After major difficulties in the wake of the global financial crisis, African economies are recovering and proving their resilience, in contrast to gloominess elsewhere in the world. The African Development Bank and IMF foresee GDP growth rates of around 5% by the end of the year.
Africa’s progress should be measured not just in GDP terms but by the benefits that economic growth brings to all of Africa’s people.
Trade is growing too, both within Africa and with partners, including the global South. Africa-China trade has multiplied more than 10-fold in the past decade. Barely a week goes by without reports of the discovery of more oil, gas, precious minerals, and other resources on the continent.
Climate change is drawing attention to the vast potential of its renewable energy supplies, including hydro, thermal, wind, and solar power. Business activity is increasing.
In short, Africa’s stock is rising, as highlighted by the Africa Progress Report 2010 released on Africa Day. But the report also asks some difficult questions.
Given our continent’s wealth, why are so many people still trapped in poverty?
Why is progress on the Millennium Development Goals so slow and uneven? Why are so many women marginalised and disenfranchised? Why is inequality increasing? And why so much violence and insecurity?
The good news is that access to basic services such as energy, clean water, healthcare and education has improved in many parts of the continent. But these basics are still denied to hundreds of millions of women, men, and children. Why?
In trying to provide the answers to these difficult questions, one must be wary of generalisations. Africa is not homogenous; it is raucously diverse. But its nations are linked by common challenges hampering human development and equitable growth: weak governance and insufficient investment in public goods and services, including infrastructure, affordable energy, health, education, and agricultural productivity.
Over the last decade, we have learned a great deal about what is needed. Ingredients include determined political leadership to set and drive plans for equitable growth and poverty reduction. Technical, management and institutional capacity are vital if policies are to be implemented. Good governance, the rule of law, and systems of accountability are essential to ensure that resources are subject to public scrutiny and used effectively and efficiently.
So what is holding back progress? Lack of knowledge and a shortage of plans are not the problem. Good, even visionary agendas have been formulated by African leaders and policy makers in every field, from regional integration to women’s empowerment. Moreover, we have myriad examples of programmes and projects that are making a tangible positive difference in peoples’ lives, across every field.
Given the continent’s vast natural and human resources and the ongoing, often illicit, outflow of wealth, lack of funds is not the barrier either, even though more are needed.
It is political will that is the issue, both internationally and in Africa itself.
Internationally, there are concerns that the consensus around development has been eroded by the financial crisis. Many rich countries are keeping their promises on development assistance, but others are falling badly behind. These shortfalls do not result from any decrease in human solidarity and sympathy. Nor, given the relatively modest sums involved, can they be blamed on budgetary constraints alone. They stem more from the failure to communicate the importance of putting the needs of the least-developed countries at the heart of global policies.
Efforts must be stepped up to explain why fairer trade policies and stemming corruption are not just ethical or altruistic, but practical and in the self-interest of richer countries.
Africa’s leaders have prime responsibility for driving equitable growth and for making the investment needed to achieve the Millennium Development Goals. They can help by making the case more strongly for development policies and necessary resources.
The continent now has leaders who stand out as champions of development. We need more of them. Sadly, though, their efforts are overshadowed in the international media by the authoritarian and self-enriching behaviour of other leaders. Africa’s progress should be measured not just in GDP but by the benefits that economic growth brings to all of Africa’s people.
Africa is a new economic frontier. The approach and actions of the private sector, and of Africa’s traditional and new international partners, are crucial in helping overcome the continent’s challenges. There is a real opportunity to strengthen the new partnerships to help achieve development goals, with countries such as China and those in the Middle East, South Asia and Latin America.
African leaders need to have more confidence in their bargaining position, and greater legal and negotiating capacities to ensure that they secure deals that bring benefits to their people. Their partners, including those in the private sector and from the global South, should be held to high standards of transparency and integrity.
Political leadership, practical capacities and strong accountability will be the winning elements for Africa. The international community can play a decisive role in ensuring that the continent is playing on a level field. But Africa’s destiny is, first and foremost, in its own hands.
Kofi Annan is chairman of the Africa Progress Panel, former Secretary-General of the United Nations, and a Nobel laureate.
By Kofi Annan