For a relatively brief moment earlier this year Africa was the focus of international attention.  African issues were high on the agenda of the G8 summit at Gleneagles in Scotland and Bob Geldof’s Live Aid concerts highlighted the plight of Africa’s poor.



And then the attention of the world shifted to the next global crisis – leaving the question, whether much would ever happen to improve the plight of Africa’s poor, hanging in the air.


The question that I would like to address today is what the international economic community can do to influence democratic and social transformation in my continent, Africa?


Despite all the protestations of concern, most observers in Europe and North America are skeptical about Africa’s ability to compete in the increasingly tough global economic race – let alone catch up with the rest of mankind.


At first glance there would appear to be ample reason for this skepticism.


If one casts one’s eye over developments in sub-Saharan Africa during the past few years, the prospect does appear to be bleak.  The observer cannot fail to notice the conflict that appears to endemic to the continent.   Although progress is being made in resolving long-enduring conflicts in Sudan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Burundi the situation in many countries remains volatile – as recent developments in Dafur and the Ivory Coast illustrate. Since the Egyptian revolution of 1952 there have been more than 80 violent – or non-constitutional – changes of government in the continent in 31 of its 52 countries.[1]


Together with conflict and political instability we have recurrent images of drought and famine, particularly in the horn of Africa – and now most recently in Niger.  Africa also appears to be worse affected by disease than any other continent:  high infant mortality, malaria and tropical illnesses continue to plague Africa and have now been compounded by AIDS which is causing devastation to populations throughout the region.  Collectively, the result is that life expectancy in sub-Saharan Africa is now 47 years – compared with 78 years in OECD countries.


The perception is that Africa is lagging further and further behind, in the global race.  Between 1960 and 1992 the human development index in Sub-Saharan Africa increased only from 0,2 to 0,357 on a scale where 1,0 represents the highest levels of development in terms of life expectancy, education and per capita income.  During the same period the HDI of the rest of the developing world more than doubled, from 0,260 to 0,541.  Since 1992 the HDI of Sub-Saharan Africa has improved marginally to .515 in 2003 – but still lags substantially behind that of the developing world as a whole – which during the same period improved to .694.  By comparison, the HDI of rich OECD states was .911 in 2003.  To sum up, life in Africa has improved substantially during the past 45 years – but the improvement lags behind that of the rest of the developing world and still falls far short of development levels in rich countries.


Negative perceptions about Africa have led to the growth of Africa pessimism – and a tendency to marginalise the continent – despite protestations to the contrary.  Nor can one help escape the conclusion that behind many of these attitudes lies the unspeakable and unspoken perception that Africa simply cannot make it in the new globalised environment.


However, if we look at the continent with greater discernment we begin realise how unfair this perception is.


To start with, much of sub-Saharan Africa has, during the past fifteen years made heartening strides toward democratic government. Freedom House, a New York-based organisation which monitors the state of civil and political rights in countries around the world, now classifies 11 of sub-Saharan Africa’s states as being ‘free’ multi-party democracies; another 23 are regarded as being ‘partly free’ and 13 as ‘not free’.  By comparison, in 1972 there were only two free countries in Africa; only 10 were partially free and 28 were not free.  In fact Sub-Saharan Africa has made far greater progress toward democracy than the Arab states of North Africa and the Middle East.


Africa’s has, however, lagged seriously behind in the area of economic growth.   Between 1990 and 2003 per capita GDP in Sub-Saharan Africa actually declined by .7% annually compared with growth of 6% per annum in East Asia and 2.3% in the rest of the developing world.  The result: Africans are becoming poorer and are falling further and further behind the rest of the world.


Despite the modest progress that the continent is making, with democratization and affording its people a better life, there are still too many countries that continue to conform to the African stereotype of poverty, conflict and tyranny.  However, such states conform to the stereotype not because they are African, but because poverty, tyranny and conflict go hand in hand throughout the world and throughout history and not just in Africa.


The nine countries in Africa that have since 1990 experienced the bitterest conflict have one thing in common:  they are all poor.  The average annual per capita GNP incomes of these countries is only US$188.00.  On the other hand, few of the more developed countries in the region experienced serious conflict.


Poverty and the state of constitutional development also go hand in hand: at the end of the 1990s the average per capita GNP income of the sub-Sahara African countries that are classified as ‘not free’ was US$ 352; that of the countries that were regarded as being ‘partly free’ was US$ 552; and that of the free countries was US$ 2115.


The problem, accordingly, is poverty – and not Africa.


The challenge for the world should be to help Africans to address the root causes of the vicious cycle of poverty, conflict and tyranny in their continent.  The key to such success may, in my opinion, be found in the following simple premises:


Peace and stability are the first requirements.  Nothing can be achieved in the state of anarchy that has existed in recent years in countries such as Liberia, Rwanda, Burundi and Somalia .


A prime requirement for stability is the establishment of representative governments that are responsive to the needs of their people.  Africa also needs governments that will be able to bind their usually multi-ethnic and multi-cultural societies into coherent nations.  One of the main causes of instability in Africa – and elsewhere in the world – lies in the challenge of accommodating different ethnic and cultural groups within the same society.


Secondly, having established stability, African governments should create the environment in which economic growth can take place. This will require the implementation of policies that will encourage competition and the development of free markets; the development of human resources by means of appropriate education, health and population policies; the maintenance of fiscal discipline and frugal government; and the maximum reduction of unnecessary state regulation and intervention in the economy.


The international community can help Africa in the economic sphere primarily by continuing to encourage the implementation of appropriate economic policies bilaterally and through agencies such as the IMF and the World Bank.  Foreign aid is not always the answer – although carefully targeted aid can help.


The reality is that there is often little to show for all the aid that had flowed into Africa since independence – which has all too often ended up in the pockets of corrupt elites rather than helping people on the ground.  Official Development aid accounted for a whopping 18.6% of sub-Saharan Africa’s GDP in 2003 and represented, for  example, more than half the total Tanzanian budget.  One cannot escape the conclusion that African states would benefit far more from freer trade than freer aid.


Steps should be taken to increase Africa’s diminishing share in global trade – which is less than 2% of the total.   African exports need more favourable access to first world markets and consideration should be given to countering the increasingly negative terms of trade which most African countries experience.  Prices for many of Africa’s primary exports have stagnated or declined since 1980.  These products include maize, cotton, cocoa, coffee, sugar, copper and bauxite.  Africa also requires higher levels of foreign and domestic investment to achieve the 5% per annum growth levels that are necessary to break out of the grip of poverty.


Unfortunately, although industrialised nations are quick to pay lip service to the need to help develop African economies, they are often ruthless when their own interests come into play.   Many of the European leaders, who flocked to South Africa for photo opportunities with President Mandela after 1994, were rigidly uncompromising when it came to trade negotiations with South Africa that might have adversely affected the interests of their own farmers.


American and European farming subsidies amounting to more than US$ 356 billion per annum often make it difficult for African countries to compete in the one area where they might otherwise have a competitive edge – in agriculture.  For example, according to the Brenthurst Foundation, agriculture comprises almost half of Tanzania’s GDP and employs about two-thirds of the workforce.  It also accounts for 85% of exports – but these have fallen from $430m in 1997 to $200m last year.


African countries can be forgiven for sometimes thinking that the cards are stacked against them in the international globalisation game.   They have to labour under the burden of relatively enormous foreign debts, accumulated over the years by less responsible governments. 34 of the world’s 41 highly indebted poor countries are in Africa.  The cost to Africa of servicing its foreign debt of US$ 349 billion in 1997 amounted to 21.3% of its earnings from the export of goods and services.


Fortunately, in the wake of the recent G8 meeting, the United Kingdom is now taking the lead in addressing Africa’s debt.  However, as with so many other idealistic initiatives – there is often a lag between brave announcements and concrete action on the ground.


One of Africa’s greatest challenges is education.  Education is not only the key to economic growth and development – it is also the first requirement in the war against AIDS and in the struggle for peace and toleration.   And yet, once again, Africa is lagging far behind in the race for knowledge.   Progress has been made in the area of primary education – and now 92% of the continent’s children attend primary school – compared with 76% in 1992.  However, Africa still lags far behind with regard to secondary and tertiary education: only 37% of its young people complete secondary school and a tiny 8% go on to college or university.  By comparison, 100% of children attend high school in the European Community and 59% go on to tertiary education.  Sadly, many of the continent’s few graduates leave Africa and do not use their education for the advantage of our continent.


Africa also lags far behind in the key area of technology.  In Nigeria, its most populous country, only 6 people per thousand use the internet – compared with 556 per thousand in America.  How under these circumstances is Africa supposed to compete in the global information economy?


It is increasingly accepted that well-meaning foreigners will not be able to solve Africa’s problems.  At the end of the day, Africa’s salvation will depend on Africans themselves, also putting to best use outside help which is offered.


It is accordingly gratifying that African leaders are now themselves launching initiatives to promote the economic and social development of the continent.  In recent years Africans have launched NEPAD – the New Partnership for Africa’s Development – and last year replaced the Organisation of African Unity with the African Union.


NEPAD’s prescription for development is excellent and includes:


However, as with so many other well-intentioned African initiatives the challenge will be to give content to form.  One of the key elements in NEPAD is a voluntary peer review mechanism.  However, NEPAD failed its first major test when it refused to criticize Robert Mugabe’s undemocratic and economically catastrophic policies in Zimbabwe.  At the same time – under the leadership of President Mbeki – Africans are playing a far more positive role in finding solutions to conflicts and to maintaining peace in troubled areas.


NEPAD is based on the premise that African leaders must themselves take ownership and responsibility for the sustainable economic development of the continent. The point of departure is an honest appraisal of the mistakes that have been made since independence and the identification of simple and achievable objectives to help Africa establish a foundation for sustainable development.


Let me sum up:


It is in everybody’s interest that Africa should become a full and productive partner in the globalisation process.  It is in no-one’s interest that a whole continent and a sixth of mankind should be excluded or marginalised from the benefits of globalisation.


I do not agree with the generalisation that sub-Saharan Africa does not have a future.  Many of the countries in our region are making good progress economically, socially and constitutionally.   There are, indeed, too many others that have lagged behind – but their problem is that they are desperately poor – not that they are African.


What Africa needs is a fair break from the rest of the world – a fair break with its crippling debt,  a fair break with access to first world markets and first world investment, and a fair hearing from the leaders of the world’s most important industrialised nations.


[1] Africa at a Glance, page 91,  The Africa Institute of South Africa, 1995