Defend Truth


This is it, Africa!

Sipho Hlongwane is a writer and columnist for Daily Maverick. His other work interests also include motoring, music and technology, for which he has some awards. In a previous life, he drove forklift trucks, hosted radio shows, waited tables, and was once bitten by a large monitor lizard on his ankle. It hurt a lot. Arsenal Football Club is his only permanent obsession. He appears in these pages as a political correspondent.

Never before have the fates conspired to bring such opportunities to Africa, and never before has Africa stood poised to seize these opportunities – if she could only put her house in order.

The Gordon Brown, former prime minister of Britain, emerged from hiding to make a speech at the African Union Summit in Uganda recently. It dealt with the issue of Africa’s potential for growth in the coming years, and how this growth could be a catalyst for global economic expansion.

Brown’s speech marks a decided change in the West’s relationship with Africa, perhaps an acknowledgement as well of the shifting “tectonic plates” in the world, as the East Asian tigers roar ahead of Europe and America in economic growth. Increasingly, the West and Asia are looking to Africa to fuel their expansion, by providing resources and markets for their goods. Also, the global economic downturn really knocked the stuffing out of the West, and presents Africa with a golden opportunity to play a big role in the recovery of the world’s economy.

Brown pointed out Africa’s potential strategic importance in world economics, and urged the African leaders assembled to get to grips with the issues still plaguing the continent, to prepare the way, so to speak, for economic growth. It was a powerful speech. My greatest regret is that he waited until he had been thrust into the political wilderness before making it. How much more of an impact would it have made had he said what he did as prime minister of Britain and chairman of the G20?

Nevertheless, exciting times lie ahead for our beloved continent. But Africa needs to step up and step up in a big way if it is to become a partner in the world economy, instead of a mere beneficiary of the West’s largesse.
My vision for Africa can be encapsulated in four things that are of critical importance to the economic growth of Africa.

  • Firstly, we need to move away from the old foreign-aid models to a newer form of foreign intervention that seeks to end it altogether. Brown dedicated a significant portion of his speech to this idea, saying that aid to Africa must not be an end in itself, but rather a means to an end. That end being the financial independence of Africa. This means that donor countries are going to have to start enforcing rules about aid. Money can’t come with no strings attached, as in the past. African leaders must be made to use the money they have responsibly, as that is the only way that countries reliant on aid can be weaned off it. And if a leader decides to use the money as political leverage or as a personal bank account, instead of using it to purchase public goods, then aid to that country must be cut off. If African leaders will not act responsibly, then it must be forced on them. Aid must be a catalyst for economic growth, not an impediment.
  • Secondly, pools of capital must be established, out of the control of governments. Private sectors must be raised up in all African countries. In many African countries, most of the available capital is in the hands of the government. This often leads to civil war, as different factions within the country vie for control of the government, and thus control of the bulk of the country’s capital. People on the ground either have little capital, or even worse, nowhere to secure it safely. Dambisa Moyo, in her groundbreaking book “Dead Aid”, mentions the fact that Africa actually has a lot of capital in the hands of private individuals, but no way to bring that capital into the formal market. Africa needs banks that work on a micro-level, like the Grameen Bank of Bangladesh. It must become possible for people to feed themselves, to borrow money and establish enterprises, outside of the government system. Incidentally, this is one of the main reasons why I believe South Africa will escape the fate of the rest of Africa – much of the country’s economic power lies outside of government’s control.
  • Thirdly, the African Union must move swiftly to counter the encroachment of fascism in the Horn of Africa. Militant Islamist organisations like al-Shabaab, which have been allowed to fester in the volatile and ungoverned state of Somalia, are threatening the stability of the region, and by extension, the stability and image of Africa. Al-Shabaab has demonstrated a willingness to act in countries outside of Somalia, as they did in Uganda on the evening of the World Cup final. That day demonstrated the two faces of Africa, and indeed the battle that lies ahead: on the one hand, we had an Africa that could host the greatest event on earth, and on the other we had an Africa that still struggled with volatility, insecurity and violence. The latter cannot be allowed to swallow the entire continent, and the key lies in the stability in the Horn of Africa.
  • Lastly, the image and brand of Africa must be rescued from the clutches of the West’s celebrity brigade. It really riles me that most conversations about Africa’s development or aid to Africa are dominated by people such as Bono or Bob Geldof. If it isn’t those two, it’s bleeding-heart activists who are too eager to “help”, but not eager enough to understand. Africans need to be at the forefront of discussions and debates about the development of Africa.

With the influx of foreign aid now aimed at jump-starting economic growth, greater pools of capital outside of government’s control and greater security within the continent, Africa would see the expansion of its middle class, people who will demand goods, provide skills, and will provide governments with a source of income (in the form of tax) from within their own borders. Most importantly, the middle class are a more demanding form of income than donor countries – they will want their governments to work for them, instead of against them. Leaders will have to adopt more democratic practices, or face the wrath of their constituencies. Leaders will be accountable to someone at last –their own people. Economic growth will bring democracy to Africa, and all the trappings that come with it: Accountable leadership, the means for any person to better their circumstances without having to resort to violence and a society in which human rights are respected.


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