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.
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.
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.
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