Africa is a naturally gifted continent with huge untapped resources, something that might have been one of the reasons for its colonization between 1870s and 1900s by European imperialists. Putting that history aside, today, the continent is still a destination for tourism and research especially for Europeans and Asians. It is also a giant market for Indian and Chinese products. With its current population estimated to 1.3 billion distributed among the 54 countries, Africa remains a promising market and a source of labor force for itself and other countries.
The Economic Report on Africa (ERA) 2017 considered several African countries like Algeria, Angola, Cameroon, Chad, Congo, Côte d’Ivoire, Democratic Republic of Congo, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Ghana, Libya, Niger, Nigeria and Sudan as oil exporters with oil exports at least 20 per cent higher than their oil imports. The same report also highlighted another category of mineral-rich countries with mineral exports accounting for more than 20 percent of total exports. Oil, gold, diamond, natural gas, metals, coffee, grains, livestock, textiles, and soft drink concentrates are some of the diverse range of products exported from African economies. Being commodities in raw form, much of what is exported is greatly affected by price fluctuations.
Some countries are known for definite potentials. For instance, Nigeria’s biggest export is petroleum and petroleum products. In Morocco, Tunisia and Lesotho, clothing, shoes and textiles are the biggest exports. Correspondingly, cotton is important for the economies of Mali, Togo and Benin. Valuable metals and minerals like gold, diamonds and platinum are the biggest exports for Tanzania, South Africa, Namibia, Democratic Republic of the Congo and Zimbabwe.
Africa is a destination for tourists from across the globe. Countries like Kenya, Botswana, Ethiopia, Morocco, Mauritius, Madagascar, Egypt, South Africa, Namibia, Seychelles, and Gambia receive millions of tourists wishing to enjoy the beauty of Africa’s savannah, mountains, weather, wildlife, forests and historical sites annually. Connected to this, though not surprising, are the successful airlines some of which are recognized among the top 100 worldwide. The connection lies in the fact that some of the countries that receive large influx of tourists also have reputable airlines. Such countries and airlines are; Ethiopia (Ethiopian airlines), South Africa (South African Airways), Mauritius (Air Mauritius), Kenya (Kenya Airways), Seychelles (Air Seychelles) and Egypt (Egypt Air). Angola Airlines (Angola) and Royal Air Marco (Morocco) are also considered as successful airlines of the continent.
Africa is a host to some of the largest lakes and longest rivers with fresh water. Lake Victoria, Africa’s largest lake is situated in Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania. Lake Tanganyika (Tanzania) and Lake Malawi (Malawi) are also famous. River Nile with Uganda being its source, serves 11 countries before it connects to the Mediterranean Sea. These mentioned and other lakes and rivers are a source of hydropower, fresh water for domestic, industrial and irrigation purposes, fish, sand, and means of transport. Egypt and Sudan appear to be the biggest beneficiaries of the Nile in terms of water usage for agricultural purposes.
Africa is a historical continent in terms of education. The Al-Karaouine in Morocco and Al-Azhar in Egypt are some of the world’s oldest universities. Current records reveal that literacy rates in countries like Seychelles, South Africa, Mauritius, Zimbabwe, Gabon, Congo, and Uganda are above 73%. This is one step in the realization of a productive population needed for Africa’s promising market.
Surmountable Bottlenecks on the Path
From the economic point of view, Africa is still challenged by its reliance on export commodities of low value. This is partially caused by poor planning and corrupt tendencies within government structures of most countries. Some selfish elements find it convenient for them to reap huge amounts of dollars individually through bribery instead of looking into the bigger picture. A chain of people can be behind such deals that are keeping some African countries with no refineries and processing industries up to date.
Though corruption is a now a global menace, Africa appears to have been hampered the most. According to Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index 2016, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, Libya, Guinea-Bissau, Angola, Eretria, Chad, Burundi, Zimbabwe, Comoros, Uganda, Ghana, Kenya, and Tanzania are examples of countries where corruption is at higher levels. Many government officials in the mentioned and other countries embezzle tax payers’ money with impunity. The legislature and judiciary sectors where the aggrieved might resort to for redress are also infiltrated with the same. Bribery of voters in both local and national elections is also a common practice that has created a new form of democracy one would term as “false democracy”. In some countries, the presidency has no term limits implying that a leader can be in power as long as he/she goes into an election and wins. No one can underestimate the political, economic and military power of the incumbents.
Violation of civil liberties especially by security agencies and police is also common on the continent. Freedom of the press and expression generally is tightly limited especially in countries with presidents serving for more than 20 years in power. Genuine multiparty politics is not yet attained in majority of the countries. The ruling parties through their heads (usually the sitting presidents) continue to block the would-be opposition groups. They deny them freedom to mobilize and statutory facilitation. Demonstrations have also remained difficult to attend in some countries, with security forces taking a harder line on a growing number of protesters demanding political reforms.
Libya, South-Sudan, Somalia, Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of Congo, Burundi, Chad, and Sudan etc. are some of African countries within conflict zones. Though some of Africa’s conflicts are fueled and sustained by external forces for long term strategic interests, injustices in addition to bad governance appear to be the main causes of conflicts in the continent internally. However, bad governance seems to be the major failure of Africa’s sustainable development because almost all continental challenges at least have some connection to it. Bad governance breeds corruption which ushers in impunity and failed structures at all levels, leads to poor policies, misallocation of resources and injustices. All these factors aggravate other challenges of unemployment, poverty, disease and ignorance.
Good governance must be on priority list in Africa’s future. The World Bank defined good governance as the manner in which power is exercised in the management of a country’s economic and social resources for development. The African Development Bank (AfDB) as early as 1999, decided to give due recognition to good governance because, in its opinion, governance is central to creating and sustaining an enabling environment for development, and sound development. It spelt out five elements of good governance and these are; accountability, transparency, combating corruption, participation and legal and judicial reforms. African leaders and their governments must ensure that those in the management and control of public assets exercise their mandate in accordance with legally accepted standards. Government business and policies must be made clear and available to all stakeholders for easy implementation and evaluation. The judicial systems must be left independent in order for them to have moral authority to tackle the abuse of public office for private gain.
For purposes of stimulating grass-root participation, the electorate ought to be given a chance to participate in the policy formulation process and should share control of resources and institutions that affect their lives, thereby providing a check on the power of government. Currently, the executive seems to be blocking this. A pro-governance and pro-development legal and judicial regime should be created in which the laws are clear and are uniformly applied through an objective and independent judiciary.
Democracy Index 2018: Me too?, a report by The Economist Intelligence Unit (The EIU) suggested that strengthening of political institutions, and tackling of the issues of transparency, accountability and corruption, would go some way towards improving confidence in democracy and democratic values in Africa.
The World Economic Forum for Africa recommends that for Africa to realize economic growth and development, it must improve regional cooperation by boosting intra-regional trade. In other words, Africa can trade with itself. The Forum puts much emphasis on infrastructure development as a top developmental priority in Africa, particularly in two critical areas: electricity and transport. Access to electricity forms the basis of an industrialized economy and hence trade. Efforts such as the Standard Gauge Railway that will connect Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda and South Sudan are highly welcome in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA). The Forum recommends further that since much of Africa’s trade happens by sea, ports also need to be modernized, expanded and maintained so as to push greater trade volumes, enable government to collect more taxes and curb illegal activities.
Entrepreneurship and vocational training ought to be mainstreamed in the education system as a way of tackling unemployment. Social media platforms that are attached to the internet are vital for promoting intra-trade activities within Africa. Adoption of new media in linking producers to the markets can be an opening and it has been tested in Nigeria, Egypt and Kenya where internet accessibility is a bit outstanding as compared to other countries in SSA.
Apart from intra-trade, Africa can still harness and boost trade with other countries to which it exports to and imports from. Africa for example exports to India, China, and USA, the same countries from which it imports numerous products. Partnerships especially those aimed at improving the value of Africa’s commodities are desired and feasible. Oil refineries and processing industries can be established in Africa. There is no harm in sharing capital investment and profits. Though, this calls for transparency and accountability. China, India, Malaysia, Pakistan, and Indonesia are suitable partners for African countries simply because the continent is already importing substantial amounts of goods from them and the markets do not seem to have much difference. China is already penetrating Africa massively. It is only a matter of time that other countries follow suit.
Abdulhamid Mpoza is a Ph.D Student from Uganda at the Institute of Communication Studies, University of the Punjab, Lahore, Pakistan.