Rethinking Africa’s development

Published on Business Day, by OLUWATOBA OGUNTUASE, MAY 7, 2012.

Hope, at the moment, is rising fast on the African continent. As the historic city of Addis Ababa prepares to host world leaders in public and private lives from May 9–11 at the World Economic Forum on Africa 2012, all eyes are now set on the continent once considered as naturally locked at the base of the world’s pyramid. In what seems to be an unprecedented reversal of the world economic order, even Paul Collier, the ‘bottom billion’ analyst himself, has described Africa as “the last resource frontier”.  

The sub-prime and sovereign debts crises pervading the advanced OECD countries in recent and contemporary times have shifted attention of international development economists to the converse, steady economic growth recorded over same period in the emerging markets of the BRICS. The lifeline for the sinking rich world of the ‘Global North’ is widely considered to be in the rising external reserves, abundant natural resources’ exports, and the cheap, huge labour markets found in the developing nations of the ‘Global South’, so much so that many international scholars and thinkers, such as Severino and Ray, have asked: “Can the poor save the world?” … //

… There are perhaps several miles yet to cover in terms of good governance in Africa. High level corruption among political office holders, weak politico-economic institutions, ethno-religious violence, wide infrastructure gap, widespread poverty and youth unemployment, hunger and drought, especially in the Horn of Africa, low access to quality education, and high maternal mortality are some of the socio-economic ills bedevilling the continent. They have also for long rendered the impressive figures recorded mere econometric data representing economic growth without real development.

Africa must begin to look inwards so as to fashion out its own peculiar development strategy as it integrates further into the globalised economy. Old economic models designed by multilateral development institutions must now be adopted only in so far as they blend with traditional local circumstances, as most of these formulae have turned out in recent years to be, in the theory of Australian economist John Quiggin, ‘Zombie Economics’.

Africa, no doubt, has great lessons to learn from China which, by adopting its own home-grown policies, has been able to transit from a third world country to the fastest-growing economy in the world. Policy makers in Africa should begin to take cue from the submission of Robert Zoellick, the retiring World Bank president, in a 2010 speech thus: “In a world where there is no one, overarching, theoretical framework; in a world where scholarship must be linked to practice; in a world where developing economies have as much to share as developed, we need to democratize and demystify development economics, recognizing that we do not have a monopoly on the answers. We need to throw open the doors, recognizing that others can find and create their own solutions.”

There is indeed another ‘Scramble for Africa’ as the ‘troubled’ developed countries see the black continent as a possible exit strategy out of their present economic woes. But unlike the 1884-85 Berlin Conferences, Africans themselves are at the center and in control of the present scramble. For Africa to effectively utilise the opportunities for its development, latent in today’s unprecedented global realities, which famous economist Jeffrey Sachs has summed up as ‘a world adrift’, the region must at this year’s economic forum necessarily look beyond the impressive econometrics, graphs, and the spreadsheet of international development experts. (full text).

Links:

African Markets – Factors to watch on May 7, 2012;

Africa on en.wikipedia;

World Economic Forum on Africa on en.wikipedia: has still to be created;

Egypt: Economic ruptures, on Al-Ahram weekly online, by Sherine Abdel-Razek, 3 – 9 May 2012;

Afrika: Ein hoffnungsloser Kontinent? November 1, 2006.

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