A new breed of Africans

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If you follow global news, you must have encountered the big woo hah about Africa somewhere. Most of the global media outlets have run some version of the “Africa 2.0” story. The basic summary is: as the west (global north) declines and the east (global south) takes the platform, Africa has to become (yet again) a battleground for economic development.

Africans (in Africa and in the diaspora) generally respond to the news of a “new Africa” in two ways. Firstly, we are excited and proud to read news from Africa about something other than famine, disease, warlords or celebrity adoptions. Secondly we ask ourselves a question every African should ask: what does “Africa 2.0” mean for Africans? Will the new gush of “investment” translate to a better livelihood for ordinary Africans? Or will it serve only to aid the ailing foreign economies, leaving Africans (yet again) with tycoons, oligarchs and demigods.

During the so-called “Scramble for Africa,” Africa became a battleground for development. The difference is that the development was not hers. World superpowers sliced, diced and shared Africa amongst themselves. They gorged her mineral wealth and used it to grow far-away lands. So what is the difference between then and now?

The Economist reports that:

“Over the ten years to 2010, six of the world’s ten fastest-growing economies were in sub-Saharan Africa. On IMF forecasts Africa will grab seven of the top ten places over the next five years…Over the past decade the simple unweighted average of countries’ growth rates was virtually identical in Africa and Asia. Over the next five years Africa is likely to take the lead. In other words, the average African economy will outpace its Asian counterpart.”

The question that remains is: how much of that growth is going to be driven by Africans? A 2013 survey by Ernest and Young reported that FDI from developed countries fell by 20% but investments from other developing countries grew by 8% (with India and South Africa as the first and second contributors, respectively).

It is therefore clear that Africa is (somewhat) no longer the underdog. African people see themselves as central role-players in the African growth project. However, Africa needs to transform the development from mere crunching of numbers to an improvement on the livelihood of ordinary Africans (that is: people other than the business and political elites). Africa needs to leverage its growth.

Rwandan President Paul Kagame argues correctly that “Structural economic transformation [must be] a pre-condition to sustainable development is a process of continuous innovation and technology adoption, harnessing endogenous factors of production, and targeting economic sectors that employ and benefit large numbers of our people.”

The fact is that Africa cannot yet be self-sustaining. Firstly, because in a globalized world it is impossible for a countrries (or even a continent) to be self-sustaining. Secondly, because even though Africa has an abundance of natural resources, she suffers from a shortage of vital skills. Lastly, because foreign investment (and thus foreign capital), with the right conditions, is good for the domestic economies.

The post-colonialism approach of the developed world has been to insist on liberalization of African economies in exchange for aid. This aid model has not worked. Instead it created a vacuum where only the political and business elite benefits from economic activity. This vacuum is the cause of political and economic instability.

This is where the new breed of Africans comes in:

1) The new breed of Africans must accept that Africa is still lurking behind, and must understand the reasons for why this is so. They must then transform this acceptance into a hunger for knowledge.

2) The new breed of Africans must be willing to step out of the comfort-zone and to seek out knowledge from the developed world. But interaction with the developed world must be a means to an end and not an end it itself. Brain-drain is one of the biggest challenges facing Africa today.

3) Knowledge (and ideas) learned from the developed world must not be accepted as the gospel truth. Ideas must be “Africanised”, that is, be transformed to suit the uniquely African cultural and sociological environment. (I refuse to believe that that are no alternatives to liberalism, capitalism or socialism. I think that it is possible to take the best facets of these ideologies and to turn them into practical solutions.)

4) The new breed of Africans must take direct charge of political institutions. The biggest reason for the stagnation of democracy in Africa is the perceived disconnect between the “foreign vision” of Africa and the “continental vision” of Africa. But for the few elites who enjoy concentrated power, real Africans want to get involved. Real Africans want true democracy. The problem is that Africa’s mistrust of the developed world (which is justified) makes us Africans susceptible to manipulation and propaganda. The old breed of African leaders has learned that shouting words like “colonialism” and “imperialism” will, more often than not, make Africans accept substandard leadership.

5) The new breed of Africans must be willing to get their hands dirty to drive growth. Innovativeness must be awarded (by wealth) and laziness punished with poverty. To get there, however, we must first level the scales with a mixture of formal and substantive equality. Formal equality in the sense that all African must get equal enjoyment and protection from the law. Substantive equality in the sense that all African must get a quality education (and other socio-economic rights), which means those who have must contribute significantly more towards those who do not have.

Some of these things are already happening. While foreign initiatives like the US’ African Investment and Diaspora Act have proved ineffective, Africans themselves have taken charge and launched new initiatives like the “Africa 2.0” project.

This is an exciting time to be an African.

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