Africa in the Affairs of the World.
By Ivor Agyeman-Duah
I partly grew up in my father’s study where there were many book shelves. The result was a consciousness from an early age of what Africa is to me. At graduate level at university and beyond; even specializing in Africa and its role in the affairs of the world, there was the realization that governance had consequences because of the choices that electorates made of leadership including those that were imposed on them. This consciousness also brought me into contact with some of Africa’s leading literary and political leaders.
Since the World Bank released its hypothetical report in 2000: Can Africa Claim the C21st? , many good commentaries as well as controversial ones have emerged.
This book is an inquiry into some of them based on eight countries and looking at how public institutions of governance and individuals connect to economic growth in what is obviously a good discussion time in Africa. I have seen massive infrastructural developments in these countries- from road construction in Nairobi towards the Port city of Mombasa and to the border with Tanzania; Soweto, famous for its 1976 Uprising against human dispossession and poverty is rising from the ashes in terms of infrastructure; of giant Malls in countries of southern Africa as they are emerging in Accra and elsewhere; of new sources of finance capital and trade arrangements previously close to the continent.
If MacKinsey Institute comes out with Lions on the Move, the Chatham House with reports of Africa’s global relevance and the World Bank and IMF talk of 6 of the 10 strongest growth points being in Africa including Liberia, they may be right to an extent and on the determinants used. The multilateral business companies with enormous powers are witnesses and promoters of some of these comforting stories because of the delightfully unexpected revenue reserves that Africa has suddenly become - from telecommunications through to new oil economies. But some of the questions I ask are in the contexts of domestic and global growth: if 90 percent of goods at Malls in Africa are imported for instance- including vegetables and other agricultural products then there is global growth against domestic markets and production which also raises issues of public policy and capacity.
Or issues to do with demographics and growth which are being prominently promoted by the Goldman Sachs economist Jim O’ Neill who previously coined the BRICS- Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa. In the last two years, he has expanded this and even introduced us to The Growth Map - economic opportunities in the BRICS and beyond- what he calls the Next 11 or N-11 which include Nigeria, Indonesia, Bangladesh, Turkey, Vietnam, Egypt and Tunisia . It has been reinforced by Renaissance Capital in London obviously because of the advantages of economic globalization and markets. But we know in the past several months that growth in the BRICS and the N11 have encountered serious problems especially in Brazil where issues of governance failed to match with economic anticipation; we are also realizing in the case of Brazil again that expansion of middle class could lead to greater consumption and growth but the same to revolt and reverse growth as the last couple of months public demonstrations, sometimes very violent, have shown. Egypt’s unsettling system is bloating the evolution of its promise ; China where the growth rate was bound to slow down ; Nigeria whose economy could easily overtake South Africa’s if (and it’s a big one) it gets its energy service to optimum level; Liberia where some few months ago all 25,000 students who sat for the entry university examination failed. The emerging good is thus contaminated with sporadic poison as we also see in the most liberal and historic Eurasia country of the old Ottoman civilization which is today’s modern Turkey. Nothing is certain in the world today but death’s destruction.
Not that I do not believe in some of the characteristics of the growth story especially in relation to Africa. I only feel sometimes that over enthusiasm and lack of focus create misinterpretations. The story of BRICS has slowed down by way of their perceived powers. Africa has its strongest moment of positive global engagement in post-colonial times these days notwithstanding.
It is in this vein that Charles Robertson, Chief Global Economist of Renaissance Capital argues passionately that: the number of young Chinese is going to drop by 20 to 30 percent this decade and hence an experience of double- digit wage increases slowing growth. He says that as well for parts of South Asia but that Sub- Saharan Africa’s demographics will be very good for the next 30-40 years since there will be more youth in Africa than in East Asia.
That could be misleading. The populations of China, India, Malaysia and Indonesia alone make over a third of humanity. We cannot also trust populations of themselves since they are not constants. Life expectancy according to the African Union is about 48 years in Africa. In South Asia it is 66 years and in East Asia and Pacific over 74 according to some multilateral institutions. We can ask of the nature of the African youth we envisage- their skills profile, education and technical ambition and the fact that they also die young. There is projection of Indian, Korean and other Southeast Asian students overtaking the US and Europe in the sciences. There are huge specialized institutions such as the Indian Institute of Technology modeled on MIT and which at one time had, through concurrent affiliation, Harvard Business School faculty - one third being Indians - as their faculty members too. Of the unprecedented number of private universities licensed in Africa in the last decade and beyond, is there a regulated mechanism to tailor some towards developmental needs , notwithstanding their positive existence?
What I do not forget in this comforting story of Africa’s global attraction is the role of its private sector. In the early 1990s, Mr. Ken Ofori Atta and others came home as alumni of Wall Street in New York to establish Databank Financial Services ; others from the City in London used their international exposure to establish other institutions and brokerages connecting to modern economies and stock exchange systems – some that I know contracted finance capital for infrastructure including a shopping Mall in Accra ; similar things happened in Nigeria in what undoubtedly was a small private sector renaissance. The reforms in the Nigerian banking sector led to the competitive spirit in Ghana’s. Ken and his generation established the West African Enterprise Network to further pursue some of these strands in the 1990s by which time The Financial Times had also dabbed them- The Databank boys even when they had lost their boyhood.
Today, whenever I see the imposing Databank office with the inscription To God Be the Glory, I know how complete humility, good education and perseverance are to nation-building . I was glad when he agreed to be the Guest of Honor since this book addresses part of the issues and part of the solutions their generation, our generation, proffered.
I will also like to thank the Vice Chancellor of the University of Ghana and one of Africa’s leading economists, Prof. Ernest Aryeetey . We worship at Christ Anglican Church at Legon and one of constant taught lessons is to be each other’s keeper . His presence is a testimony of obedience.
When we agreed to the British High Commissioner as guest speaker, I asked Elsie Owusu the London based distinguished Ghanaian architect- who recently designed the United Kingdom’s Supreme Court building and Director of JustGhana to initiate that. She is an OBE – Order of the British Empire and also told her to remember, if it will help at any point, that my maternal grandfather was an MBE- Member of the British Empire. I do not know if these play-ups were useful in her persuasion but at least we have the High Commissioner here at the British Council auditorium. ↄ
Bookcraft Publishers of which Bankole Olayebi is the founder is based in Ibadan and one of Nigeria’s leading publishing houses. Their list of publications is indeed high profile. Welcome to Ghana and to this evening’s programme which is also your labour.
[Remarks given by the writer at the British Council to mark the launch of his book, Africa- A Miner’s Canary into the 21st Century- Essays on Economic Governance published by Bookcraft(Nigeria) launched by Mr. Ken Ofori- Atta, Chair of Databank Financial Services, with HE Peter Jones, British High Commissioner as Guest Speaker and Prof. Ernest Aryeetey, Vice Chancellor, Legon as chair. ]