Africa Diary
Africa Diary

POLITICAL TRANSITIONS AND ECONOMIC OPPORTUNITIES IN 21ST CENTURY AFRICA

One of the notable changes to have taken place in Africa over the last three decades is the holding of periodic general elections. In many countries, the elections are held after every five years, and in a few others after seven years. These electoral cycles, administered by independent electoral bodies in each African country, have had the impact of giving Africans the opportunity to elect leaders of their choice.

The continent of Africa has historically been blessed with resources, both human and natural resources. It is home to about 1.4 billion people, 54 countries, and a wide range of precious stones, animals, vegetation, oil and natural gas, and some of the most fertile soils in the world. These resources form an essential component of the historical and much-desired relations that have existed between India and the African continent. The current combined population estimates of India and Africa now stand at about 2.7 billion people, which enhances the need for all parties involved to co-exist and cooperate in several diplomatic and economic realms.

Africa is also a continent on the rise. Since the late 20th century, the continent has witnessed a new sense of optimism, with the former president of South Africa, Thabo Mbeki, leading what is now described as the ‘rebirth of the continent’ or ‘the African Renaissance.’ In President Mbeki’s own words: “Those who have eyes to see, let them see. The African Renaissance is upon us. As we peer through the looking glass darkly, this may not be obvious. But it is upon us.” Indeed, such optimism led to the construction of the African Renaissance Monument in the capital of Senegal, Dakar, under the stewardship of President Abdoulaye Wade, with the work completed in the year 2010.

Following the end of the Cold War in the late 20th century, and the subsequent rise of the neo-liberal agenda, many African countries also transitioned from one-party and authoritarian regimes into multi-party democratic dispensations. Such a transition was a by-product of two main forces, namely: the universal and the local. Universally, the end of the Cold War and the collapse of authoritarian regimes of Eastern Europe provided an impetus for the fall of similar regimes in Africa. Locally, one must acknowledge the agency of African peoples, as individuals and through civil society organizations, to demand accountability and transparency from their leaders. The return of multi-party democracy and neo-liberal economic reforms has led many to argue that Africa is on the path to enjoy the benefits of globalization and modern civilization. This will allow Africans to ‘freely’ trade not only with fellow Africans but also with the international community, of which India has been one of the major trading partners for most African states. For instance, more recent reports indicate that for the 2017-2018 fiscal year, the trade between India and Africa stood at $US 62.66 billion.

One of the notable changes to have taken place in Africa over the last three decades is the holding of periodic general elections. In many countries, the elections are held after every five years, and in a few others after seven years. These electoral cycles, administered by independent electoral bodies in each African country, have had the impact of giving Africans the opportunity to elect leaders of their choice. Under constitutional provisions of their respective countries, they have had the opportunity to either retain the current leadership or to usher in a new set of leaders. While elections in themselves are not the only signal that democracy is being practiced, one must appreciate the progress which many African countries have made to consolidate the democratization process. It is often argued that elections are the most important element of the democratization process. The electoral cycles have provided Africans with several freedoms, including the freedoms of expression, association, and press. These have over the years ensured that there is widespread political competition and participation by most Africans. The elections have also served as a platform to either renew or establish new forms of ‘social pacts’ between the state and the people.

While there have been some challenges in other elections, including elements of pre and post-electoral violence (as in Kenya in 2007-2008 and in Burundi, 2015), concerns about vote rigging and voter apathy, and limited funding of the electoral bodies, these should not derail the progress that many African states have made over the most recent past and will continue to make in the short and long-term. In 2019 alone, there are 23 African countries that have conducted and will conduct general elections. The list includes the most recent elections in South Africa, which retained the ruling African National Congress (ANC) in power, and others such as in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Nigeria, Malawi, Senegal, and Tunisia, just to mention some. This is clearly a sign that the democratization process is being entrenched in Africa.

One other positive aspect of these electoral cycles is that they have increased and improved levels of accountability by most African governments and leaders. This accountability is coming from both incumbent governments and leaders of opposition political parties and their candidates. The notion of ‘accountability’ is an umbrella term which represents such concepts as transparency, efficiency, responsiveness, responsibility and integrity. In many African countries, the leadership is now being compelled to justify a significant number of national-wide policies, development initiatives, and constitutional amendments. The levels of accountability are both vertical and horizontal. The former represents accountability that is championed from ‘below,’ where most of the people express themselves during the periodic elections. The latter (horizontal accountability), is taking place through the checks and balances on the political executive by other arms of government, including the judiciary and the legislature. In many African countries, the practice of separation of powers is clearly being entrenched, where one can witness courts arriving at independent decisions (contrary to the point of view of the executive), and parliaments passing bills without intimidation from the executive.

The African continent is also enjoying an economic resurgence. According to financial and economic growth reports from the African Development Bank (ADB), over the past three to four years, Africa’s general economic performance has witnessed significant improvement. This has happened through a significant increase in net exports by African countries, of which India has been one of the major destinations for Africa’s exports. There has also been an increase in revenue collection in other African countries, others have witnessed an increase in domestic resource mobilization, while others have reduced unnecessary and uncalled for public expenditures and lavish projects. Statistically, for the year 2016, the gross domestic product (GDP) was at 2.1 percent, in 2017 it was at 3.5 percent, in 2018 it was around the same 3.5 percent, for 2019 the projection is at 4.0 percent, and for 2020 it is projected to be at 4.1 percent. As of 2019, due to this general prudent handling of their respective economies, African states are not at risk of a debt crisis. The ones with significant debts to pay back are so far managing to do so as expected. There are also increasing levels of regional economic integration through such bodies as the Southern African Development Community (SADC), the Common Market for East and Southern Africa (COMESA), the East African Community (EAC), the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS), Arab Maghreb Union (AMU), Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), Community of Sahel-Saharan States (CEN-SAD), and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). These bodies have over the years simplified the movement of labor, merchants, capital, and goods within their respective regional economies and parameters in Africa.

These bodies, alongside the African Union (AU) and the international community, have helped to provide checks and balances to African governments and helped to maintain the much-needed security in several African countries. The assurance of peace and security has also been essential to attract foreign or international investors to most of the African countries. The political stability now prevalent in most African countries since the return of multi-party democracy has also been essential in encouraging economic investment and growth, by both local and international investors. The AU, formerly Organization of African Unity (OAU), as a continent-wide African body, is also tasked with the responsibility of ensuring that the Delhi Declaration, a framework of diplomatic and financial cooperation, signed between the AU and the Indian government in 2008, should be upheld. In 2011, the AU and the Indian governments also collaborated to oversee the establishment of the India-Africa Business Council, which over the recent years has been serving as a platform where leaders from both the public (government) and private sectors have overseen the growth of trade and investment in African countries and India. India is also a prominent member of the ‘AU partners group,’ which meets periodically at the AU headquarters, in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. And since the AU was ‘rebranded’ in 2002, the Indian government has periodically sent its representatives to the AU’s annual general meetings. This also served as the foundation for the first ever India-Africa Summit held in New Delhi in April 2008, a summit which is held at the turning point in the relationship between India and the entire African continent. That summit helped to provide the framework of the 21st-century relations between India and the African continent. Since then, follow up India-Africa summits have taken place, including the second summit which took place in Addis Ababa in May 2011, and the third summit which took place in New Delhi in October 2015.

For India, a country enjoying the status of being one of the world’s leading economies, these positive political and socio-economic trends in Africa should provide a lot of excitement and enthusiasm. The Indian government and the private sector, should not hesitate to look towards the African continent as a place to establish more diplomatic relations, revive and strengthen the historical diplomatic relations, and to also to invest and establish businesses in African countries of their choice. The Africa of today significantly needs Indian intervention, expertise, and assistance in such areas as health care provision, tertiary and vocational level education and capacity building, provision of clean water and electricity, mechanization of agriculture, provision of farm inputs especially fertilizer, infrastructural development especially roads and railways, renewable energy, and mineral resource development. India’s intervention is also needed to curb some of the effects of climate change and extreme weather conditions, especially the incidences of drought and high rainfalls and cyclones in some parts of the continent. Such interventions will also be essential in reducing the levels of unemployment in many African states. These jobs will mainly target the continent’s growing young population, with current ADB estimates recommending that Africa in general needs to create about 12 million jobs each year to prevent the significant rise of rates of unemployment. Africa will certainly benefit from India’s so-called ‘multi-alignment foreign policy,’ under current Prime Minister Narendra Modi, which emphasizes on engaging with regional multilateral institutions and the use of strategic partnership. This will not only boost India’s economic development and national security and promote its cultural values but will also be of economic and developmental significance to the peoples of Africa.

In conclusion, it is clear to note, from this discussion, that late 20th century and early 21st century Africa has risen and continues to rise above its challenges to become a continent full of optimism. As the democratization process is being entrenched, through the conducting of periodic general elections, the levels of accountability have also improved. African leaders now operate with more checks and balances that had previously been the case in the first two to three decades after the attainment of independence from colonial rule. One must also not underrate or undermine the role of the international community, both regional and continent-wide bodies such as the AU, in enhancing the security needs of most African countries. In turn, many countries have also witnessed positive economic growth rates, as witnessed by stable growth rates in GDP. Such positive developments should encourage the international community, especially the Indian government and the Indian private sector, to consolidate their diplomatic relations with African states and to take advantage of the vast economic opportunities that Africa provides. Only then can the globalization process be meaningful and worthwhile for the peoples of India and Africa.

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Diplomatist Magazine was launched in October of 1996 as the signature magazine of L.B. Associates (Pvt) Ltd, a contract publishing house based in Noida, a satellite town of New Delhi, India, the National Capital.

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