The continent must not let its historic lift-off moment be stolen from it.
Since the year 2000, Africa has been freeing itself from the curse of bad development and has taken off, with growth at 5.5% per year. The continent’s economic boom has gone hand in hand with considerable progress in terms of governance. Up to now, the emerging dynamic of Africa has managed to fight off the crisis in world capitalism just as it has the impact of the Ebola virus health scare. This is because its growth is broadly based on reducing poverty – down from 50% to 31% of the population since 1990 – on constituting a huge middle class of more than 300 million consumers, and on the increasing power of market forces and civil society.
Since 2014, Africa has definitely been affected by the end of hyper-growth in China, by the fall in oil and raw materials prices, and by its particular vulnerability with regard to global warming. However, it has shown astonishing resilience to external shocks. Growth will reach 4.4% in 2016 as compared to 2.9% for the world economy, and will attain 4.8% in 2017. It has reached 10.4% on average in Ethiopia and exceeds 7% in Côte d’Ivoire, Mozambique, Rwanda and Tanzania.
The real risks, therefore, come less from jolts in the world economy than from internal political developments. There are four perils that face Africa: the rise of radical Islam; the collapse of the state in Somalia, Southern Sudan, Mali, the Central African Republic and Libya; the upsurge of corruption as sadly illustrated by Jacob Zuma, found guilty by the Supreme Court of violating the Constitution by having 20 million euros’ worth of work done on his residence in Nkandia; and, finally, electoral abuses engineered either to prolong the tenure of autocrats (Denis Sassou Nguesso, Congo’s President since 1979, except for five years out of office, Yoweri Museveni in Uganda since 1986, Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe since 1987, Idriss Déby in Chad since 1990, José Eduardo dos Santos in Angola for 37 years, Paul Biya in Cameroon for 34 years, Paul Kagame in Rwanda for 22 years…) or to hand over to populists, as in the victory of Patrice Talon in Benin – a man who could have been fathered by Donald Trump or Silvio Berlusconi.
It is paradoxical that, in Africa as elsewhere, autocrats love elections – inasmuch as they are organised to ensure their victory. The pressure of Islamic terrorism and of the accompanying chaos thus threatens to trap Africa in a tragic dilemma: either absolute power at the cost of renouncing the rule of law in order to guarantee stability; or the freedom of universal suffrage at the cost of corruption and demagogy.
Africa must not let itself be trapped into making a perverse choice between autocracy and disorder. It cannot let autocrats and fanatics steal the historic moment of its lift-off. But in order to do this it needs a long-term stability culture to stave off personal power and corruption.
Economic stability through the modernisation of agriculture, diversification of production, investment in infrastructures and the secure incomes of bureaucrats. Financial stability through disciplined public expenditure as well as a stronger surveillance of public debt which, at 44% of GDP, has increased by 10 GDP points in five years. Judicial stability through the protection of foreign investors, who invested more than 60 billion in 2015, and protection of savings from the diaspora. Social stability through the integration of 27 million young people who come on to the labor market each year. Political stability through the continued strengthening of the rule of law, the necessary counterpart of universal suffrage. Strategic stability by giving absolute priority to the fight against Islamic terrorism which is seeking to expand across the whole continent, from the Gulf of Guinea to Kenya.
Africa may well be huge and diverse, but there is only one configuration that can allow the 54 nations of the continent to make a successful lift-off. For this to happen, they have to reform and ward off the temptation to sacrifice progress in governance to stability, which is as indispensable for civil peace as it is for development.
“When you don’t know where you’re going,” says an old African proverb, “look where you’ve come from.” Africa has overcome slavery, colonization and the curse of non-development. In order to fulfil its promise, it must fight corruption, demagogy and autocracy.
(Published in Afrique Le Point, April 11th)