First, the good news
Let us first review the progress that has been made over the past decade. Africa’s economies, the report tells us, have been growing faster than those of almost any other region and at twice the rate of the 1990s. “Improved economic management has contributed to the growth surge,” the report says. “Exports are booming and export markets have become more diversified. Foreign direct investment has increased by a factor of six over the past decade. Private entrepreneurs have emerged as a dynamic force for change, driving innovation and transforming outdated business models.”
A middle class, with all the characteristics of that class everywhere in the world, has clearly been emerging, although the report cautions that its size is often exaggerated.
Most significantly, for the first time in over a generation, the number of people living in poverty has fallen; fewer children are dying before their fifth birthdays and more are getting into school.
“Young and not-so-young Africans are embracing new technologies that provide information, expand opportunities and connect people to one another and the outside world,” the report points out.
In terms of political maturity, the report says that while there have been setbacks and episodes of political violence, democracy is growing deeper roots and governance standards are improving.
Quite clearly, the spread of information technology and the easy availability of news and opinion from all corners of the globe has meant that the monopoly on information – a stock in trade for autocratic regimes – no longer obtains. People can no longer be easily hoodwinked or deceived by elites.
The boundaries of ignorance, under which despotism and tyranny thrive, are being pushed back. The grip of superstition, often deliberately applied to create fear and induce obedience, is being slowly loosened. While pockets of autocracy remain, dictators are finding themselves being isolated and pushed into corners. Increasingly they resemble dinosaurs whose time has long passed but who continue to flail about them in an effort to prolong their lives. But time and tide have turned against them and they will be swept away as surely as the monarchies and tyrannies elsewhere have been blown away into the dustbins of history. The sooner they go, the better for all concerned.
In his foreword, Annan reiterates Africa’s progress. He states that through the convulsions of the global economic crisis, “to the surprise of many, Africa has mostly stood tall. The majority of its 54 countries have weathered the recurrent financial and economic storms and have continued to impress as they traverse the road to recovery. A few,” he points out, “have even been able to take their place among the top performers in the economic growth league.” Ghana, for example, is the fastest-growing country in the world and has outperformed China, India and Brazil.
Annan adds that there has been encouraging progress towards some of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). “Most countries have registered growth in education, child survival and the fights against killer diseases such as HIV/AIDs and malaria.”
Interestingly, I attended a meeting during which the vice-president of the Japan International Cooperation Agency, (JICA), Kiyoshi Kodera, was outlining the organisation’s new priorities following a change at the top leadership. Discussing its activities in Africa, he said the agency would be examining its role in supporting African nations, ‘post-MDGs’. He admitted that when the MDG targets were first set in 2000, few believed they could be achieved “because the plan called for African countries to register growths of 7% per annum and this seemed impossible at the time. But it has happened!”. It has happened despite the fact that Africa’s international partners, who had loudly pledged billions in support, seem to have gone missing when asked to put their hands in their pockets.