Things fall… into place?

After another rigged election in Zimbabwe put the world’s pariah Robert Mugabe back in the governmental hot-seat ahead of challenger Morgan Tsvangirai, onlookers would be forgiven for thinking that little changes in Africa. A common approach to Africa is to view the continent as just that, a conglomerate of countries where no one nation stands out from the crowd and the many varied and distinct tribes merge into one race – ‘Africans’. A people deserving of our sympathy, aid, and money but not, it would seem, much of our attention. In reality, rival inhabitants of the same country can in fact be as different as Turks and Norwegians, as was evident in Sudan until 2009’s historic secession of the South. The peoples of Africa are rich and diverse and, with recent Chinese investment beginning to pay dividends, could soon be rich in the conventional use of the term too. With appropriate management and the mobilisation of a strong population, a sleeping giant may be waiting to break onto the global scene.

Several years ago, the soon-to-be nonagenarian Mugabe stated that he would rule his country until he was a hundred years old. Upon taking his seventh oath of office this summer, that prospect is beginning to look increasingly likely. So say he achieves his goal and dies in office after eleven more years of corruption and strife, leaving behind a country and continent deeply affected by his reign. What will this Africa of 2025 look like? How will the undoubted influence of China have altered the nations within it? Will we in the Western world begin, finally, to acknowledge sub-Saharan Africa as a genuine world power?

In July of this year, African leaders pledged to reprioritise agriculture in their national policies and increase state spending to end hunger across the continent by the quarter-century mark. Despite strong economic growth across many parts of Africa in the past decade, almost a quarter of a billion people – nearly one in four – remain undernourished, with 40% of that number less than five years old. However, African leaders recognise the importance of the opportunity they now have to significantly reduce this number, citing the model of Brazil as an example of how effective strategy (in this case job creation and increased support for farmers alongside an increased minimum wage and enhanced cash transfer programme) can yield inspiring results.

The role of women was also considered at the summit meeting, with a pledge to give the gender that represents 70% of Africa’s agricultural workforce more access to land and credit – something they have been crying out for for decades. With a targeted increase in the use of technology mooted as a means of encouraging young people to work in the agricultural sector, the plan (on paper at least) looks to at last be coming together. Those on the inside see it too, with an interesting article from Jakkie Cilliers in a 2010 issue of The African noting that ‘investment is soaring and infrastructure spend is evident in the larger capital cities, wherever you travel on the continent’. African leaders will be tested by the rise and rise of an increasingly informed and restless urban population, and as the continent begins to take real control of South-South trade routes the future begins to look brighter and brighter. New emerging powers drag Africa along with them as they grow, its minerals and resources providing a ticket to development that isn’t merely an adjunct to former colonial powers.

Following the impact of the Cold War on African politics, the continent has remained something of a battleground for warring global powers, and the potential of international engagement to diffuse or stimulate conflict will be influential with regards to the political and economic status of Africa in a decade’s time. Climate change too will dent Africa’s aspirations, and Africa’s lack of educated middle-class citizens means there’s nobody to push for democratisation and marketization. These varying factors will have plenty of sway when it comes to Africa’s future, though it is the actions of tyrannical leaders like Mugabe that will ultimately decide the continent’s fate.

That, unfortunately, is a worrying prospect. The Maputo agreement of 2003 was supposed to commit African governments to spend 10% of national budgets on agriculture and increase productivity by 6%. Unsurprisingly, perhaps, only 10 countries achieved this goal. If the next decade is to be more prosperous, those responsible need to be held to account and implementation must come to the forefront. With leaders like Mugabe, however, such an enterprise looks like something of a pipedream. It is up to the people of Africa and indeed the world at large to change that.

            For further reading, consider Richard Dowden’s excellent ‘Africa’ – a thoroughly accessible examination of the continent’s past, present and future.