There is nothing called African culture, African dance or even African food, rather a diverse coexistence cultures and communities. Whereas it’s true that hunger, political instabilities, poverty remains a challenge in some parts of the continent, it’s not the whole story, many African countries have moved forward in these aspects. But like in many developing economies, Africa has the most significant challenge of income inequality to deal with, that said, most parts of the continent remain both political and economically stable.
Over time, Africa has been popular with the wealth of natural resources and an abundance of wildlife. However, there’s a parallel image that depicts the continent as a single country, homogenous culture, helpless, war-torn, poverty-stricken and corruption-infested. “Donate just three dollars/pounds per month……” is a very common slogan used by fundraisers for charity organizations. It proceeds videos and pictures of people in very desperate conditions, often suffering from severe malnutrition or in refugee camps. The phrase is often followed by several promises: a promise to end hunger and diseases, a promise to provide education, a promise to civilize some part of Africa. As to whether these promises have been fulfilled is a subject of unending debate. Questions regarding the operational efficiency, the sustainability of the aid have not been met with satisfactory responses from Non-Government organizations (NGOs), and it is clear that this model isn’t working as expected. Therefore, in an attempt to help the supposedly needy people, a new problem evolved, an image of poor, hunger-stricken, malnourished and uncivilized people was constructed in the minds of the so-called ”generous” donors and indeed the whole world. Rather unfortunately, the fundraisers deliberately continue using such stereotypical content. Paul Vanags, head of fundraising for Oxfam defends it claiming "It's very tempting to put pictures of starving African children on TV because whether or not we like it, that is what gets people to respond at the moment,". Pauls argument leads to an understanding that the acclaimed "generous" western donors are actually psychologically forced to donate: what a contradiction!
Other than the Fundraisers to charity organizations, the Western media also successfully did its part. The continent whose beauty and wealth of natural resources was previously scrambled for is now reported to be at the mercy of paternalistic western donors. Such generic and unbalanced reporting generates unintended consequences. It has hindered investments, hurt tourism – the key tenants for most African economies, and rather encouraged aid. The continuous inflow of aid created a tendency among some African economies to depend on aid and foreign debts. This did not promote self-sufficiency and rather preserved the status quo. However, it is fair to note that not only Africa was subjected to such biased reporting, but it also cut across all countries of the global south. Again, this is not to deny the existence of all the mentioned vices. It’s true that there is poverty, hunger and political instabilities in some parts of Africa, but to associate it with the whole continent is an absolute betrayal.
The good news is that the internet is continuously bringing the world together, such one-sided stories will easily be confronted, and hopefully, the western world will as well access better news.
The Economic Story Untold
Agriculture has predominantly been the backbone of most African economies. This was sustained by the conducive weather and fertile soils. Traditionally, most communities practiced agriculture on a subsistence basis. What was not produced would be attained through an exchange. Over time, a few cash crops were adopted – significantly boosting the farmer's income.
However, the colonization of the continent was a significant game changer. First agricultural labour fell short of supply as slave traders demanded the young and energetic men. And even as the slave trade was abolished in the early nineteenth century, what proceeded was the establishment of large commercial farms with high labour requirements. Slave trade was therefore replaced with other forms of forced labour on the newly established farms. Infrastructure was built to facilitate the movement of raw materials and finished goods outside and inside the continent, respectively. Whereas the newly introduced cash crops raised the level of exports from African economies, the lion’s share of such exports was destined to Europe. When the colonial powers left (IF THEY DID), what was left behind were dysfunctional systems. The Morden Africa states took over broken economies. Many post-independence African leaders fumbled to get their economies on track with differing success levels. Overall, the continent attained moderate growth rates, way behind that in Asia, but equal or even higher than that of many other developing countries in the 1960s and 70s. these growth rates were sustained by a boom in commodity prices and the inflow of aid. The fall in commodity prices in the 1980s left many African economies at the mercy of foreign aid and foreign debts. The debts, mostly from the world bank and the IMF came along conditionalities such as restructuring the economies and cutting government expenditures. The outcomes of such policies are unspeakable. As the situation further deteriorated, chaos and Ethnic conflict’s erupted in some countries, completely paralyzing economic growth.
By mid-1990s, many African economies attained a substantial level of economic, equal to or above their population growth rates. Sub-Saharan Africa (at the exclusion of Nigeria and South Africa) for example grew at 4.2 percent in the period between 1995 and 1999. The period post-2000 has had its ups and downs. Whereas some were local occurrences, others were a result of global phenomenon like the 2008 financial crisis.
However, many countries have made significant strides towards sustained progressive rates of economic growth. The IMF reported that in 2018 Sub-Saharan African countries such as Ethiopia, Cote D'Ivoire, Rwanda, Senegal, Ghana, Benin, Kenya Uganda, Burkina Faso, Guinea, and Tanzania had the fastest growing economies in the world. In fact, six out of the top ten fastest growing economies globally are African. Furthermore, the IMF projections for 2019 shows that at the exclusion of the top two economies, Nigeria and South Africa, and Angola, the average growth rate in sub-Saharan Africa is expected to be 5.7 percent, and 20 countries are expected to grow at over 5 percent for the next 5 years – which is far greater than 3.6 percent global average. Even Nigeria is projected to grow at 2.3 percent, better than 1.9 in the previous year, while South Africa at 1.4 percent greater than 0.9 percent in the previous year. Angola is still fighting a regression.
These are just fast-growing economies but also diversified and hence more resilient economies. Other than the two major sectors, agriculture and mining, the service sector, for example, contributed 48 percent of the GDP growth between 2010 and 2014 (up from 44 percent in the preceding decade). On a similar note, whereas the manufacturing sector remained at just 4.3 percent in the same period, utilities and construction achieved significant expansion to ensure that it generated 23 percent of Africa’s growth, up from 17 percent in the preceding decade.
This trend is not all smooth. There is growing concern about the level of Chinese loans. However, it appears to be part of the current Western-centric discourse - biased against China. Several studies have revealed that currently, the largest payments towards loan servicing ends in western countries. Of course, it can be argued that most of the Chinese loans have not reached interest payment stages, however, projections reveal that even at such stages, the proportion of such expenditure will not rival that of Western loans. Furthermore, most economies in the continent remain dependant on few sectors mostly Agriculture and oil. This leaves them vulnerable to shocks in oil prices, and worst all is the growing effects of climate change on agriculture.
It is also worth noting that just like most developing economies there still exists a wide income inequality in many countries of the continent. Present levels of national savings and investment are still insufficient to ensure a process of accumulation necessary to place Africa on a sustainable growth path. The markets are still small and fragmented, high unemployment levels, among others, remain key challenges.
However, the leaders of the continent seem to understand this challenge (hopefully they act). This is reflected in the establishment of the Agenda 2063 under the edges of the African Union. Agenda 2063 compels African governments to make appropriate investments in significant sectors of the Economy. The African Union has also made significant strides in expanding the market size through regional integration and encouraging programs aimed at boosting Intra-Africa Trade (BIAT), the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) will soon come to force. Furthermore, there is a general consensus on the need to invest in infrastructural development in the continent, infrastructural deficits have been one of the major set-backs to the continent's development. The continent will need to make further investments in the industrial and Agricultural sectors, technological development, ICT and human capacity labour force.
Africa still holds immense potential. In an era where many regions of the world are experiencing an aging population, it is home to the youngest population- a valuable asset. If properly trained, the continent will have a significant pool of labour force needed to drive the growing industrial sector. In 2034, Africa is expected to have the world’s largest working-age population of 1.1 billion. The large working-age population also means more purchasing power and consequently a larger market for good and services.
African economies are also well positioned to benefit from rapidly accelerating technological change that can unlock growth and leapfrog the limitations and costs of physical infrastructure in important areas of economic life. East Africa is already a global leader in mobile payments. Penetration of smartphones is expected to hit at least the 50 percent mark in 2020 from only 2 percent in 2010.
Beyond Wars and Civil Strife
Prior to independence, African communities had a system of leadership based on chiefdoms and kingdoms. The King or chief was considered the supreme leader who collected taxes and acted as the guarantee of security to his subjects. The kingdoms peacefully coexisted forgetting exceptional cases of conflicts especially due to cattle rustling.
The colonial regimes made use of the existing local structures to enforce their rule on the continent. Armed with the policy of divide and rule, the colonialists collaborated with some tribes or chiefdoms against others. This triggered continuous rivalry and ethnic tension among some communities. The Rwandan Genocide, for example, was an extension of these tribal divisions.
The most outstanding impact, however, was the demarcation of the continent into modern day nation states. The boundaries that defined current states were drawn to reflect the political and economic interest of the colonial powers and not the social dynamics of the continent. The outcome were nations with deeply rooted divisions. When democracy was ushered in the deeply divided societies, sectarian politics and a series of military coups was the outcome.
Without a doubt, many African countries still have a lot of work to do on democracy. However, a lot has been achieved a lot in her attempts to achieve peace and stability in the continent. Rwandans have moved forward, progressive leaders in Ethiopia and Eritrea have made peace, and many dictatorial regimes have fallen. Unlike the widely prevalent image, the whole continent is not at war. With the exception of Somalia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Northern Nigeria, northern Mali, South Sudan, Central African Republic and other isolated cases, most of the continent remains relatively peaceful. This breads the necessary atmosphere for investments and higher rates of Economic growth.
African Culture or an African’s Culture?
Africa is undoubtedly the most diverse continents in the world. It is home to different cultures and languages. For example, UNESCO estimates that there about 2000 languages spoken in the continent. The same diversity extends to food, traditional dressing among others. These cultures are not confined to the territorial boundaries of a given country. It is also important to note that these cultures may have some similarities owing to several factors such as intermarriage intermarriages and Intra-Africa migration. Its increasing becoming difficult to define who as African is – of course the Skin colour is very simplistic. The African traditional religion has been the predominant religion. However, this has been relegated to the peripherals owing to the arrival of Christianity and Islam. It is important to note that despite several convergences, these cultures remain distinct in several ways.
In previous decades, many African economies have continuously proved their resilience. It doesn’t go without mention that there has been and continues to be challenges that will have to be worked on. However, the apparently gloomy image of the continent can only be attributed to the shallow and biased reporting. There is nothing called African culture, African dance or even African food, rather a diverse coexistence cultures and communities. Whereas it’s true that hunger, political instabilities, poverty remains a challenge in some parts of the continent, it’s not the whole story, many African countries have moved forward in these aspects. But like in many developing economies, Africa has the most significant challenge of income inequality to deal with, that said, most parts of the continent remain both political and economically stable. Some of the previously unstable countries have shown even stronger resolve to move forward. As the continent puts emphasis on intra-Africa connectivity and infrastructural development, there will be enormous opportunities for both local and foreign investments. n