THE CONTINENT of Africa is vast. In land mass it occupies a land area that is about four times the size of the United States, excluding Alaska and Hawaii). It is three times bigger than China. And, it has been estimated to be bigger than the land masses of the US, China, India, Mexico, Peru, France, Spain, Papua New Guinea, Sweden, Japan, Germany, Norway, Italy, New Zealand, the UK, Nepal, Bangladesh and Greece put together. All that is in land mass size.
In resources, however, the story is entirely different. Although Africa’s population has topped the billion mark, hitting 1.216 billion in 2016, thus nearly doubling Europe’s population then, Africa’s GDP remains miserably low. In the 2017 estimated gross domestic product (GDP) based on purchasing power parity, abbreviated GDP (PPP) China led with $23.159 trillion and $23.301 trillion by IMF and World Bank estimates respectively. Within the same period, the US GDP in were $19.390 trillion and $19.390 trillion, also by IMF and World Bank estimates respectively. But Nigeria, which was rated second place after Egypt in Africa, had $ 1.119 trillion by both IMF and World Bank estimates. Even the prosperous South Africa fared less well in GDP (PPP) terms.
Whereas Africa was on a growth trajectory economically, it needed – and still needs – to fulfil certain conditions to keep it on that trajectory. Apart from what may go wrong from within, the global trend in technology, economics, politics and economic systems could distort or slow down the growth altogether. While the growth in infrastructure in less than a quarter of the total number of countries may be commendable, much more needs to be done and all countries must be brought into the growth bracket for shared prosperity. Africa therefore needs to build a consensus on fair and sustainable development, free trade and fair trade, particularly within the context of resource-based economies.
The institutions that would stimulate and sustain Africa’s economic growth are yet to be fully in place. The existing ones are not optimally functional and operate in worlds apart. Despite the benefits of regional integration, Africa’s regional bodies are yet to score much points of performance. The Community of Sahel–Saharan States (CEN–SAD), Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA), East African Community (EAC), Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS), Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), Southern African Development Community (SADC) and Arab Maghreb Union (UMA) all need to share visions and experiences for common good.
On the AU platform, Africa could do a lot. But, how well funded is NEPAD, for instance? And how much of tasks can it single-handedly take on at a time? How far has Africa been able to go in finding solution from within to the hostilities in Central African Republic, South Sudan and Boko Haram insurgency in the north eastern Nigeria? What has become of the perennial drought in the eastern and southern Africa, with respect to livelihoods, food security, regional security and economy? What are the roles of the academia and research institutions in knowledge sharing and solution finding?
Could it be said that some of the remarkable improvements in recent times were fortuitous, accidental, and not designed or well-thought-out policies by African leaders? Is not possible that people are in a rush to celebrate the immediate and obvious successes, without any serious consideration for the flip side? Is anyone worried about China’s burgeoning presence in Africa even though there are some notable benefits emanating therefrom? What about long-term implications? According to McKinsey, a global consulting firm, “two decades, China has become Africa’s most important economic partner. Across trade, investment, infrastructure financing, and aid, no other country has such depth and breadth of engagement in Africa. Chinese “dragons”—firms of all sizes and sectors—are bringing capital investment, management know-how, and entrepreneurial energy to every corner of the continent.”
Rather than giving a disproportionate attention to the towering presence of China in Africa, how much of attention have African leaders paid to the transnational investment of South African MTN in Nigeria and many other countries? How are destination countries benefitting from Dangote Industries’ investments? Or how are African leaders assessing the impacts of Nigerian commercial banks going regional, the Ghanaian textile products redefining fashion and dressing across national frontiers or the rising influence of Nigerian Nollywood industry on the continent? Are there efforts at sustaining the Ethiopian Airways, Kenyan Airways, South African Airlines or RwandAir and keeping them in business against all odds? If Emirates, Qatar, Etihad can have visible presence in Africa, how many countries within the continent are well linked by local continental airlines?
Between Nigeria, Mozambique and Ghana, Africa’s production of cassava is higher than elsewhere else in the world. Yet, how much of cross-national solution in food security has cassava been able to provide? And how much of employment have African countries been able to provide across national frontiers in critical areas of the economy? Multilateral Development Banks have been providing supports in forms of loans or financial assistance by other names in healthcare, food security, infrastructure, education and economies, but how much has local governance and administrations been able to translate these to ambitious goals and remarkable results?
The intangible economy comes up again for reckoning. This is the age of the millennials! The economic thinking of leaders must factor in this reality. Governance and political leadership need a new mindset and a new approach. One does not succeed by sticking to convention. Jacob Morgan, in The Future of Work, wrote that “many organisations around the world today are in trouble. The world of work is changing around them while they remain stagnant. The larger the gap grows the greater the chance that these organisations will not survive. However, organisations shouldn’t just survive, they must want to thrive and be competitive in a new rapidly changing world. To do this requires pioneering change, not waiting for tragedy to happen or for a crisis to force change.” What Jacob Morgan wrote about business organisations is also true of countries.
Innovation is a hallmark of vibrant economies, nations in progress, stable environment and productive workforce. In Europe and north America, countries innovate around environment, food, health, technologies and financial systems. Africa must innovate around something. The future of food and energy places Africa at a great advantage. If well deployed, agricultural productivity and renewable energy will give Africa a leading edge.
Leaders must focus on these narrow areas for a start. When the basic issues of food and energy have been settled, they can begin to pursue other esoteric goals. But as things stand now, Africa can only hope to move forward when food and energy have been provided for the teeming population and growing economic prospect that need power and energy to operate.