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.