- Africa Rising narrative paints a picture of a continent on the cusp of a major economic and developmental breakthrough.
- This upbeat assessment, however, stands in stark contrast to the realities of many African countries’ political instability, corruption, and threats from autocratic regimes.
- This disharmony between the narrative’s upbeat tone and the facts prompts the question: is there a need for the widespread optimism about Africa’s future, or is it misplaced?
The “Africa Rising” narrative, popularised in recent years, paints a picture of a continent on the cusp of a major economic and developmental breakthrough. This upbeat assessment, however, stands in stark contrast to the realities of many African countries’ political instability, ongoing corruption, and threats from autocratic regimes. The premature or even misplaced optimism of this narrative is called into question by a close analysis of these problems. This discrepancy between the narrative’s upbeat tone and the facts prompts the question: is there a need for the widespread optimism about Africa’s future, or is it misplaced?
How Politics Corrupt: A Barrier to Progress
The recurring political instabilities that have become nearly associated with the continent’s governance are the proverbial elephant in the room when discussing Africa’s potential. Coups and political turmoil in nations like Mali, Sudan, Niger and Gabon are not incidental; they have a significant impact on the region’s economy and way of life.
Disrupted governance and policy inconsistencies are the direct result of political instability, which in turn discourages economic activity and foreign investment. For Africa to make any real development, this issue of governance must be addressed and resolved.
In the conversation around Africa’s development, corruption emerges as a serious enemy. It’s a plague that slows development on the continent by squandering resources, impeding effective governance, and undermining public trust. The broad extent of this issue is evidenced by the consistently low ranks of many African countries on Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index. Fighting corruption is essential for national growth and social progress, not merely as a matter of moral administration.
This raises the question of whether or not the concept of sustainability is simply being utilised as a buzzword in an effort to make a hot continent sound hip. Often, the “Africa Rising” narrative stresses remarkable economic growth rates in some countries. However, this expansion prompts serious concerns regarding diversity and long-term viability. Is the increase in prosperity shared across many people, or is it going to a select few?
In addition, environmental sustainability is often overlooked in favour of economic growth. To be meaningful, growth must provide long-term advantages to all members of society. Today’s hip term of ESG or rather Environmental, Social and Governance reforms that foreign corporates wish to tackle, or indicate they’re tackling in developing nations demonstrates a fraction of the infractions undertaken, a mere statement of elusive hypocrisy. Something that may be displayed at the upcoming 2023, COP 28 in Dubai, UAE.
The Double-Edged Sword of foreign aid and investment
Many African economies have been significantly shaped by foreign aid and investment. However, the question of whether or not this reliance on the outside world is more of a detriment than an advantage remains open. Can thriving domestic economies and self-sufficiency be fostered in the face of a flood of foreign help and investment? This facet of international involvement in Africa’s economic environment is a double-edged sword, as it often exacerbates existing governance challenges while failing to address the core reasons of underdevelopment.
The significance of Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in Africa is multifaceted. Despite a considerable increase in greenfield project announcements, UNCTAD reported that foreign direct investment to the continent dropped to $45 billion in 2022 from $80 billion the year before.
The investment climate in Africa is as volatile as the country’s economy. The substantial decline in malaria fatalities, for example, is one concrete outcome of health and development efforts. However, many African countries’ reliance on foreign aid—which makes up a sizeable portion of their GDP—suggests a reliance on external help that may impede long-term economic independence.
Closer inspection reveals that numerous “investment” and aid programs from the United States, China, Russia, and the United Kingdom, to mention a few, have followed the Africa Rising narrative.
The new scramble for Africa
China’s rising presence in Africa represents a crucial chapter in the continent’s economic narrative. Development and prosperity have been spurred by Chinese investments and loans, especially in infrastructure. One such example is the Chinese Belt and Road Initiative, which is a global infrastructure development program being deployed in Africa and around the world.
Despite investing in critical infrastructure projects, concerns about long-term economic sovereignty have been raised as a result of the growing debt in numerous African countries caused by unclear loan terms from China. In addition, China’s emphasis on resource extraction has raised discussions about the viability of the environment and the fair allocation of resources. Is China helping to develop Africa as a partner or is it just imposing its economic model on the continent?
When inquiring about the involvement of the United States, the United Kingdom, or Russia, similar inquiries should be posed. Although the initiation of the 2005 US Presidential Initiative to Combat Malaria has been highly effective, and still continues today, its costs must be weighed against the benefits for Africans. African leaders and politicians may regard conditionalities in programs like the US trade initiative known as the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) and the previous Millennium Challenge Corporation as little more than a dangling carrot.
The question that has to be answered is whether or not the strategic interest of superpowers like the United States, UK, Russia and France adds another layer to Africa’s already complicated geopolitical landscape. In addition to safeguarding resources and fighting terrorism, the United States has traditionally prioritised fostering democracy, human rights, and economic development, but only to its own interest and countries that serve the US.
Most recently, in October 2023, President Biden dropped four African nations from its highly praised AGOA initiative, Gabon, Niger, Central African Republic and Uganda from the program, citing inconsistencies with governance matters.
Russia’s growing involvement, on the other hand, is marked by military cooperation and arms transactions, and it tends to focus on nations with fragile political circumstances or those that are isolated from Western influence. African countries need to carefully negotiate these international ties to make sure foreign engagement serves their long-term development goals and national interests in light of the ongoing competition amongst Africa’s superpowers.
France, a previous colonial power also left its indelible mark on Africa. On one side, the French Treasury has its hand upon the economic and central banking operations in numerous Francophone countries, through the West African Monetary Union as well as the Central African Monetary Union. The former colonial master is currently still reaping rewards via the Central Banks of many of its former colonies.
The manner in which many of these fragile economies have operated have resulted in various coups. In the last three years alone, four former colonies, namely Niger (2023), Mali (2020), Burkina Faso (2020) and Gabon (2023), have fallen to military coups. Despite the former colonialist continuing its military footprint on the continent.
Lastly, one cannot forget the United Kingdom and its mixed record of participation in Africa. The United Kingdom’s reaction to African crises is contrasted with its posture in other regions, which is one major critique of British foreign policy. The United Kingdom’s energy policies in Africa are also under fire because of claims that the country is applying two different standards to different types of energy projects throughout the continent.
In the eyes of many Africans, this action perpetuates a neocolonialist goal and runs counter to the country’s stated position on energy and climate change. Yet through programs funded by the UK’s Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office, numerous programs aimed at fostering peace and reducing conflict have taken place, yet to the interests of the UK alone.
Africa Rising ~ Taking Continent’s Future More Seriously
With its abundance of natural resources, young population, and growing tech industry, Africa has tremendous untapped potential for revolutionary growth. However, this promise can only be realised with trustworthy leadership.
There is little doubt that Africa is capable of experiencing a renaissance, but doing so will require a nuanced and realistic comprehension of the continent’s intricacies and challenges. Africa must take on the structural problems head-on if it is to realise the potential of the “Africa Rising” narrative. Important measures include bolstering democratic institutions, fighting corruption effectively, and guaranteeing inclusive and sustainable growth. But that still may be wishful thinking.
The future of Africa depends on a sophisticated strategy that accounts for the optimism of its growth as well as the realism necessary to address its systemic problems. Rather than dismissing the “Africa Rising” narrative out of hand, it is important to approach it critically and with an understanding of the complexity of the continent’s path to wealth and peace.