15 OCTOBER 2013


It is a great pleasure for me to be able to address you on “Africa today and Africa Tomorrow”.

It is an important topic – because whichever way we look at it the future of Africa it will, for better or for worse, have a significant impact on people in the United Kingdom and Europe. Africa could become and increasingly important trading partner – and a supplier of essential minerals and foods. It could also become a favourite tourist destination and a lucrative market for British and European exports.

However, if the continent fails, it could present Europe with almost insurmountable moral, financial and strategic challenges. The world is still shocked by the deaths of hundreds of Africans – mostly Eritreans – who were drowned when their hopelessly inadequate vessel sank on its way to Italy. But what would happen to Europe’s porous southern borders if there were persistent man-made crises or famines in Africa?

In 2000, at the beginning of the new millennium, South Africa’s President Thabo Mbeki claimed that the Twenty-First century would belong to Africa:

After five hundred years of exploitation and domination by Europe, Africa would finally emerge from the shadows of global affairs and take its rightful place on the world stage.

The World Bank’s response was “ Yes, Africa can claim the new century … but this is a qualified yes”. It was “conditional on Africa’s ability – aided by its development partners – to overcome the development traps that kept it confined to a vicious cycle of underdevelopment, conflict, and untold human suffering for most of the 20th century.”

In its lecture to African leaders, the World Bank proposed development strategies that would be focused on:
• Improving governance and resolving conflict;
• Investing in people;
• Increasing competitiveness and diversifying economies; and
• Reducing aid dependence and strengthening partnerships.

How has Africa fared since then – and is it still on track to claim the 21st century as the African century?

Let us then assess Africa’s progress in terms of the four criteria that were identified by the World Bank:

• Although Africa has made some progress in putting an end to the conflicts that ravaged much of the continent in the closing decades of the twentieth century, tensions continue to simmer in many parts of the continent. The most peaceful African country according to the Global Peace Index, is Botswana at the 34th position – and 13 African countries are included in the 30 least peaceful countries in the world.
• According to Freedom House, the respected monitor of global freedom, sub-Saharan Africa has in recent years been the world’s most politically volatile region. In 2013 there were 11 free countries, 17 partly free countries and 19 unfree countries in the region.
• The challenge in most African countries is to avoid what Kofi Annan referred to in a recent speech in Cape Town as the “winner take all” approach to politics. The artificial borders of most African countries often encompass widely differing ethnic and religious minorities. It is essential that all of them should feel accommodated in the processes by which they are governed and that none of them should be alienated by permanent exclusion.

• Africa also continues to struggle with regard to investment in its people. The highest ranked African country on the UNDP’s 2009 Human Development Index is Mauritius at 80th position – while 35 of the bottom ranked 40 countries were all from Africa.

• Some progress has been made in respect of education. Primary school enrolment increased from 52% in 1991 to 100% in 2010. However, only 40 % of eligible children were enrolled at high school compared with 91,2% in Europe and 78.8% in East Asia. Interestingly enough, literacy rates in Africa, at 63%, are now marginally higher than they are in southern Asia.

• The World Bank also identified the need for African countries to improve their competitiveness and to diversify their economies. How have they fared? The highest ranked African country in the latest World Economic Forum Global Competitiveness Report was Mauritius – which was positioned 45th out of 148 countries. South Africa was in 53rd position. African countries occupied 14 of the 20 bottom places on the list.
• African countries have also not fared well in liberalising their economies. According to the latest Economic Freedom in the World Report there are two African countries in the top quartile of performers – Mauritius at 6th position and surprisingly, Rwanda, at 36th place. Botswana, Uganda, Zambia and Gambia are in the second quartile. South Africa limps in at 88th place – but disturbingly 14 of the bottom 20 worst performing countries are from sub-Saharan Africa.

If we measure Africa’s performance solely according to the World Bank’s criteria, its prospects for claiming the 21st century as its own, do not look very good.

However, there are much broader dimensions that we must consider when we think of Africa and the future. In particular, we must look at the continent’s vibrancy, its enormous potential and its growing strategic importance.
• In a study published earlier this month the World Bank reported that five years after the start of the global financial crisis countries in Sub-Saharan Africa have continued to regsister relatively vigorous growth that is projected to each 4,9% this year. Growth is expected to rise to 5,5% by 2015.
• Total African Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is expected to reach US$2.6 trillion by the year 2020.
• The region will remain one of the fastest growing in the world. In 2012, about a quarter of African countries grew at 7 percent or higher and a number of African countries, notably Sierra Leone, Niger, Cote d’Ivoire, Liberia, Ethiopia, Burkina Faso and Rwanda, are among the fastest growing in the world.
• Consumer spending, which accounts for more than 60 percent of Africa’s GDP, remained strong in 2012.
• The World Bank also reported earlier this month that progress is being made in combating poverty in Africa. The percentage of people living in poverty – on less than US$1,25 per day – has declined from 58% in 2000 to 48,5% in 2010. Nevertheless, poverty and inequality remain serious obstacles to economic development.
• Africa has the fastest-expanding labour force in the world – with more than 500 million working age people.
• The number of cellphone users on the continent grow from 11 million in 2000 to almost 400 million today. Undersea data cables are currently being laid at an unprecedented rate, providing exponential bandwidth growth which will drive communications and internet access, particularly through mobile devices.
• According to KPMG, rapid urbanisation on the continent is increasing demands for infrastructure investment in power, transportation, hospitals and schools. Current infrastructure expenditure of about US$45 billion a year is less than half the amount that will be required to fund these projects.
• Africa is attracting more foreign direct investment. In 2012, net private capital flows to the region increased to a record $54.5 billion; while foreign direct investment increased by 5.5 percent in 2012 to $37.7 billion. France and the United States are still the largest investors in Africa, with Britain in third place and Malaysia in fourth, followed by South Africa, China and India.

All these developments create a much brighter picture than Africa’s gloomy performance in various global rankings.

The central reality is that sub-Saharan Africa constitutes one of the largest areas of under-developed real estate in the world. There are about the same number of people in its 24 million square kilometers as there are in the 3.3 million square kilometers of India. The continent is endowed with enormous mineral resources in a commodity hungry world. The Chinese – and other nations – have been rushing into the continent to tie up long-term contracts for Africa’s iron, cobalt, coal, vanadium and oil.

Perhaps, more importantly, only a fraction of Africa’s agricultural potential is, at present, being fully utilized.

The Food and Agricultural Organisation estimates that the land area for rain-fed crops could be increased from 150% – 700% per region – with a potential for the whole continent of 300 million hectares. Only 20% of its arable land is cultivated and only 7% is under irrigation.

Africa’s agricultural potential is attracting significant foreign interest. Foreign direct investment in Africa’s agricultural sector increased from US$ 9,6 billion in 2000 to US$46 billion in 2009. So in a world that will be increasingly hungry Africa has enormous untapped agricultural potential.

All this is also changing international perceptions of Africa’s strategic importance.

For most of the period after World War II, Africa was of interest to the great powers primarily to the extent that its newly independent nations were viewed as areas of contestation between the United States and the Soviet Union. European countries took it almost for granted that they would be able to retain special relationships with Africa because of their former colonial ties.

With the ending of the Cold War Africa subsided into the global strategic background. African nations were no longer able to play one super power against the other in their efforts to promote their national interests. President Thabo Mbeki was shocked in 2000 when leading members of the European Commission told him that “the EU did not have any strategic perspective relating to Africa, as it did with other areas of the world, such as East and Central Europe, the Middle East and the United States.”

China, in particular, is showing intense interest in Africa. Although its trade with Africa makes up only 4% of the total, it has doubled during the past decade and now exceeds $ 100 billion. According to “The Telegraph” as many as 750 000 Chinese workers are now involved in development projects in the continent. Africans often complain that such workers do not integrate with the local population and take jobs that might otherwise go to locals.

Although European and American investments in Africa are still significantly larger than those of China, there is clearly no room for complacency.

What all this means is that European Union, Britain and the United States had better develop “a strategic perspective” of Africa – if they have not already done so. They will continue to dismiss Africa at their peril: the continent is, for the following reasons, rapidly emerging from the periphery of global strategic interest:

• Access to Africa’s mineral and agricultural resources is becoming increasingly essential for Europe, North America and Asia.
• As a result, the continent is once again becoming an area of contestation as emerging economic powers led by China scramble for a share of its enormous mineral and agricultural resources.
• Africa is also playing a central role in the expansion of Islam. Half of the countries of Africa – some 27 nations – are members of the Organisation of The Islamic Conference. They also comprise half of the 54 Islamic states. It is estimated that 45% of the continent’s population are Moslems, compared with 40% who are Christians. Competition between Moslems and Christians is playing a significant role in conflicts in a number of countries – including Sudan, Nigeria and the Ivory Coast.

African Moslems are, on the whole, moderate and coexist peacefully with their Christian neighbours.

However, as the recent terrorist attack on the Westgate Shopping Mall in Nairobi graphically showed, Africa is increasingly on the fault line between fundamentalist Islam and multi-faith toleration. It is a fault line that stretches from Somalia in the east through the sub-Saharan belt all the way to the Atlantic. Seismic shocks along the fault line have been responsible for current or recent conflicts in Kenya, Nigeria, Mali and the Ivory Coast.

In a world that will be increasingly hungry for natural resources and for food increasing attention will inevitably be focused on Africa. It is not by any means sure that such attention will always be benign or be concerned with the best interests of Africa or its people. This presents the continent with a special challenge: it must continue to do everything it can to meet the challenges that the World Bank set at the beginning of the millennium:

• Africa must do more to establish genuine democracies in the 39 sub-Saharan countries that still only partially free or not free at all;
• It must continue the good work it has done to resolve the continent’s remaining conflicts;
• It must continue to catch up the rest of the world in terms of education and human development;
• It must improve standards of governance and eliminate pervasive corruption:
• It must increase the competitiveness, diversity and openness of its economies so that there will no longer be any need for dependence on foreign aid.

I believe that Africa is accepting these challenges. However, the world must also be prepared to give Africa a better deal.

Whatever happens, one truth remains. Global strategic attention will be increasingly focussed on the continent – because of its enormous mineral resources; because of its untapped agricultural potential in an increasingly hungry world; and because of the potential of its people.