Most African countries have failed to transform the much-trumpeted economic growth into economic development for their citizens. Africa’s rising therefore mainly benefits multi-national corporations and local elites.
The phrase ‘Africa rising’ is often used to refer to the positive trend of economic growth across the continent. Majority of the world’s fastest growing economies are in Africa. Six of the world’s ten fastest growing economies in the past decade were African nations. The IMF meanwhile projects a growth rate of 5.4 percent for sub-Saharan Africa, which is above global growth predictions of 3.6 percent. Most of the recent and projected growth has been attributed to increased investment, regional trade, a burgeoning middle class with more disposable income, not forgetting increased innovation. That’s the tale of Africa rising.
But is Africa really rising? Is its economic growth sustainable and inclusive? Has its economic growth translated into improved quality of life for its people? If at all Africa is rising, who is enjoying the benefits of this rise?
Forty eight per cent of Africans still live on less than $1.25 a day. This is the result of Africa’s immense economic growth being outpaced by the growth in inequality. Most African countries have failed to transform economic growth into economic development for their citizenry. The idea of Africa rising and its consequent economic growth has mainly been of benefit to multi-national corporations and local bourgeois classes.
We must differentiate between economic growth and economic development. Economic development is wholesome, and its growth accompanied by advancements in healthcare, education, working conditions and living standards among other areas that directly impact and improve human welfare across the board.
Some practices across the continent continue to stifle wholesome growth that would result in social and economic transformation for the populace. These practices include, but are not limited to, gross human rights violations, exploitative deals surrounding oil and mineral extraction, land grabs, inhumane working conditions, insecurity, just to mention but a few. To list them all would be to write a small book.
Some authoritarian regimes across Africa continually engage in practices that suppress the democratic will of the masses. Their international allies are content to look aside, as blatant and flagrant human rights violations are perpetrated, for as long as their interests in such nations are protected. Gross human rights violations thus continue unabated in many countries. Political and economic reforms are urgently needed in parts of the continent if freedom, justice and liberty are to prevail.
Unfair working conditions and mistreatment of labour have also continued unabated in parts of Africa. Human welfare and dignity should be considered a key aspect of economic development. That most countries have poor labour laws, which make it possible for employers to overwork and underpay workers, negates this fundamental tenet of economic development. Export Processing Zones (EPZs) in many African countries have also continued to exploit workers while benefitting from unjust tax exemptions.
Many developing nations the world over have entered into land deals with other nations and corporations which have led to the alienation of large tracts of land to grow crops and bio-fuels for profit. What’s not considered by most regimes is the effect of such actions, ranging from dispossessing communities of the land they depend on for economic sustenance, to climate change due to the clearing of ecosystems which speeds up desertification and its effects. Africa is thus sliding from a previous situation of food security to a situation that forces many countries to rely on food aid when drought strikes. That per capita food production has slumped since the independence years should be worrying for us. We have become a net importer of food despite having swathes of fertile land.
Many African countries have discovered oil and mineral deposits over the past decade. However, only the political elite and multi-national corporations have benefitted from these minerals. This is due to exploitative oil and mineral extraction deals, followed by plunder of mineral earnings by corrupt government mandarins. African countries have a proclivity for mining deals which are not only of very little economic and social benefit to the populace, but which also excel at failing to put in place considerations to protect the ecology. He who fails to plan, plans to fail. We must think about climate change and the future. We must think about our children and future generations.
Most mining deals are shrouded in secrecy. This results in a situation where revenues from mining activities are mostly unknown to the general populace. This inhibits any demands for accountability in their use. Investors in the mining industry should be compelled to sign the Foreign Industries Transparency Initiative, which seeks to make public what foreign firms pay for the minerals they exploit. This would enable the push for transparency while also helping curb illicit financial flows from the continent, which are currently estimated at $50 billion by the UNECA high level panel on illicit financial flows, and which is generally considered a conservative estimate. This forgone revenue has greatly hampered social transformation across the continent.
Security, or rather insecurity, has also been a major headache for most nations in Africa, from decades of planned tribal and religious conflicts, to civil wars. Fast-forward to the current global threat posed by terrorism. We cannot talk of Africa rising while militias and terrorist groups like Boko Haram and Al-Shabaab roam free as they kill, maim, rape and confine millions to squalid refugee camps across the continent. No, we simply cannot do so!
Two questions worth asking: Who are the perpetrators of all these ills? Who are the men or organisations behind these injustices that hold us back? Your guess is as good as mine. It’s a neoliberal agenda bent on rewarding the oppressors and disenfranchising the masses. Unless the above-mentioned issues are addressed, a greater majority of Africa’s people shall not benefit from Africa rising. It will be but a myth to them!
* Sungu Oyoo is a social and economic justice advocate. Follow him @Sungu_Oyoo and his blog at sunguoyoo.wordpress.com
* THE VIEWS OF THE ABOVE ARTICLE ARE THOSE OF THE AUTHOR/S AND DO NOT NECESSARILY REFLECT THE VIEWS OF THE PAMBAZUKA NEWS EDITORIAL TEAM
* BROUGHT TO YOU BY PAMBAZUKA NEWS
* Please do not take Pambazuka for granted! Become a Friend of Pambazuka and make a donation NOW to help keep Pambazuka FREE and INDEPENDENT!