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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3 Responses to Africa – from pessimism to optimism- and now more realism

  1. Could you elaborate on the Collier-argument? I’m interested in whether the system he envisages is actually meant for the whole continent or not. surely – as you have pointed out – it must be different versions adjusted to different contexts.

  2. I regard myself as an afro neutralist as a new term. Rightly said, Africa has many complexities; on the pessimistic side if leaders entrusted to manage our resources do not incorporate in their planning the exponential growth of the population envisaged for the future then all gains made now will amount to nothing. Reproductive policy is not a priority for most African governments because of the cultural aspects tied to it. We all know that having such a policy in place is key in development. If the populace is not informed about the benefits of controlled birth I am afraid that governments will continue to bear the brunch of providing social services to meet the growing demands of the population, I can only imagine the consequences if resources are not available. To drive this agenda we need a focused and enlightened leadership at all levels.
    On the optimistic side, I see an Africa were all important decisions will be made in an African board room and not in the West, but his can only happen if our present governments give more power to the people through strong institutions as opposed to presidents holding arbitrary powers. This will guarantee basic human rights being actualised which in my view is key to prosperity, vis a vis, right to education, food and shelter. Need I say more on the ripple effects?

  3. I think the people of Nigeria would be better of if we strengthen the state government and allow them more autonomy. The main reason why we have not made much progress as a nation since 1960 is that the central government tries to control everything.

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