Action Alert

Africa’s Process of Renewal: Social Reconstruction, Radicalization and Change

Africa’s Process of Renewal: Social Reconstruction, Radicalization and Change
Hafsat Abiola-Costello, daughter of the 1993 annulled presidential election winner Moshood Abiola, at a women's empowerment rally in Nigeria

Every year the annual African Liberation Day, which is observed on May 25, celebrates the independence and liberation struggles of African nations against their colonial oppressors during the mid-20th century. Many African nations fought hard battles to gain their independence from Britain, France and Belgium, but after half a century of freedom, how has the continent faired?

Former United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan recently launched the 2014 Africa Progress Panel Report. Annan views the emergent successes in Africa with a cautious eye, expressing that while he is pleased with the rapid growth the continent has seen over the past few decades, there is still much that needs to be done to ensure that everyone benefits from the economic expansion. Findings of the report show that Africa could potentially eliminate poverty throughout the continent and feed itself through an expanded agricultural initiative. “The average incomes have risen by one third and exports are booming and foreign investments are on the rise.”

The report also points to corruption and the illegal plundering of Africa’s natural resources such as lumber, ivory and coastal fisheries as the primary inhibitors to reducing economic inequalities. Garnering the nickname of the “dark” continent due to the underdeveloped status of many African nations, Africa has suffered from widespread corruption, resource exploitation and lack of security. However, over recent decades there has been significant growth fueled by economic expansion, democratic and human rights reform, and increased global competition for establishing a geo-strategic foothold on African soil.

Moving into the Global Forefront

Although there still are considerable obstacles to overcome, Africa has made rapid progress and has risen out of the shadows and into the global forefront. According to the 2013 Ibrahim Index of African Governance, the ten most populous nations in Africa have all improved in overall governance since 2000. Nations that have made significant gains include: Liberia, Angola, Sierra Leone, Rwanda and Burundi. Countries like Ghana and Senegal exemplify the shift in Africa’s image over the last quarter century from being mired in war, poverty and corruption to establishing democracies, enhancing security and propelling economies.

This transformation is the subject of Dayo Olopade’s new book, The Bright Continent: Breaking Rules and Making Change in Modern Africa. In her text, Olopade affirms that the growth and expansion that is taking place in Africa is not a result of Western aid or International Monetary Fund structural adjustment programs, but rather the outcome of innovation from Africans themselves. “The best solutions are local, developed by people closest to the problem, not bureaucrats in Washington or Brussels: the South African gynecologist who operates out of two shipping containers stacked together, the Kenyan family who take over an abandoned plot of land to grow vegetables to eat and sell.”

Nations such as Rwanda, South Africa, Senegal and Tanzania have also made great improvements in democratic governance and female political representation. According to the Inter-Parliamentary Union, Rwanda actually ranks number one in the world for women represented in government, with 63 percent of their lower House being comprised of women (compared to the United States, which is ranked 84 with only 18 percent female representation in the House of Representatives). The greater number of female representation in the Rwandan parliament has helped pass stricter laws and punishments on perpetrators of violence against women. South Africa ranks fifth on the global list, with 179 seats of its 400-member parliament going to women (45 percent), while Senegal holds the seventh spot with 43 percent of its parliament being comprised of women.  The 21st century has also seen a number of firsts for African women. For the first time in modern history, Africa now boasts three female presidents — Ellen Johnson Sirleaf (Liberia), Joyce Banda (Malawi) and Catherine Samba-Panza (Central African Republic) — who have all taken office post-2005.

Africa is known for its vast mineral resources — harboring 95 percent of the world’s platinum, over 75 percent of its phosphate, and 60 percent of its diamonds. This wealth of natural resource exports coupled with the emergence of new industries has spurred much of the African expansion. In fact, according to The Economist, over half of the world’s 10 fastest-growing economies of the last decade are located in sub-Saharan Africa.  Zambia, Ethiopia and Malawi are just a few of the African countries that have enjoyed growth in income per person of more than 5 percent a year since 2007.

Leading the Economic Renewal

Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country, is leading the economic renewal across the continent. With its expanding industries and crude oil exports, the east-African nation has rocketed to Africa’s number one spot as the continent’s top GDP earner. In 2013 the Nigerian economy was revised and re-estimated (something that had not taken place since 1990) at $510 billion, raising it to the position of the world’s 24th-largest economy and surpassing South Africa’s by nearly $150 billion. Fast growing industries such as mobile telecoms and the filmmaking industry, often called “Nollywood,” have been significant contributors to Nigeria’s financial boom. Whereas in the 1990s the manufacturing sector made up about 2 percent of the country’s GDP, it has grown significantly since and now represents nearly 7 percent. However, these gains have not necessarily signaled greater equity throughout Africa.

Former United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan states that “This progress is laudable, but there are disturbing increases in inequality and poverty which we should all be concerned about.” Despite the rapid growth of economies in Africa, not everyone is reaping the benefits. Many ordinary Nigerians aren’t faring any better than they were before the revised economic figures were released. According to The Economist, “the majority of [Nigeria’s] 170 million-plus people live on less than $1.25 a day.” The poor comprise over 60 percent of Africa’s population, with 72 percent of the youth being classified as poor. Among these groups, young women in rural areas are the poorest and most in need of sustainable economic assistance. Even amongst women, the inequalities across income levels are stark. Affluent women in Senegal are often referred to as “Nana Benz” (due to their preferred choice of luxury vehicle) and do not share the same realities as most. In many African countries, women still occupy a second class status; often by not receiving equal pay for the same work as men, not having the same marriage rights as men, and being subjected to higher rates of domestic violence. School-age girls have lower enrollment rates than their male counterparts largely due to greater domestic duties placed upon girls and less funds being allocated for girls to attend school.

Lack of fair resource distribution and development throughout Nigeria has also fueled sectarian violence in Muslim-dominated Northeastern Nigeria. Violent attacks have recently escalated in the Northeast and have even reached the capital city of Abuja in the form of bus bombings. The terrorist organization Boko Haram has claimed responsibility for many of the attacks and has made international headlines by ruthlessly attacking civilians and students. Women and girls are still being used as tools of war and bargaining chips in ongoing conflicts. The campaign to #BringBackOurGirls — demanding the return of over 200 kidnapped Nigerian schoolgirls — has gained international support and is prompting greater action from the Nigerian government to retrieve the children and stop Boko Haram’s fearmongering.

Nigeria currently ranks 153rd out of 187 countries in the United Nation’s Human Development Index, and unemployment and poverty remain at high levels. While the national GDP has nearly doubled after revision, the GDP per person stands at a dismal $2,700. This kind of circumstance is not unique to Nigeria, for several other African nations also suffer from rampant mismanagement. New studies by the Boston Consulting Group (BCG) and the Tony Blair Africa Governance Initiative show that wellbeing in much of sub-Saharan Africa is lower than it ought to be, given rising average incomes per person.

The Force Behind Stagnation

With several national economies blossoming, why are so many Africans still stuck in poverty? Analysts point to corruption as the overriding force behind the stagnation and uneven development. Africa is listed as the world’s second most inequitable region, behind Latin America. Just as the 10 fastest-growing economies are in Africa, so are six of the 10 most unequal countries in the world. In a recent example of questionable governing practices, South African president and ANC party leader Jacob Zuma has been widely criticized for his recent additions of an amphitheater and welcome center to his personal housing complex in Nkandla, at the cost of $24 million in taxpayer dollars. “Most South Africans reckon that corruption at all levels is growing apace, especially in contracts for public works, where lines to the ANC seem increasingly necessary.”

South Africans are not alone. Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan, instead of rewarding the central-bank governor who raised the alarm over billions of missing dollars in oil revenues, promptly fired him. While the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) assures the public that the missing funds will be accounted for in a pending government audit, in 2011 the Revenue Watch Institute declared NNPC the “least transparent oil company in the world.” A later report issued in 2012 stated that NNPC spent $6.8 billion on fuel imports that were in actuality never delivered. Nigeria has been ranked the world’s 33rd most corrupt country, according to Transparency International’s 2013 corruption rankings.

So what is the solution? Founding chairman of Satya Capital Limited and creator of the Ibrahim Index of African Governance, Mo Ibrahim, says the first step is to focus less on international support and more on African unity. He points to Europe’s Marshall Plan as an example. “While the Marshall Plan was important for Europe's recovery, Europe's prosperity was really built on economic integration and policy coherence. Moving from international aid to foreign investment is progress, but it is not enough.”  Ibrahim stresses increased regional cooperation and integration in order to tackle issues of security and foreign dependence.

U.S. Legislation

Africa is not highly ranked within the U.S. geopolitical sphere. Consequently, there are only a few pending pieces of United States legislation that would assist Africans in realizing their development goals: H.R. 1777 – Increasing American Jobs Through Greater Exports to Africa Act., H.R. 2548 – Electrify Africa Act, and H.R. 3571 – International Violence Against Women Act. These acts seek to respectively align U.S commercial interests with development priorities in Africa, bring sustainable electric power to millions in Sub-Saharan Africa, and increase international protection standards for women across the globe including the African continent. Passage of these bills could significantly assist Africa in not only increasing its GDP, but also enforcing standards and practices that would allow for more equitable development and resource distribution throughout the continent — albeit the ultimate responsibility for implementing lasting reforms will fall upon the shoulders of the African national governing bodies.

Africa is an international rising giant, and African Liberation Day the continent has much to celebrate. African nations have come a long way from the days of colonialism, but the true test of independence in the 21st century will be whether or not African governments and corporations can forsake short-term greed for long-term prosperity. The economic upturn in Nigeria and other countries has allowed for the expansion of international markets, but there must be a corresponding upswing in the rights and protections of Africa’s women and children if significant progress is to be made.

United Methodist Women’s Regional Missionary Initiative

The United Methodist Women’s Regional Missionary initiative was created to address issues of women and youth in developing countries throughout the world. Our regional missionaries in Africa focus on forging relationships with Methodist, United Methodist, ecumenical and grassroots programs that focus on issues of health (particularly primary health care and HIV/AIDS), gender equality, the elimination of violence among women, and support for the uprooted and marginalized. Their dedication helps to spread the values and support of United Methodist Women to areas in Africa where women and children are desperately in need. Greater access and mobility in the political arena, as evidenced by nations like Rwanda and Senegal, offer hope for the future of African women’s struggle for equality. Structural and institutional changes to eliminate chauvinistic practices at the most basic levels of society and government must be undertaken in order to make the dream of African equality a reality. Only with the elimination of all forms of economic and gender-based inequalities will Africa truly be renewed and progress into the 21st century.

Posted or updated: 10/3/2014 11:00:00 PM

Suggested Pages:

*Global Outreach

*Regional Missionary Initiative

*Action Alerts

Take Action

  • Contact your Congressional representative (Congressional switchboard: 202- 224-3121) and urge them to support legislation that will foster more equitable development in Africa. Tell them to lend their support for H.R. 3571 – International Violence Against Women Act (I-VAWA), H.R. 1777 – Increasing American Jobs Through Greater Exports to Africa Act, and H.R. 2548 – Electrify Africa Act.
  • Connect with our African Regional Missionaries to learn more about what is happening with women on the ground in their respective countries and how you can help.
  • Read “Africa Reconstruction and Development,” #6081, pages 780 – 786: The Book of Resolutions of the United Methodist Church (2012).
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