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by Prince Randy Alam-Sogan on Wednesday, 11 May 2011 at 16:17

 

 

 

 

 

At independence, African hopes for self-determination were brimming over. It was a time of great expectations and excitement for young people. There was a widespread belief that freedom from our colonial rulers would bring progress and prosperity.

 

We expected the new African nations would forge their future together. That we would control our natural resources and join the community of nations as equal partners. Sadly, as history has documented, many of our hopes were soon dashed. Newly independent African states struggled to contain the impact of arbitrary borders that split ethnic groups and communities, and fuelled tensions.

 

In many countries, the unifying force of independence movements gave way to one-party states as African governments sought to centralize political and economic power. The continent became a land of "big men" and the battle-ground for proxy wars of the Cold War. Development stagnated, deadly conflicts raged, the rule of law and human rights were neglected.

 

Half a century ago, Africa stood at a cross-roads. For many reasons, some which have their roots in Africa, others outside, Africa took the wrong path. But today, a new wave of optimism has taken hold.

Africa is once again being seen as a continent of opportunity - the last emerging investment frontier. We see this optimism in the number and diversity of businesses and countries flocking to invest in the continent. It is an optimism based on strong economic growth which even the global financial crisis was only able to reverse briefly.

 

And increasingly, this growth is being used to diversify economies and invest in the bedrock of successful societies – in education, in health and vital infrastructure. This is not the picture of Africa that is normally painted in the global media. Too often we hear the stereotype of a broken continent, stricken by disease, war and poverty.

 

A stereotype, too, in which problems in one country infect opinions of the continent as a whole.

Curiously, the reverse is rarely true. Very few people could name the country with the world's most sustained and strongest economic growth over the last four decades.

 

The answer is Botswana, a stable and successful democracy ever since independence in 1964.

It underlines why we have to remember that Africa consists of 53 diverse nations – soon to be 54 with the result of the referendum in South Sudan. But even taking into account that countries are progressing at different speeds, Africa's fortunes have been turning around in the last decade. Real GDP grew by nearly 5% annually between 2000 and 2008 – twice the level of the previous two decades. According to the African Development Bank, 6 African countries are forecast to enjoy growth this year above seven per cent; 15 countries above five per cent; and 27 countries above three per cent.

 

Direct foreign investment has soared from $9 billion in 2000 to $52 billion in 2011. This momentum is expected to continue and can be accelerated if we tackle remaining barriers to progress by investing in energy and infrastructure, and strengthening regional integration. Improved regional integration is essential to increase trade within Africa, which stands at just 10% of total trade compared to 67% within the EU. But even so, the IMF already believes the continent will have as many as seven of the ten fastest-growing economies in the world over the next decade.

 

Even higher growth rates are necessary to lift millions out of poverty and hunger and position Africa as an essential part of the global economic system. Africa's improved economic performance and prospects have, of course, become the subject of a growing amount of analysis by banks, policy makers and international organizations.

 

There is debate about the role and impact of painful macroeconomic reforms which were encouraged and, in some cases, forced on African countries by the Bretton Woods institutions. It is now widely acknowledged that these structural adjustment programmes had terrible consequences socially and institutionally. But the fiscal discipline they put in place helped to cushion African economies against external shocks, encouraged the growth of reserves and well-regulated banking sectors. It is clear, too, that another major reason for increased investment and growth has been Africa's natural resources and its attractiveness to emerging economies, particularly China.

 

With at least 10% of the world's oil and gas reserves, 40% of its gold, and 80% of its chromium and platinum, Africa is well placed to continue to benefit from the wealth beneath its surface and the boom in commodity prices.

 

China's burgeoning interest in Africa has also had other spillover effects. Asian demand for African commodities improves the terms on which the continent trades. This, in turn, encourages investors from elsewhere to look at Africa with different eyes.

 

But important as China's influence has been, recent research has shown that Africa's economic success is not simply tied to its natural resources, or to one country. Profitable economic partnerships are also being developed with Brazil, Turkey, India, Malaysia, and countries in the Middle East. World class African companies are also making inroads in these markets.

 

These South-South relationships are providing important opportunities for peer learning on appropriate development strategies to eradicate poverty and address inequality.

 

Last year's report by McKinsey, aptly named "Lions on the Move", found that just a third of Africa's growth up to 2008 was due to its natural resources.

 

By Kofi Annan,

 

Former U N Secretary General.

 

 

Par Prince Randy K. A. S - The Black Lion
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