In the years of strong global growth until the financial crash of 2008, it became a commonplace that Africa was rising, with a growing middle class and strong economic performance in many countries, propelled by the commodities boom. Since then, economic times have been much tougher with growth – 1.6% last year for the continent as a whole – far below the levels needed even to sustain current levels of development. Progress towards full democracy too has become sluggish, with many states practising the form but not delivering on the substance. Although there have been no major conflicts between states, the low intensity but brutal and debilitating informal civil wars in the DRC and South Sudan continue to block the path towards improvement of people’s lives. On average across the continent, unemployment is estimated at 50 percent; life expectancy is under 50 years; 50 percent of people subsist on 4 dollars a day or less. It is reasonable to ask if Africa, rather than rising is reeling towards disaster with debt crises looming and a demographic time bomb ticking.
But not all the news is bad. Technology promises to transform African prospects and there have been a significant number of peaceful transfers of power. There is plenty of evidence for African resilience and striking innovation. There are more desperately poor people in India than Africa but the narrative is very different, even taking into account that one is a country and the other a vastly diverse continent. This conference examined how Africa can return to strong growth once more and build stronger democratic states to enable sustainable development. We examined in particular the case for linking democracy and development.
Convened with the support of the Brenthurst Foundation and chaired by former President of Nigeria, Olusegun Obasanjo, this was an extraordinary gathering of African and international politicians, economists, diplomats, leaders of development and other experts. We focused largely on sub-Saharan Africa. We did not have as many voices from Kenya as we would have liked but the group combined many perspectives.
WHERE WE ARE NOW
Major wars between states look unlikely for the time being but the prospects for internal conflicts within states are more worrying. We should not be complacent. Although Africa comprises 16% of global population, its wars account for more than half of deaths from conflict. In a range of countries, tensions continue to simmer due to tribal and ethnic divisions, xenophobia and as a result of contested elections. The spectre of tribalism also remains, including in South Sudan and Kenya. The battle for power in South Africa around the succession to President Zuma could be another potential flashpoint. Africa is also affected by the growing inequality that we are seeing across the world, with the gap between the rich and the poor growing, at least in popular perception. We should not be complacent on these tensions, just because, as one delegate memorably commented, there is “no blood yet”.
The Democratic Republic of the Congo, South Sudan and the Central African Republic remain vast regions of random violence that make lives precarious and miserable, with any development effort, beyond emergency aid, unsustainable. The surrounding countries have failed to deliver effective solutions and are often part of the problem. Vacuums are dangerous and more needs to be done to contain these conflicts. In Nigeria, Boko Haram has been subdued to a degree but remains a significant threat to stability. Somalia and Libya remain failed states, largely ruled by regional warlords and militias.
ECOWAS has been the most effective regional group in managing conflicts and this was a model to follow. South Africa has failed to lead SADC in anything like the same way, unable to bring itself to put pressure on its liberation-era ally Zimbabwe, despite President Mugabe’s obvious mismanagement of the country. Those who played the race or identity card tended to be covering up their own poor performance.
We acknowledged the extraordinary progress since independence. From 1960 to 1991 there was not a single case of a peaceful transition of power. Since 1991 there have been at least 40 examples and 14 of these since 2005. Africa was doing far better in acquiring the habit of democracy than the Middle East. The African Union’s charter mandates democratic means to power as a criterion for membership and now has to be consistently implemented.
Africa is going to need to do more itself though to sustain these habits of democracy. Since 2001 the West has been more preoccupied with security than exporting democracy, the latter an experiment that had not played out well in Iraq. President Trump was likely to have stability higher on his agenda than the development of African governance, if he thought about Africa at all. The EU and the UK would probably be self-absorbed. There was a need and an opportunity for African leadership.
A powerful case was put forward, and not seriously contested, that, in the long run, democracy was better for economic development. Aid agencies were arguably giving authoritarian countries like Rwanda and Ethiopia too much slack because their relatively disciplined bureaucracies could implement aid programmes better in the short term. Statistics show that autocracies could not self-correct and that transitions of power in autocracies were generally disruptive. This stalled development for a period and thus reduced the compound impact of economic growth over time. The strong consensus of the group was that democracy was better all round for African countries, despite the difficulties. President Kagame’s strengths and achievements were recognised but his model received short shrift from this group, not least since it was not clear that the special, tragic circumstances of a small country, heavily dependent on aid, which had suffered genocide after a generation of inter-tribal pogroms, could – or should – be replicated.
To support the embedding of democracy, more needed to be done to monitor elections. And when election monitors reported irregularities, there had to be concerted action. This had not happened for example on the basis of the Commonwealth election report on Uganda. Africa was in danger of sliding back towards one party rule by a series of small adjustments to constitutions, term limits and electoral rules. It was good to have made old style military coups unacceptable as a means to power but this was compromised if rulers found new ways to cling on to power beyond their legitimate mandates. Technology could help, for example biometrics, but political will was the most important element. Leading by example was crucial. Leaders had to be celebrated when they stepped down. It was crucial to move away from winner takes all politics.
Civil society was improving but needed nurturing. This meant investment in education of citizens. There was clear evidence that countries that promoted gender equality did better economically. The Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative had been successful to a degree: could this be extended to other industries? African states and rulers had to do more to defend and promote a free press, even if this was irksome to them.
We judged that democracy demanded a minimum level of economic performance to be sustainable.
Although growth across Africa overall was 1.6% last year, if the poorest performers – generally those with chronic conflicts and failed states – are subtracted, then growth is a healthier 4%. But this is far from what is required to balance out population growth.
We found potential for a return to strong growth but also many deep seated and structural barriers. Nigeria is just about emerging from recession and the economy is much less energy dependent than it was, at 11% of the economy. Africa remains incredibly rich in natural resources and also, compared with the ageing populations in the West and soon to be ageing population in China, Africa has great human capital.
The barriers to growth are familiar and formidable. There is a lack of both hard infrastructure and soft infrastructure. Hard infrastructure consists of roads, bridges, airports, railways, power plants and the physical buildings to house schools and universities. Africa lacks the transport infrastructure that could underpin regional trade between states and that would allow leaps forward through technology, which depend on reliable power. Regional trade only makes up 11-12% of total trade, very low globally. The infrastructure that exists has tended to follow the model set in colonial times of prioritising linking African states with the outside world rather than with each other.
We defined soft infrastructure as the laws, policies, institutions and capital markets that could enable greater investment. In a world of hyper-low interest rates, there is no lack of money looking for a more profitable resting place but at present many African states lack the government or private sector capabilities to package attractive investment projects and the frameworks to set them within the rule of law. Some of this is down to the old scourge of pervasive corruption. Strong leadership could make a big difference as international companies were looking for new opportunities. Governments needed to create an enabling environment for investment, prioritising one or two sectors initially and then building out good practice to other sectors over time.
The ultimate priority should not be growth alone but “jobs, jobs, jobs”. Africa faces disaster if it cannot offer employment to its burgeoning and increasingly urbanised youth. There was a debate about how far urbanisation would itself prevent the population explosion that current trends indicated in countries like Nigeria. When people moved to the city, birth rates dropped sharply.
China’s relationship with Africa is more complex, broader and deeper than often realised. It also needs to be set in context. China’s biggest foreign direct investments are in the Far East as one would expect. But Latin America receives 18% of Chinese FDI, whereas Africa gets only 5%. This 5% attracts attention as the Chinese are often the only investors for major infrastructure projects. The group was not convinced as a result that these projects were always well prioritised. This was as much the problem and responsibility of African states as the Chinese. Africa needs a more thoughtful and coordinated approach to take full advantage of Chinese infrastructure investment.
The same applies to technology transfer on manufacturing. There are some examples of technology transfer, for example a Chinese funded shoe factory in Ethiopia that is now selling into Europe, but this is not systematic. In addition to Chinese state investment, more than 3000 Chinese companies are now active in Africa. African states should be able to agree deals with Chinese companies that include more technology and expertise transfer.
Chinese investment in Africa should not be seen as a zero-sum alternative to working with the West. African states should be deliberate and strategic in encouraging all foreign investment, working with both Chinese and western companies and governments as appropriate. China should increasingly be seen as another significant player in Africa’s development, not just as a collector of natural resources.
Whilst everyone could see the positive impact of fast developing technologies, there was some scepticism that this could allow Africa to leapfrog significant stages of development. “Africa needs the fourth industrial revolution but also the first, second and third” was one summary comment. Roads, railways, airports and power stations remain essential if the continent is to move forward but these need not always be huge, centralised statement projects.
Mobile technology is very significant in allowing wider access to information, education and financial services. The fast adoption of Safaricom and the mobile payment system M-Pesa in Kenya were noted but also the lack of successful imitators in other countries. It was striking that the technology had not spread virally beyond Kenya. Access to reliable power and Internet access remained major bottlenecks. Cheaper photovoltaic cells would help. Drones were just beginning to have an impact, for example on agriculture, but it is early days.
Technology could support the improvement of government services and make democracy more robust, for example through monitoring of elections, but it could not substitute for political will and basic frameworks. Social media was seen as both good and bad, as in most places. It helped create communities for support, information transfer and informal markets but sometimes these were also echo chambers that could magnify divisions and dangerous identity politics. Africa’s youth offered good prospects of innovation on technology and rapid adoption but if decent economic prospects failed to materialise, a young population linked by social media also offered fertile ground for extremism and radicalisation.
Better regulation of intellectual property was an important subset of the rule of law needed across Africa to enable investment. Nollywood could not develop the Nigerian film industry if all its features were immediately pirated. Cyber security was a growing concern for similar reasons.
Technology poses risks as well as opportunities for Africa’s development of a manufacturing industry. As, around the world, the manufacturing shop floor empties of jobs in favour of robots and jobs stemming from manufacturing become more highly skilled, so Africa must make sure that it does not invest in uncompetitive manufacturing facilities, unless there are clearly identifiable markets for the goods.
Even at best estimates of population growth, Africa needs double digit economic growth to move forward. This is a major challenge and Africa is going to have to do it with most donors increasingly focused on their own worries. But the mood of the group was of resilient and pragmatic optimism.
Further improving governance in African states and reinforcing the rule of law is essential to making Africa an attractive destination for investment and a viable economic partner.
Containing instability and gradually reducing conflict in place like DRC and South Sudan is important beyond improving the lives of the people there. These conflicts undermine the narrative of Africa moving forwards and weaken surrounding states too.
Building on Africa’s human capital, growing skills and empowering women is the foundation for development.
Essential to achieving these obviously desirable ends is better political leadership. It was observed that peer pressure amongst leaders is a surprisingly powerful force. It was incumbent upon current and former senior figures to cajole and encourage leaders of the smaller states to do better and to pressure leaders when they fell short of minimum standards of rule of law and economic competence. The African Union needed to be more supportive of the International Criminal Court or to come up with its own procedures for dealing with human rights abuses. While there is acknowledgement that Western democratic practices and prescriptions cannot always be made to fit with African realities, there is clear evidence from across Africa that better democracy delivers higher and more sustained economic growth: there is, therefore, a need for homegrown representative solutions.
Western governments also need to continue to support the development of both African institutions and African leaders at all levels through training and mentoring programmes.
African states need to develop a much more deliberate strategy towards engagement with China. China’s economic interest in developing economic ties with Africa is a great opportunity but one that Africa at the moment is not maximising. It is for Africa to press for the transfer of technology; to prioritise the right infrastructure projects; and to seek access to Chinese markets.
Improving trade between African nations could make a huge difference to economic growth. There is demand for goods, for example Nigerian noodles are reportedly popular in Angola but transport infrastructure is a bigger barrier than tariffs. Improved coastal shipping would be a significant step forward for many countries.
Despite the hype, technology is a significant opportunity to accelerate growth. Both the exploitation of existing technologies and African innovation through technology to address African problems should be supported. This means better regulation of intellectual property and making venture capital available to African entrepreneurs. Releasing money from pension funds and, in one imaginative idea, by leveraging African national reserves of hard currency, could help.
This Note reflects the Director’s personal impressions of the conference. No participant is in any way committed to its content or expression.
CHAIR: H.E. Olusegun Obasanjo
President of Nigeria (1999-2007) and Head of State (1976-79); Member, Club de Madrid; Member, Africa Progress Panel. Formerly: United Nation Special Envoy to the Great Lakes region (2008-14); Chair, African Union (2004-06); Chairman, Group of 77; Chairman, Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting; Chairman, NEPAD Heads of State and Government Implementation Committee; Nigerian Army.
Mr Jacques Chagnon
Speaker of the National Assembly of Quebec (2011-); Member for Westmount-Saint-Louis (1985-). Formerly: Minister of Public Security and Minister of Education, Government of Quebec.
Mr David Collins CD
Fellow, Canadian Defence and Foreign Affairs Institute (2014-); Director, Conference of Defence Associations Institute; Director, Canadian International Council (Victoria Branch). Formerly: Interim Ambassador to the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan (2013); High Commissioner or Ambassador to Kenya, Uganda, South Sudan, Somalia, Burundi and Rwanda, and Permanent Representative to the UN Organisations based in Nairobi (2010-12). A Member of the Advisory Committee, The Canadian Ditchley Foundation.
Ms Leslie E. Norton
Assistant Deputy Minister, Sub-Saharan Africa Branch, Global Affairs Canada. Formerly: Director General, Southern and Eastern Africa Bureau (2015-16); Director General, International Humanitarian Assistance Directorate, Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) (2009-15).
Ms Kirsten Poon
Partner, Reify Capital (2015-).
Dr Jing Gu
Director, Centre for Rising Powers and Global Development, Institute of Development Studies, Sussex.
Mr Tutu Agyare
Non-Executive Director, Tullow Oil (2010-); Founder (2007) and Managing Partner, Nubuke Investments; Senior Advisor to Power Africa. Formerly: Board of Directors and Head of European Emerging Markets, UBS Investment Bank.
Mr Zyad Limam
Publisher and journalist; Head, AM International (publisher of Afrique Magazine and Afrique Méditérranée Business, Paris.
Ambassador Georg Wilfried Schmidt
Regional Director, Sub-Saharan Africa and the Sahel, German Federal Foreign Office (2014-). Formerly: Head, Division for Asia, Australia, Africa, International Development, Office of the Federal President, Berlin (2009-14).
Mr Jonathan Rosenthal
The Economist (2005-): Africa Editor. Formerly: International Banking Editor; European Business and Finance Correspondent, Berlin; British Business Correspondent, London. Formerly: Bloomberg News, London and Johannesburg; Mining Editor, Business Report (South African daily newspaper).
Ms Katie Sheahan
Associate, Macro Advisory Partners. Formerly: Sub-Saharan Africa Analyst - Country Risk & Financial Markets, BMI Research (A Fitch Group Company); Operational Risk Analyst, BMI.
Dr Katsumi Hirano
Executive Vice President, Institute of Developing Economies, Japan External Trade Organisation (JETRO) (2015-). Formerly: Chief Senior Researcher, Area Studies Center (2012-15); Director General, Area Studies Center (2008-12); Executive Director, JETRO Johannesburg (2004-07); Director, Africa Studies Group, Institute of Developing Economies, JETRO (1998-2004).
Mr Karim Anjarwalla
Managing Partner, Anjarwalla & Khanna; founding Director, ALN network of African law firms; Chairman, Inuka Foundation.
Mrs Isis Nyong'o
Principal, Asphalt & Ink advisory group, Nairobi; Senior Advisor to Albright Stonebridge Group; member, Graca Machel's New Faces New Voices women's leadership network; board member, Rancard (Ghana) and Equity Bank's mobile network Equitel (Kenya). Formerly: management positions, Google Africa, InMobi Africa and MTV Africa.
Dr Obiageli Ezekwesili
Senior Economic Advisor, Africa Economic Development Policy Initiative, Abuja; Co-Convener, #BringBackOurGirls Advocacy Movement, Abuja. Formerly: Senior Economic Advisor, Africa Economic Development Policy Initiative, Open Society Foundations, New York; Vice President, World Bank (Africa Region), Washington, DC; Presidential Advisor in charge of public procurement reforms, Minister of Mineral Resources, and Minister of Education, Federal Government of Nigeria (2002-07); Director, Harvard-Nigeria Economic Strategy Program, Boston and Abuja.
Ms Ebelechukwu Okobi
Public Policy Director, Africa, Facebook; life member, Council on Foreign Relations; Advisory Council member, Alliance for an Affordable Internet. Formerly: founding Global Head and Senior Legal Director for Human Rights, Yahoo!; corporate lawyer, Davis Polk & Wardwell, New York, Paris and London; consumer rights policy attorney, Consumers Union, San Francisco; Senior Director, Catalyst, Silicon Valley and Amsterdam; Market Development Partner for Sub-Saharan Africa, Nike; founding board member, Global Network Initiative.
Ms Brita Bergland
MPhil Candidate in Development Studies, Balliol College.
Mr Gareth Ackerman
Chairman, Pick n Pay Stores Limited, South Africa; co-Chair, The Consumer Goods Forum (Global); co-Chair, The Consumer Goods Council of South Africa; Chair, Ackerman Family office.
Dr Jakkie Cilliers
Chairman, Board of Trustees (2016-), and Head, African Futures and Innovation (formerly Executive Director, 1996-2015), Institute for Security Studies, Pretoria.
The Hon Mmusi A. Maimane MP
Leader of the Opposition (Democratic Alliance), National Assembly of South Africa (2014-). Formerly: Democratic Alliance National Spokesperson.
Dr Greg Mills
Director, The Brenthurst Foundation, Parktown, South Africa (2005-). Formerly: National Director (1996-2005), Director of Studies (1994-96), South African Institute of International Affairs.
The Rt Hon. Douglas Alexander
Senior Fellow, John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University; Visiting Professor, King's College London; Council Member, European Council of Foreign Relations; Strategic Adviser to Pinsent Masons. Formerly: Shadow Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (2011-15); UK Ministerial positions (2001-10), including: Minister for Europe, Secretary of State for International Development and UK Governor, World Bank.
Mr Ian Baharie
Director, CTF Solutions. Formerly: Her Majesty's Diplomatic Service (1982-2016).
Major General Retd Dickie Davis CB CBE
Special Advisor, Brenthurst Foundation; Managing Director, Nant Enterprises Ltd (UK). Formerly: British Army.
Mr Richard Dewdney
Head, Africa Regional Department, Department for International Development (2013-). Formerly: Head, Western Asia Department (2009-13); UK Executive Director, African Development Bank (2005-08).
Mr David Pilling
The Financial Times (1990-): Associate Editor and Africa Editor (2015-). Formerly: Asia Editor, Hong Kong (2008-15); Tokyo Bureau Chief (2002-08).
Mr Henry Sands
Managing Director, SABI Strategy Group.
Mr Xan Smiley
The Economist (1983-): Editor-at-Large. Formerly: Middle East and Africa Editor (2003-14); Europe Editor (1995-2003); Political Editor (1992-94) and 'Bagehot' columnist (1992-95); Washington Correspondent, Sunday Telegraph (1989-92); Moscow Correspondent, Daily Telegraph (1986-89); Middle East Editor, The Economist (1983-86); Editor, Africa Confidential (1977-81; co-owner until 1994).
Mr David Smith
Chairman, British African Business Alliance (2009-); Chief Executive, Rainbow Interchange Ltd (2007-).
Dr Alex Vines OBE
Research Director, Chatham House (2008-); Head, Africa Programme, Chatham House (2002-); Senior Lecturer, Coventry University 2014-). Formerly: Member, Commonwealth Observer Group to Ghana (2016); Chair, UN Panel of Experts on Côte d'Ivoire (2005-07); Member, UN Panel of Experts on Liberia (2001-03); Senior Researcher, Human Rights Watch (1993-2010); Africa Analyst, Control Risks (1990-93).
Mr Anthony Carroll
Senior Associate (Non-resident), Africa Program, Center for Strategic and International Studies; Vice President, Manchester Trade, Ltd., Washington, DC. Formerly: advisor to foundations, universities, corporations, private voluntary organisations, World Bank, U.S. Agency for International Development, regional economic organisations and business associations on trade, investment and development; Assistant General Counsel, Peace Corps (1986-89).
Dr Chester Crocker
The James R. Schlesinger Professor of Strategic Studies, Walsh School of Foreign Service, Georgetown University; member, Independent Advisory Board on governance and anti-corruption, World Bank; founding member, Global Leadership Foundation. Formerly: Chairman (1992-2004) and a Director (1992-2011), United States Institute of Peace; Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs (1981-89); Director of African studies, Center for Strategic and International Studies (1976-80).
Mr Grant Harris
CEO, Harris Africa Partners LLC. Formerly: Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for African Affairs, White House (2011-15); Deputy Chief of Staff and Counselor to Susan Rice, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations (2010-11); associate, Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton LLP; African Affairs Directorate, White House.
Mr Jonathan Paris
London-based analyst and consultant to the United States government (2013-16); Senior Advisor, The Chertoff Group; Associate Fellow, International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation, King's College London; Board member, Global Diplomatic Forum; Member, U.S. Council on Foreign Relations.
Dr Witney Schneidman
Senior International Advisor for Africa, Covington & Burling LLP, Washington, DC; Non-resident Fellow, Africa Growth Initiative, The Brookings Institution; Council on Foreign Relations; Corporate Council on Africa. Formerly: co-Chair, Africa Experts Group and a member of the Presidential Transition Team; Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs.
Dr Christopher Fomunyoh
Senior Associate and Regional Director for Central and West Africa, National Democratic Institute, Washington, DC; Founder, non-profit organisation supporting democracy and humanitarian causes in Cameroon; adjunct faculty, African Center for Strategic Studies. Formerly: adjunct professor of African politics and government, Georgetown University.
Mr Yonov Frederick Agah
Deputy Director-General, World Trade Organisation. Formerly: Ambassador of Nigeria to the WTO; Director of external trade, UTC Nigeria plc.
Dr Namukale Chintu MSc PhD
Executive Director, Proprietary Capital, UBS Asset Management, London (2015-). Formerly: Director andCo-Head Africa, Syntaxis Capital (2014-15); Corporate Banking Associate - Africa, SMBC, London (2010); Equity Capital Markets Senior Analyst, Lehman Brothers and Nomura, London (2008-09); Global Capital Markets Analyst, Morgan Stanley (2007); United Nations Development Programme (2004-06).
Mr Hakainde Hichilema
President, United Party for National Development. Formerly: Chief Executive Officer, Grant Thornton Zambia (1998-2006); Chief Executive Officer, Coopers and Lybrand Zambia (1994-98).
Ms Rutendo Chigora
Rhodes Scholar; MPP Student, Blavatnik School of Government; MBA Student, Saïd Business School, University of Oxford; President, Oxford Africa Society; Chair, Oxford Africa Conference.
Mr Atherton Mutombwera BPharm, MSc
MBA Candidate, Saïd Business School, University of Oxford (2016-17); Louis Dreyfus-Weidenfeld and Hoffmann Saïd Scholar.