for unexplained tacky reasons, have been inciting the hopelessly bulging Ghanaian youth, making them attack personalities and properties. Despite what happened in Sierra Leone and Liberia, Wiwa’s insight is that "another generation is being mass-produced, surfing on a wave of technological advance, presenting a demographic time bomb that threatens to detonate everything that has gone before them. Africa will need vibrant, connected leaders to harness the energy of Africa’s increasingly youthful, urban and restless societies."

Simultaneously, the good news and the dilemma is how to deal with the fact that "nearly 75% of African children go to school compared to 58% a decade ago." Where are the jobs and good life for the educated youth? Also, as the eyes of the world turn to 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa, the bright side of the African "youth bulge" is made clearer, with African players such as Ivory Coast’s Didier Drogba (with a market values of US$50.7-million) and Ghana’s Michael Essien (with a market values of US$48.5-million) who play in lucrative soccer markets abroad increasing yearly and bringing home millions of dollars. Drogba has built a US$4.5-million hospital for his hometown. The Mail acknowledged that "European and South American players and teams have dominated the spotlight for decades. Africa is now developing some of the sport’s best talent."

Against this background, Geoffrey York, revealing the "triumphs and disappointments in African governance," argues that while some African nations "are winning praise for their democratic elections, their increasing stability, or their efforts to tackle corruption," others such as Somalia, Chad, and the Central African Republic have worst governance index. These differences are informed by the level of democratic atmosphere in each African region and how enlightened are the respective state’s elites in relation to the emerging African democracy trend. Niger’s ex-President Mamadou Tandja was removed following his African Big Man syndrome illness to install himself as president-for-life because of the flowering democracy atmosphere in West Africa.

Still, despite remarkable steps toward better democracy in many African nations, continental initiatives to advance governance have plummeted. York looks at the Pan African Parliament, where NEPAD (the New Partnership for Africa’s Development) and APRM (the African Peer Review Mechanism) mechanisms and pressure from G8 countries, was created to improve governance but since then they "have been disappointedly slow to achieve results."

However, York acknowledges that the African Union (AU) is "gaining some respect for its refusal to tolerate military coups and its efforts to persuade regimes to hold free elections." In Guinea-Conakry and Niger, the AU condemned their military takeovers and pressurized the military juntas to return their countries to democracy. The two countries’ military juntas are feverishly moving to restore democracy. No doubt, "there are nearly 30 democracies in Africa today, compared with five at the end of the Cold War."

And it is in this prosperity sense, The Mail argued, that while "Canada and other Western countries need to join" Africa "on the fast road to development" that Ottawa should be praised for inviting Ethiopia and Malawi to attend the summit," though Africa is still "ill-represented by one state alone (that is South Africa, a permanent G20 member), especially when it boast Nigeria" (that wasn’t invited, perhaps because of its huge democracy deficits), "the world’s eight most populous country, and resource-rich" African "countries" such as the Democratic Republic of Congo and Angola.

The bottom line in the dawn of the "African moment," as a by-product of the African century, as a progress agenda for the over one billion Africans in need of material comfort, peace, security and greater democracy, is whether the G8 and G20 summits will help Africa’s progress entwined with the global prosperity architecture where Africa is a big player. This will help minimize Africa’s historical marginalization in the international political economy. It is when this happens, as Kofi Annan thinks, will Africa be viewed as part of the development "solution" and not "part of the problem."

The reason, as Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the managing director of the International Monetary Fund, recognizes to The Mail, is that "Almost 50 years ago a friend of Africa, Rene Dumont, wrote a remarkable book, l’Afrique noire est mal partie (False Start in Africa). I am glad to say times have changed. This time Africa is making the right start. This time Africa will tap its true potential."