The continent is split between the economic dynamism of Nigeria and Rwanda and the extreme violence that is laying waste to the Sahel.
The destiny of the 21st century will largely be played out in Africa, whether it be in terms of demography, development, global warming or security. Bearing this in mind, Emmanuel Macron’s visit to Mauritania and Nigeria is indicative of the challenges facing the continent and of the two faces it offers up. The visit to Nouakchott was entirely devoted to the fight against Jihadism, three days after the suicide bombing in Gao which seriously wounded four French soldiers and caused numerous civil casualties. This new attack highlights the worsening security situation in the Sahel. On the one hand, Islamic State is increasing its pressure all along the Sinaï-Nigeria axis. On the other hand, operation Barkhane is gaining less and less support from the civil population, whilst the G5 Sahel regional forces (Mauritania, Burkina Faso, Mali, Niger and Chad) are having problems in becoming operational.
In Nigeria, priority was given to the economy and culture rather than to politics – Lagos rather than Abuja. The high point was the evening spent at the New Afrika Shrine – a legacy of the afrobeat legend, Fela Kuti – where Emmanuel Macron launched the African Season to take place in France in 2020. After South Africa, Nigeria is now the largest economy on the continent and Lagos has become one of the 21st century’s “world cities”. It has 20 million inhabitants with a literacy rate of 96% and an average income of over 5,000 dollars per head; it expects to have 30 million inhabitants by 2040.
The demographic issue is unprecedented in history. In 1930, Africa had 150 million inhabitants. Today it has 1.3 billion, of whom 40% are under 15. This figure will reach 2.5 billion in 2050 and 4.5 billion in 2100, i.e. 40% of the world population. The average birth rate is 4.5 children per woman, as opposed to 2.4 in the world as a whole. Furthermore, the continent is particularly vulnerable to global warming, as underlined by the fact that the Sahara has expanded by 10% since 1920.
On the economic front, Africa has undergone a major change since 2000. There has been an annual 5.5% growth rate, the emergence of a middle class that represents 15% of the population, and a decrease in people living on the poverty level from 57% to 43% in twenty years. After coming to a sudden standstill in the early 2010s, growth has picked up again, projected to reach 3.4% in 2018 and 3.6% in 2019. Growth will exceed 5% in a large number of the 54 African countries, with peaks of 8.5% in Ethiopia and 7.4% in the Ivory Coast. Numerous problems remain, linked to the lack of infrastructures, fragmentation of the market, poverty – which affects 550 million people – and fast-rising public debt (up from 30% to 50% of GDP since 2013). But transformation is ongoing: from a windfall economy to a production economy, from an administrated economy to a market economy, and from a neo-colonial economy to a global economy. As proof of this, the most dynamic economies (Ethiopia, Rwanda and Ghana), whilst not being the richest in raw materials, have seen an explosion in exchanges with China, India and Brazil – a sign that they are becoming part of globalization.
Furthermore, the future of Africa must not be thought of simply in terms of emigration, which remains largely internal to the continent – toward the growth centers of Nigeria, South Africa and Tanzania.
Whether development or violence will win the race that is currently going on between them depends entirely on Africans. Economic progress, the rule of law and security constitute a “virtuous circle”. Major reforms are needed in order to stimulate investment, particularly in infrastructures and technology, to reduce poverty, to get rid of the corruption that eats up a quarter of all wealth, and to guarantee civil order – which means refusing autocracy. At the same time, internal integration of the continent will necessarily be speeded up when the continental free trade zone comes into effect (planned for 2019): it covers 44 countries and 1.2 billion consumers and will promote the rise of intra-African trade which today accounts for only 18% of exchanges.
Africa may not need tutoring, but it deserves to be helped, especially by Europe, in its economic take-off – by the creation of a Euro-African development bank –, in developing regional cooperation and in strengthening its stability in the face of the Jihadist offensive. It also represents a formidable source of growth. That is why Europe must commit itself to an overall strategic partnership with Africa which covers security, development, the environment, management of emigration, and management of education – particularly that of girls, which is essential for taking the demographic issue in hand as well as for promoting economic and social progress. Nelson Mandela quite rightly stated that “education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”
(Column published in Le Point, 12th Julys 2018)