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Africa's ready for a new dawn

MORE THAN half a century has passed since the first wave of independence movements in Africa. The African and wider black consciousness struggles for freedom were struggles for identity, dignity, representation and for the right to aspire and inspire. They were proclamations of everyday humanity. One veteran remembers: “What were we fighting for? Not just to be free, but for the right to be.”

In the mid-20th century less than 30 per cent of the continent was literate. The civil service was geared to colonial demands, business was corralled by bureaucracy, and the police and militaries were hamstrung by the lack of a black officer corps. After independence, the new generation of African nationalist leaders redressed many of the skewed colonial priorities. The new governments invested in health, education and development.

African civil services pushed career path s and advancement.


EXPERT: Dr Knox Chitiyo

But the euphoria of great expectations inevitably met a reality check. Too often, the scourge of racism was replaced by tribalism, corruption and the ‘big man’ syndrome that saw many African leaders owning rather than leading. The newly minted Organisation of African Unity, a key proponent of African common purpose, was driven by leadership and financial challenges, and struggled to stem conflicts and coups.

MOVING ON UP

Decades ago, The Economist magazine called Africa ‘the world leader in hopelessness’. But that pronouncement is junk.

Multi-partyism has revitalised politics. Opposition parties, once anathema in Africa, are here to stay. The African Union and regional communities have pushed for constitutionalism across the continent. Elections are often fl awed, but there is an actionable African consensus that governments have to be elected, and ejected, by the ballot not the bullet.

Bloodless transitions of power are increasingly the norm, and the African tradition of mediatory diplomacy ensures rapid engagement in resolving disputes. Across the continent, a younger generation of technocrats and business-savvy
leaders are taking the helm. The desire to stay in power at whatever cost is less fashionable. Nowadays, it’s all
about development, with citizens asking their leaders:

“What have you done for us lately?”

ECONOMIC PROMISE

Seven of the world’s fastest-growing economies are in Africa, consistently enjoying between five per cent and eight per cent growth each year. Africa’s new middle classes have embraced the digital age, and African countries are partners of choice for global investors.


PARTNERS: Barack Obama addresses the African Union in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

Intra-African trade and regional integration are also priorities, marking a shift from aid to trade. And Africa’s institutions are stronger than you might think. Although financial institutions were buffeted by the global crash of 2008, smaller African banks took less of a hit and so survived: some even thrived. African men and women are in leadership positions in global institutions such as the UN, World Bank and the Commonwealth. Africans are in the Fortune 500 listings, and African philanthropy is hot.

More importantly, so too is community self- improvement and women’s empowerment.

THE DIASPORA

Globalisation and Afro-cosmopolitanism has increased engagement between the diaspora and Africa.

Diasporan familial remittances contribute over £30 billion every year to Africa’s economy – a flow that is greater than aid. But there is a strong post- remittances agenda too. The diaspora do business in Africa with Africa-based counterparts, and mutually benefit from skills and expertise. The African Union (AU) has recognised the African diaspora as a key partner, and thriving partnerships between diasporas of different African nations are increasingly enhanced by incorporating the African Caribbean community and many others. Black identity and action, so long defined by
others, has come home.

BUT…

Africa has a growing underclass and a widening gap between rich and poor. Corrupt elites and impoverished, marginalised majorities are a recipe for social unrest. Petty bureaucracy is also an impediment to business. And while intra-African trade has increased from three per cent in the 1960s to about 14 per cent currently, it’s still far behind Europe, where over 75 per cent of trade occurs within the continent. In some African countries, governmental suspicion of civil society has led to tension between democracy, justice and human rights on the one hand and commerce and development on the other. The rift between the AU and the International Criminal Court is part of this fall-out, but transnational justice will depend on a rapprochement between the two. Aid dependency, although reduced, still remains. And as Africans form part of the migration crisis that is currently re-drawing Europe’s borders, questions must be asked about the human stories behind purported economic growth.

Challenges remain, but these should not overshadow the diversity of accomplishments and compelling stories.

The Africa Rising narrative is not pure fiction. But terms and conditions apply.

Dr Knox Chitiyo is an Associate Fellow at Chatham House. He can be contacted at KChitiyo@chathamhouse.
org. He is also Chair of the Britain Zimbabwe Society and was previously Head of the Africa Programme at the Royal United Services Institute.

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