Those headlines gave hope of a better tomorrow, when the continent would no longer be referred to as ‘least developed’, ‘third world’ or ‘developing’.
However, it seems those positive projections, are clear cases of a great illusion.
Democratic regimes have increased and access to education improved but the development gap between Africa and the developed world continues to widen.
The continent continues to grapple with diseases, poverty and conflicts. Though these three-in-one ills could be found in other parts of the world, Africa boasts of a greater share of the cases.
Ambassador Ahmed Haggag, Former Assistant Secretary of the Organization of African Unity (OAU) at a training for Young African Journalists in Egypt this year noted that Africa is home to over 50 per cent of the world’s conflicts.
Conflicts remain a major challenge to the continent. They resurface in different forms, making nonsense of efforts at addressing them. The picture is simply like taking a step forward and two backwards.
A few years ago, the continent was about marking the end of inter-ethnic conflicts and celebrating the containment of religious clashes when terrorism registered its presence with the killing of innocent Africans for fame and money.
This situation has left the continent on tenterhooks and it is unclear if the continent would ever settle and find solutions to problems pertaining to clean water, food and health concerns of its people.
Millions continue to die of hunger. Concentration on oil, gas and minerals resulted in some growth in past decades but failed in reducing poverty, hunger and improving health and education, even in those countries noted to have huge oil reserves.
The continent has the most of water resources yet millions do not have access to clean water. It is one epidemic after the other, with malaria, a household name, constantly killing people around the clock.
The disease situation could virtually be predicted. It is simply the end of one epidemic marking the beginning of another. From Syphilis, Poliomyelitis, Meningitis, Cholera, HIV and AIDS to Ebola Viral Disease in the last few decades.
The continent is yet to recover from the plague of brain drain and capital flight with countries using taxes to educate a few who use their expertise to benefit foreign economies and African elites teaming up with multinationals to go round local regulations on export of capital, denying the continent the chance to rise.
In the midst of all these, one is still struggling to see how Africa is rising. It seems anytime the continent tries to rise, it faces the same obstacles in altered forms.
Kenya and Cote d’Ivoire were one time near first class states with beautiful cities and good economies but lost that card to political instability and other factors. They maintained a consistent GDP growth of six per cent a year between late 1960s and 1980s.
Hosts of countries on the continent, have similar stories – always going back to square-one.
Zimbabwe, Sierra Leone and Benin were said to be among few countries with diversified economies in 1980s.
In 2010, out of the15 fastest growing economies worldwide, ten were from Africa but again, those countries failed to hold on to that card and they too are arguably back to square-one.
The obstacles – ever declining real commodity prices, world recession, debt burden and rising international rates – are well known and sometimes predictable yet almost insurmountable.
This is because the root causes of the challenges are continually left unaddressed. The continent is still dependent on primary products for export, which have failed to help solve the unemployment and poverty situations.
Long ago, agriculture was identified as the strength of Africa but governments continued to pay lip service to the sector.
Macky Sall, President of Senegal, reportedly said in the 2014 Africa Progress Report that agriculture remains the Achilles’ heel of Africa’s development success story. He said “low levels of productivity trap millions of farmers in poverty, act as a brake on growth, and weaken links between the farm and non-farm economy – links that were crucial to development breakthroughs …”
Sall was optimistic farmers on the continent could feed rapidly growing urban populations and generate exports to meet demand in global markets but, “the region is increasingly and, in our view, dangerously dependent on imports” and spent $35 billion on food imports (excluding fish) in 2011.
If Africa’s farmers increased their productivity and substituted these imports with their own produce, this would provide a powerful impetus to reducing poverty, enhancing food and nutrition security, and supporting a more inclusive pattern of growth, he stated.
This is not to say leaders on the continent do not know the agricultural potential of Africa. They simply lack the will power and commitment to develop the sector.
A few years ago, leaders on the continent signed a compact to commit a percentage of their financial resources to agriculture but only a few are showing commitment to that agreement.
Currently, climate change is throwing farmers, especially small scale growers on the continent out of job with many now turning to petty trading. These farmers do not have access to drought resistant seeds and cannot irrigate their farms.
The continent is not prepared for climate change and as usual, would have to turn to the developed world for food and shelter when the fight for survival begins in the light of global warming.
The focus of leaders on the continent is self benefit, for which reason they fear leaving political power.
The self-seeking spirit is gradually engulfing the whole continent with the populace thinking about what to get from the opposition leader, the government and the state and not what to do for the state.
It is becoming a normal thing for people to wait for the next (their) government for jobs that are not sustainable.
Malaysia, China and Japan are good examples of countries whose natives thought of their nations first and built vibrant economies.
Leaders of those countries created enabling environment for their citizens to create jobs for themselves – incentives for young farmers, loan schemes, start-up capital and tax-free regimes.
Fact is, young people build nations not the elderly. This must be the new thinking. Africa’s leaders must prepare, invest and guide young people to build the continent just as is being done in developed democracies.
Africa must rise. The current generation must assume that responsibility and re-position the continent on the world map. Agriculture, population, sanitation and unity must engage our attention.
By A.B Kafui Kanyi