Over the last decade and a half, ‘hopeless’ Africa has become Africa rising – at least economically. Unfortunately, this rise has carried few Africans with it. One of the biggest culprits is illicit financial flows. Moreover, democratic culture is not sufficiently strongly entrenched to enable civil society to protest effectually. What can philanthropy do to change this? Though it might seem an overwhelming challenge, it has to adopt an approach which tackles the continent’s major problems holistically – what I call a systems-wide approach.
There is broad consensus that Africa’s major failings have been threefold; first inconsistent and unpredictable policies/strategies; second, inadequate institutional frameworks for deepening a rules-based democracy and for managing inclusive economic growth; and finally lack of a vibrant citizen culture. These things need to change urgently; in particular, the broader participation of citizens in nation-building processes needs to be secured. Such a process must go beyond waving the flag when an important dignitary is visiting, listening to speeches on national days such as Independence Day, and periodically participating in elections that simply recycle elites and make little difference to policy. Democracy needs to be embedded as an everyday practice and should include deepening the scope of participation on national issues, safeguarding not only the right to vote but also the right to a decent existence.
Limited benefits of economic growth
In the economic governance sphere, African countries urgently need to develop their own national savings accounts. Recently, there has been renewed optimism over Africa’s economic future. The Economist, which characterized Africa as ‘the hopeless continent’ in 2000, devoted an entire issue to ‘Africa Rising’ in 2013. Since 2000, there has been sustained growth, driven by a prolonged commodity boom, which was itself driven by increased demand, especially for oil.
However, despite the fact that Africa is rich in minerals and other natural resources, the majority of its people have not benefited from the exploitation of these resources. Recent economic performance has not generated enough economic diversification, job growth or social development to create wealth and lift millions of Africans out of poverty, maybe due to the lack of integration between downstream and upstream industries that can add value to the primary goods currently driving the boom.
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