The future of Africa

By the instrumentality of collective faith and work, Africa will become the best place to live and do business”Femi Oni

 

Prologue
This is a clarion call. The purpose of this thought piece is to consider the knotty issue surrounding the future of Africa. For a continent that is home to the world’s poorest and a pocket of war torn countries, it has become increasingly crucial for citizens and people of African extraction as well as well-wishers to think more broadly and act decisively about dealing with the massive challenges facing Africa at this time because what happens in Africa will not stay in Africa. If this presentation should achieve anything, it should be to provoke this reader that the time has come for Africa to live up to its true potential. There are questions begging for answers.

 

Africa is not a country.
By the end of 2013, the total population of Africa stood at 1.1 billion. This accounts for about 15% of the world’s human population. The continent is the world’s second-largest and second-most-populous continent. At about 30.2 million km² (11.7 million sq. mi) including adjacent islands, it covers six percent of the Earth‘s total surface area and 20.4 percent of the total land area. The continent is surrounded by the Mediterranean Sea to the north, both the Suez Canal and the Red Sea along the Sinai Peninsula to the northeast, the Indian Ocean to the southeast, and the Atlantic Ocean to the west. It has 54 fully recognized sovereign states (“countries“), nine territories and two de facto independent states with limited or no recognition. Let us consider how Africa is perceived across board and what would be considered the home truth.

 

Myths meet facts.
Depending on who you are speaking with, Africa is seen in different lights. In a rather unrealistic manner, Africa is still perceived as being in a neolithic arena. Those who hold this view probably imagine a place littered by organisms that bear more resemblance with unevolved Homo habilis (monkeys and baboons) than to the fully evolved Homo sapiens specie. Some others have compared Africa to a “dark continent”. Why this is so may not be unconnected to the fact that majority of Africans live in darkness literarily. According to USAID, 600 million people, representing 70% of the population of Sub-Saharan Africa are without electricity. There are many myths about Africa that are nothing but fictions but what is the truth is that the continent is behind with respect to many development indicators. In 2013, Africa was the world’s fastest-growing continent at 5.6% a year, and GDP is expected to rise by an average of over 6% a year between 2013 and 2023 yet, real development has eluded the continent. Why is this?

 

What is wrong with Africa?
According to the United Nations‘ Human Development Report in 2003, the bottom 25 ranked nations (151st to 175th) were all African. This in spite of the abundance of resources that the continent is blessed with. The number one Millennium Development Goals (MDG) of the United Nations bothers on eradicating extreme poverty and hunger. African countries are high up on the list of countries needing support. As of January 2012, the Heavily Indebted Poor Counties (HIPC) Initiative had identified 39 countries (33 of which are in Sub-Saharan Africa). More than 90% of the yearly budget of the African Union comes from external international donor agencies. This is despite the fact that Africa has 20% of the global total land area. Some have described Africa as a paradox. Harsh as this might sound, it is true. Majority of African states are technologically backward. While the developed economies of the world have since evolved beyond industrialization (they now talk of internet of things), the productivity of the African states is simply heart breaking. We are far from where we ought to be. What are the strategic issues responsible for the low balling status of the African continent? How can we move Africa forward?

 

There are multiple views on the reason why Africa is where it is. Two conflicting views arise. The first is the ‘Heart of Darkness’ narrative led by Joseph Conrad. This is based on a proposition that ties in with the earlier narrative of Africa as a ‘dark continent’. This narrative also ties into the failure of leadership and the wanton moral decadence on the part of Africans and those who lead them. The other narrative is based on the ‘Horrors of Colonialism’. This wing is represented by writers such as Walter Rodney, Chinua Achebe and Adam Hochschild who insist that too much has been made of the psychological aspects of Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, and not enough about the horrors of colonialism. Both sides have very strong narratives which at different times make sense. There are ample reasons to affirm that Colonialism underdeveloped Africa. Equally, there are sufficient points that support the backward tendencies of the African people and its leaders. Whichever school of thought you lean on, one thing is certain, the time is more than ripe for Africa and Africans to determine the course of their joint and several future.

 

Some have suggested the establishment of a ‘United States of Africa’ as a silver bullet to the problems that confront the continent. Those who peddle this proposition also support the harmonization of the economic policies of the continent. At different times, they suggest that Africa should have centralized organs and a uniform currency. They even muse the possibility of a central government. Other times, they suggest a sort of continental federation arrangement. However, for all practical purposes, such views are at best famed textbook theories. They probably mean well but forget too quickly that Africa is not a country. The solution to our many challenges lie with us; Africa and Africans making the choice to rise above the challenges that beset us. This realization makes it imperative for us (individuals, corporate entities and governments) to collaborate across all divides. This is Africapitalism.

 

The future from here.
If we are going to talk about the future of Africa, perhaps we might want to consider the future of the world from a non-galactic vantage point of view. One thing is sure and that is the fact that the fundamentals won’t change. This is another way of saying that productivity was, is and will be the principal defining factor for development. Whether through the lens of David Ricardo’s theory of comparative advantage or Micheal Porter’s theory of competitive advantage cum shared value or proponents of disruptions now led by Clayton Christensen or the gospel of conscious capitalism and social enterprise, productivity is the ultimate leveler.  The future is exciting if what is happening at the moment is anything to go by. Just imagine the productivity impact of 3D Printing. Henry Ford; one of the titans of the industrial era who established the modern factory would wish to be alive today. The tools at our disposal are nothing compared to what will be developed. However, if the rest of the world basks in this euphoria, Africa must not be caught lagging. If care is not taken, the negative productivity gap that currently exists between Africa and the rest of the developed world will widen. The implication of this will mean unbridled suffering for the masses of our people. It must be clear to all and sundry that we are very much far behind and there is no time to waste. The route to sustainable development is productivity not mere growth.

 

Epilogue
For Africa and Africans to rise above the shackles of the many debilitating challenges that threaten our future, all hands must be on deck. There is a part to play by all and sundry. There is absolutely no time to play the blame game. We have the opportunity to recalibrate our future as we pull together all we have and match forward into a future that is no longer a distant prospect. We must set forth at dawn. While we need all the help we can get from well-wishers in the international community, we must be weary of handouts that mortgage our future. Africa and Africans must determine the future of the continent. Failure to do this will be tantamount to us being our own worst enemy. From the foregoing, the question about the future of Africa isn’t as knotty as it may seem. It isn’t as bleak as many naysayers and voice(s) of reason portray it. The future of Africa is simply at the mercy of those who dare to dream.

 

Africa is rising. Are you?

 

This post was originally published via The Gennesaret.

Femi Oni

Femi’s overarching purpose is to inspire brands (individuals, organisations and nations) to unlock potentials to achieve sustainable growth and impact. His mission is to mentor 1000 brands in Africa and beyond by 2025.

Specialties and Interests: Business Model Design & Innovation, Visioning, Strategy Design & Execution, Project Management, Change Management, Strategic Branding, Operations Excellence, Process Modelling, Product Management, Productivity Management, Entrepreneurial Leadership (Startups), Cybernetics, Social Evangelism, Education, Sustainability, Governance, Risk & Compliance (GRC).