Africa – between optimism and despair

Africa was believed to become the new superpower. With all its potentials and with an upcoming generation of new leaders,  the “Africa rising” movement developed both inside and outside the continent.

Now Africa is not even able to feed its own people. It seems to have been another false start. It has been estimated that 60% of the world`s uncultivated arable land is in Africa, just waiting for leaders to exploit it instead of begging for food to avoid hunger. Some leaders also use “climate  change” as an excuse for lack action.

Millions of people are at risk of starvation in countries like Nigeria, Somalia and South Sudan. These countries are all at war. The famine is never just a  natural disaster. It is always a product of politics.

National leaders should be drivers of development for all rather than being preoccupied with distributing privileges among themselves. When a poor country shops for weapons, begs for food and ignore poverty in their own country, the term “failed state” is relevant. Reports from South Sudan say that the Government try to stop humanitarian aid because it could be used to feed the enemy, is an indication that South Sudan is no 1 failed state in Africa today.

Countries like Rwanda, Ethiopia and Uganda are not the best models of “good governance”, but their autocratic leaders have been effective in stabilizing their countries, as well rebuilding fragmented societies.

Democracy is hard  to sustain in the absence of economic growth for the poor. People start looking for a firm hand who acts more than he/she talks. Many of the most impoverished have come to see democracy as a system that keeps them poor and the corrupt people in power.

Maybe there are better systems of representative governance in Africa than the competitive western style multi-party elections, without going the autocratic way?

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Maybe Africa did not plan for success

African countries have had a fast and impressive growth. But the economic growth did not coincide with poverty elimination because it was not linked to the economic sectors that affect the poor. Youth unemployment has now reached  alarming proportions.

The risk for riots and more social unrest is accelerated by the urbanization of the poor. Frustrated young people living people in townships are easily attracted to criminal gangs or terrorist organizations. Access st social media also make mobilization more easy.

Africa displays the fast rate of urban growth in the world. It has been estimated that African countries need to generate productive jobs for 7 to 10 million young people entering the labor force each year.

Many young people are without the requisite skills to enter the formal labor market, which has become increasingly demanding. A disturbingly high share of those who have completed primary school have difficulties with reading and writing.

The school system many places is characterized by students who are expected to be obedient, follow instructions, copy what the teacher says and memorize form the text books. Conformity is a prime virtue.

African leaders have declared 2009 – 18 “the African youth decade”. Governments have launched numerous youth employment strategies, but unemployment and underemployment continue to rise.

More and more Africans refuse to tolerate a situation that Africa is a rich continent  but the majority of its people being very poor.

A recipe for instability and unrest, unless new leaders emerge and act instead of talk.

 

 

 

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To defeat a President

Typical  African scenario:

 

1. The newly elected President has launched an ambitious reform program to fight poverty, reduce corruption, revive agriculture and secure equal treatment of all ethnic groups.

2. The President is quickly encompassed by powerful forces within society who benefit from status quo and continued patrimonialism. The President gets frustrated and gives gradually up his reform agenda.

 

3. When the President retires, he joins the group of the “old and wise” who look behind and talk about what they could and should have done when in power.

 

Recommended reading: “Inside the Presidency”, written by former Presidential  adviser in Zambia, Dickson Jere

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Africa – from pessimism to optimism- and now more realism

There are many sweeping statements about development in Africa. Some are optimistic and some are pessimistic. The outside world has difficulties in understanding what is happening in Africa and the extraordinary forces in play there. Little insight  is provided by western media.  African scholars are often surprisingly anonymous

And Africa is complex. For every generalization you must exclude some countries. When you think you have nailed down a certainty, you will find that the opposite is also true.

For example, ethnicity has been seen has a major reason for civil wars and unrest in Africa. But there are exceptions. War-torn Somalia has a population where the vast majority share the same language, ethnicity, culture and religion, while peaceful Zambia has more than 70 ethnically groups, 7 major languages and 73 dialects.

What we know is that two out of three Africans are under twenty-five years old. The population of the continent will double in 20 years. We also know that it will then be principally urban. By 2030, over half of the continent`s population will live in cities.

The Afro-pessimists fear unemployment, development of huge urban slums, violence, crime and civil wars. They believe that the present economic growth is temporary. The lack of employment possibilities and development of urban slums combined with poor political leadership will result in Africa as a permanent poor and undeveloped continent.

The Afro-optimists do not fear the demographic explosion. They see the expansion of urban youth and a bonanza of natural resource export as potentials for further economic development. Urban youth are the workforce best suited for innovation and productive employment.

Africa sits upon the world`s largest reserves of a whole range of essential resources and will soon learn how to negotiate on its own terms with other countries. With accountable governments, effective public spending and revenues from taxes to the benefit of the people and not to the few, Africa could be the next emerging power.

So what kind of political system is best to serve a society which is resource-rich and ethnically diverse? Is Rwanda the model, or Zambia?

Multi-party system, as we know it in Europe, has not been a success as a mean of representing the will of the people. Most people in Africa care more about having a Government that secures peace, stability, housing, health facilities and education than a system that is democratic the way we know democracy in Europe.

Paul Collier has one answer: “The type of polity that appears most appropriate is one Africa tends not to have: strong checks and balances on how governments can use power and decentralized public spending.”

For democracy to work, winners must not be greedy, losers must accept defeat and trustworthy institutions must be in place to monitor and regulate.

 

 

 

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Too little too late – leadership crisis in Africa

Africa is getting richer, but political violence and inequality is on the rise. There are now peacekeeping missions in 11 African countries. Or as one angry Nigerian wrote from Lagos: “Why is it that Africans seem to love killing other Africans?”

Nearly all conflicts in Africa is a mixture of poverty, ethnicity and religion. The impressive economic growth has not been translated into jobs for young people.

Terrorist movements and criminal gangs take advantage of the widening levels of inequality and opportunity. Poor, unemployed youth is a ticking time bomb. They are easily recruited to terrorist organizations and crime. Governments have failed to take political action.

Sometimes ethnicity is the real source for the conflict. However, some politicians use ethnicity to promote their own ambitions.

Ethnicity is an identity. The challenge is to build a unified nation with different ethnicities peacefully coexisting. Some countries, like Tanzania and Zambia, with a large number of different tribes, have succeeded. I don’t think the former presidents Nyerere and Kaunda have been given the credits they deserve for having achieved this.

The two ex-presidents understood that nation building in Africa means to give some room to ethnicity and traditional identity, but not allow it to dominate the political life.

Today we see two Africas: One is the new land of opportunity, economic growth, optimism and limitless possibilities for investors. The other Africa is the hopeless continent with poverty, hunger, corruption, crime and countries being easy prey for foreign investors and land grabbers.

Fortunately, some emerging African politicians will not use the ethnic card. They understand that failing to address Africa’s inequalities is a recipe for social unrest.

The question remains, however: Will this new generation of promising African politicians (or “cheetahs” as George Ayittey label them) ever reach power? And will they, once in power, change and only follow in the footsteps of their predecessors?

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Development aid – knowledge more important than money

 

In some countries aid should be phased out or decreased. There are countries ready to take greater responsibility for their own development.

Other countries, many of them in Africa, can’t do without aid for now.

But aid needs to change. It should be more country-oriented, recognising that development largely comes from inside. Where and how this support can be of use, varies from country to country.

From a distance it is difficult to see the African ways beneath the surface. Unless the donors go there and walk there, they don’t have the knowledge about how Africa works and the social systems and networks present.

Often donors are trapped in their own policies and views on what a poor nation needs and how much money should be made available. The challenge is to find the balance between what countries in the South request and believe foreign players can contribute with, and the donor organisations’ impact agenda.

The best results have been achieved when aid has been spent to speed up development policies that the recipient country already has decided to carry out and have the capacity to do. When outsiders decree the solution and pour in money, most aid is wasted.

Donors together with representatives in the host country should plan together where aid should intervene in development. A ‘diagnostic’ approach to development means to determine where the greatest barriers to development lie in a country.

The donors should not become a key actor in policy making, but be allowed to propose and present ideas.

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Perceptions and realities of corruption in Africa

The poorer the country, the more vulnerable are its citizens.Petty corruption annoys the rich and makes life miserable for ordinary people.

According to a survey undertaken by Transparency International, 37 % of Kenyans who had contact with public services admit to having paid a bribe. In many countries police and the courts, institutions which exist to safeguard citizens`s rights, are seen as the most corrupt..

Police

The donor community has provided millions of dollars to governments and civil society to fight corruption, with few positive results.

To fight large-scale and illicit money flows is hard work, time-consuming and sometimes dangerous.

As long as rich countries provide safe heavens for looted money and loopholes for companies cheating national tax-systems, they function as enablers for problems other representatives of rich countries say they want to fight. It is also discouraging to note that the best lawyers and accountants in the world so willingly help with illicit money flow.

One cannot expect the beneficiaries of corruption to engage in efforts to stop corruption. As long as it benefits both the giver and the taker, corruption will continue.

Any private company being tempted to speed up processes by paying a bribe is easily caught in vicious circle. Once you start, there is no end.

Sometimes the reports on corruption are exaggerated. I don’t always trust the perception reports about corruption. I believe there is some “overreporting”. In Zambia there is a tradition that politicians continually accuse each other for corruption, without having to substantiate their claims.

A culture of allegations has developed.The general perception is therefore that there is corruption all over.

One example is when the former president of Zambia Kenneth Kaunda lost the election, his successor accused him of having $60 billion in Swiss banks. Six Scotland Yard detectives were brought in to investigate. They found nothing.

Rwanda has chosen another development course. The country has achieved impressive results, including reduction of corruption. The government has decided to restore some of the indigenous values and institutions. The system is based upon a centralized and authoritarian government, but with considerable freedom to the lower level of the hierarchy with some of the old systems of checks and balances being reintroduced.

 

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