An African Perspective on things to come … God willing!


By the FW de Klerk Foundation

In a speech to the Institute of Economic Affairs in Accra, Ghana, on 27 August 2012, FW de Klerk warned that global strategic attention would be increasingly focussed on Africa – and that it would not necessarily be benign. This would require African countries to meet the challenges that a rapidly changing global environment would inevitably pose.

De Klerk praised Ghana for being at the forefront of change in Africa. “Ghana has traditionally set the pace for change in Africa. Your country was the first Sub-Saharan country to gain independence. You opened the way to the rest of the continent and espoused the ideal of African unity. Under your late President, John Atta Mills, Ghana once again assumed a leadership position at the forefront of a new wave of freedom and development in our continent.”

After sharing South Africa’s experience of change management, De Klerk referred to the challenges confronting Africa. He also referred to Paul Collier’s book, “The Bottom Billion” that identified the reasons why a billion people living in some 60 developing countries had failed to break free of the poverty trap. Collier had pointed out that other developing regions had made significantly more progress than Sub-Saharan Africa. “Between 1980 and 2011 South Asia’s Human Development Index improved by 54% – twice as fast as Sub-Saharan Africa’s 27% improvement.”

Sub-Saharan Africa had had a mixed record in dealing with its major challenges:

  • It had made significant progress in putting an end to conflict and, according to the Global Peace Index, was no longer the world’s most violent region.
  • Improvement in democratic governance had slowed down during the past 10 years. According to Freedom House in New York, there were eight ‘free’ countries in Sub-Saharan Africa; 20 that were ‘partly free’, and 19 that were ‘not free’ at all. 2011 had witnessed a continued pattern of democratic decline in the region – with sharp deterioration in five countries.
  • Africa also continued to struggle with human development. The highest ranked Sub-Saharan African country on the UNDP’s 2011 Human Development Index was Gabon at 106th position – while 19 of the bottom ranked 20 countries were all from Sub-Saharan Africa. Only 35% of Africa’s children went to high school and only 6% went on to tertiary education – compared with 43% in Latin America and 25% in East Asia who went to university.
  • African countries had also experienced problems in diversifying and freeing their economies. The highest ranked African country in the latest World Economic Forum Global Competitiveness Report was South Africa – which was positioned 50th out of 142 countries. Botswana had the freest economy in Africa – but ranked only 54th in the world. Also, Africa was still too dependent on external trade, with intra-African trade representing only 13% of the continent’s total trade. Africa’s overall share of world trade had declined from 5.5% in 1970 to little more than 3% now.

However, impressive progress was being made in other areas. According to an article in The Economist last year, “over the ten years to 2010, six of the world`s ten fastest-growing economies were in sub-Saharan Africa” and, more remarkable still, The Economist forecast that “Over the next five years, the average African economy will outpace its Asian counterpart”.

According to De Klerk, Sub-Saharan Africa constituted one of the largest areas of prime real estate in the world. “There are about the same number of people in its 24 million square kilometres as there are in the 3.3 million square kilometres of India. The continent is endowed with enormous mineral resources in a commodity hungry world.”

The Food and Agricultural Organisation estimated that the land area for rain-fed crops could be increased by up to 700% per region – with a potential for the whole continent of 300 million hectares.

Africa’s agricultural potential was attracting enormous foreign interest. “The British newspaper, The Observer, estimates that up to 50 million hectares of African farmland has been acquired by foreign investors or is in the process of being negotiated. This area is more than double the size of the United Kingdom.”

De Klerk said that all this was also changing international perceptions of Africa’s strategic importance. For most of the period after World War II, Africa had been of interest to the great powers primarily to the extent that its newly independent nations were viewed as areas of contestation between the United States and the Soviet Union. With the end of the Cold War, Africa subsided into the global strategic background.

A decade later, Africa was rapidly re-emerging from the periphery of global strategic interest:

  • Access to its mineral and agricultural resources was becoming increasingly essential for Europe, North America and Asia.
  • As a result, the continent was once again becoming a contested area as emerging economic powers – led by China – scrambled for a share of its enormous mineral and agricultural resources.
  • Africa was also playing a central role in the expansion of Islam. Half of the countries of Africa – some 27 nations – were members of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference. They also comprised half of the 54 Islamic states. It was estimated that 45% of the continent’s population were Muslims, compared with 40% who were Christians.

De Klerk concluded that in a world that would be increasingly hungry for natural resources and for food, more attention would inevitably be focused on Africa. It was not by any means certain that such attention would always be benign or that it would be concerned with the best interests of Africa and its people.

“Whatever happens, one truth remains. Global strategic attention will be increasingly focussed on the continent – because of its enormous mineral resources; because of its untapped agricultural potential in an increasingly hungry world; and because of the potential of its people.”

This presented Africa with a special challenge: it would have to continue to meet the challenge of change to ensure that it would be able to protect its turf from outsiders, wherever they might come from.

About Wilhelm Weber

Pastor at the Old Latin School in the Lutherstadt Wittenberg
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