In this article, the authors argue that in order for Africa to attain her full development potential, it is necessary that the region’s leaders take questions of regional integration and security much more seriously, placing them at the forefront of their agendas. The role of aid dependence is also challenged and the new flirtation with China, particularly given the current non-critical embrace of Chinese support, is also seen negatively. The authors stress the need for African leaders to foster accountability and become accountable themselves – both to their citizens and to the international community. Whether or not this can be achieved depends on whether the leadership can adopt a self-critical analysis of the continent’s problems and begin to revise the current negative narratives about the continent.
Africa; regional integration; security; economic development; international relations
With vast mineral resources, a large young population and a large geographical area, Africa is a land full of immense potential that is yet to achieve modern development. Decades after the end of colonialism, many African countries still rank among the poorest in the world.
The aim of this article is to explore unique areas that the African Union (AU) and its individual member countries could give more focus to in their quest to foster development. In broad terms, these areas include security, governance and regional integration, in addition to addressing, among others, questions of fragility and international relations, notably those between China and Africa.
The humanitarian crises caused by civil wars in Africa are too large in scope for an adequate and effective continental response. The founding of the AU and the drafting of the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) doctrine – the basis for collective action against genocide, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity – make this a critical time to reflect on how best to address regional conflicts.
Therefore, in this context an African Security Architecture needs to assess Africa’s regional security arrangements and provide new policy recommendations for the future. Given the unpredictable nature of conflicts and instability in the current global political climate, focus should be on those tasked with overseeing the R2P. The creation of a sustainable continental security architecture is a vital component of Africa’s development and positioning on the global stage.
Fukuyama defines governance as ‘a government’s ability to make and enforce rules, and to deliver services, regardless of whether it is democratic or not’.1 Experiences vary so widely in Africa that one can only speak of democratizations in the plural. Though most African countries were granted independence under a multiparty system, military rule and one-party states typified Africa’s regimes soon thereafter. Some underwent crippling civil wars, from which only a few are beginning to emerge.
After 1989, the continent witnessed a sudden resurgence of democracy, with the vast majority holding multiparty elections, albeit of widely divergent quality. In some, dictators peacefully ceded power to elected opposition leaders; in others, ruling parties controlled the process to ensure they stayed in power; while in a few cases military coups reversed previous gains. Even if the results were often disappointing and short-lived, the continent was swept by a wave of democratization, unseen for a generation2 in the 1990s.
Some authors, such as Osabu-Kle (2000), maintain that pre-colonial African societies were largely democratic. For a century or more, the aim of colonialism was to extract wealth, which was obtained through domination and imperialism. It was, as Berman (1998) reminds us, ‘an authoritarian bureaucratic apparatus of control, not intended to be a school of democracy’ (329). Since Africans were not considered capable of rational and intelligent deliberation, colonial powers did not envisage independence for generations, and neither did they intend to give local people a say in how they were governed. It was not until after World War II that Europeans realized they could no longer maintain control over their colonies. Most African countries, especially those under French and British control, were hastily granted representative governments in the years leading to independence. With the exception of the former Portuguese colonies, ‘[f]ormal democratic institutions were part of the decolonization pact’ (Young, 1999: 16).
Though independence struggles’ ‘democratic outlook’ conferred the former colonies international legitimacy (Young, 1999: 17), nationalism was not, for the most part, a liberal movement (Chazan, 1993: 75). Independence leaders aimed more to seize the state than to reform it or to follow western political models. These new leaders initially received substantial popular support from their masses in recognition of their anti-colonial struggles, which they used to articulate a political vision far more authoritarian than initially presented. Thus, amid jubilation and hope for the future, many African countries gained their political independence in the late 1950s and 1960s with fierce ambitions of nation-building. In the early years, African countries made remarkable progress: per capita GDP grew and marked improvements were recorded in social indicators such as life expectancy, mortality rates and school enrolment (Meredith, 1985).
However, with increased internal pressure for change and demands for democratization in the 1980s, the euphoria was short-lived, as dreams of independence soon faded. According to the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA), since the early1990s, ‘Africa has been experiencing a major ground swell of political change with the people of the continent taking resolute steps to demand participatory and democratic systems of governance’ (UNECA, 2000). Good governance and public sector management are central to development and constitute the primary means for social transformation. When combined, they constitute the cornerstone for successful economies. The realization that good governance is central to development has eventually led Africans and African leaders to acknowledge past errors, and some ‘have resolved to make governance apparatus operate better and efficiently …’ (UNECA, 2000: 1).
In the African context, while some have argued that federalism has the potential to accommodate ethnic, religious and racial diversity, others – including most of Africa’s independence heroes – have posited that federalism exacerbates division and enmity, leading to fragmentation and ultimately the collapse of the nation-state. Overall, however, it is debatable whether federalism may in and of itself contribute to accommodating diversity or exacerbate antagonism (Davis, 1978).
Regional integration is seen as a rational response by a continent characterized by several landlocked countries and many small national markets. With ambitious targets, many of the regional integration schemes have poor implementation records. Part of the problem lies in following the linear market integration model, and this is the reason why African scholars and policymakers generally agree on the need for African Unity, although differences exist among them on the level, strategy, ultimate goal of unification and scope of cooperation (Seidman and Anang, 1992).
The issue of African Unity has always been a contentious one among Africa’s political elite. While Pan-Africanists favored political integration as a prerequisite to economic integration, gradualists such as Jomo Kenyatta of Kenya favored a more gradual approach. They perceived regional institutions as stepping stones for the unification of the continent, and thus with the phasing out of Pan-Africanist ideas the neo-functional theory of integration has dominated Africa. The transformation of the former Organization of African Unity (OAU) into the current AU demonstrates Africa’s leaders’ determination to further integrate Africa and effectively address her challenges. Although the transition from OAU to AU showed the commitment to integration, a myriad of problems were encountered, such as the ever-present problem of uneven distribution of benefits and costs of integration. Whether real or perceived, this has been a major bone of contention in the organization. Another problem has been deficiency resulting from institutional proliferations as evidenced by 200-plus regional integration organizations – leading to overlapping and lack of coordination, incompatible and conflicting objectives and thus divided loyalties that stretched the human, administrative and financial resources.
Since independence, Africa has embraced regional integration as an important component of its development strategy and concluded a large number of Regional Integration Arrangements (RIAs). The African approach is that of linear market integration, following stepwise integration of goods, labour and capital markets, and eventually monetary and fiscal integration. The starting point is usually a free trade area, followed by a customs union, a common market, and then the integration of monetary and fiscal matters to establish an economic union. The achievement of a political union features as the ultimate objective in many African RIAs.
Africa has experienced challenges in the process towards deeper integration and even political union. Ambitious schemes with unrealistic time frames have made evident the gaps between political ambitions and economic reality. Nevertheless, African countries have contributed to a proliferation of regional trade agreements, a defining feature of global economic governance in recent decades. Despite the many ambitious integration initiatives that have not been effectively implemented, member states of SADC, EAC and COMESA have embarked on another ambitious integration programme referred as the Tripartite FTA (T-FTA).
This grand integration initiative has followed a course rather different from other regional integration initiatives in Africa. The T-FTA will be anchored on three pillars, namely, market integration, infrastructure development and industrialization. These pillars appear to capture key challenges that limit the competitiveness of African businesses, her own integration achievements and the integration of African economies into the global economy.
Development, underdevelopment and marginalization in Africa
Development can be described as good change, the achievement of which can be regarded as a general good for the society (Chambers, 1983). It can be, in terms of general improvement or progress, modernization, social change, economic growth and development, improved living standards and people’s well-being or even satisfaction of human needs. For a nation, it may also entail low levels of unemployment and poverty, equality, good educational and literacy levels.
Owing to regional trade blocks, increased trade between African countries in recent years reduced trade tariffs and travel barriers and improved roads and infrastructure such as the Mombasa port in order to enable land-locked countries (such as Uganda) trade and access to the Indian Ocean. Liberalization of trade within Africa, as opposed to outside Africa, would substantially improve the welfare of Africans (UNCTAD, 2013).
Politically, it is evident that many African countries are embracing democracy, albeit there is still quite some way to go before they can be said to have reached an ideal stage. More and more people feel that they can air their views on matters of development and this also helps leaders have a sense of what citizens want. Civil societies and the media also play a crucial role in opening up communication channels between leaders and citizens. With increased participation of international institutions, the level of integrity among leaders is enhanced, though not to the desired level.
The international community also helps keep in check leaders who commit injustices against their people. This role cannot be underestimated as it sets the stage for globalization and hence opening up the continent to new opportunities such as increased trade with the outside world, increased Foreign Direct Investments (FDIs), more options for trade partners, and improved human welfare due to decreased injustices owing to international laws. What is still contested is the enormous inequality in resource allocation, such that certain regions are still not as advanced in terms of infrastructure or resource allocation as others. This problem can be attributed to partiality in leadership, whereby some leaders favour some regions over others as opposed to developing the entire country.
Underdevelopment in relation to development has no clear definition and can only be looked at from a comparative and economic point of view. It is a relative concept whose indicators include low production levels in a country, high unemployment levels and lack of technological advancement. Causes of such underdevelopment are varied, and include political instability (as is the case in South Sudan and Somalia) and ethnic tensions.
Humanitarian assistance vis-à-vis development aid
Humanitarian assistance is informed by the need to help out during and in the immediate aftermath of disasters through activities designed to save lives, alleviate suffering and protect human dignity. Humanitarian assistance can, however, also include reconstruction and rehabilitation, disaster prevention and preparedness. Although it ought to be guided by principles of impartiality to save lives, in many disaster situations in Africa humanitarian assistance has come to be seen as an indirect way of spreading influence by international powers at the expense of the African populace (Waters, 2001; Rogerson et al., 2004; Ames, 2008).
Whereas development aid is focused on alleviating poverty in the long term, as opposed to humanitarian aid’s short-term responses, partnership through development cooperation is an opportunity that could provide Africa with the necessary platform for development. However, critics argue that Africa should rethink its approach and do away with development aid, something that can only be achieved with the right framework in place.
The politics of aid
In the 1970s, many African countries had just received independence, and ‘with this came a strong sense of self-respect and hope for the future’ (Moyo, 2010), although this declined over the years and especially in the twenty-first century, characterized by foreign aid dependence as a mechanism for poverty alleviation. Renowned critic of foreign aid Moyo (2010) calls this syndrome ‘an unmitigated political, economic and humanitarian disaster’.
In 2005, the International Monetary Fund published a report titled ‘Aid Will Not Lift Growth in Africa’ cautioning governments, donors and campaigners to be more circumspect in their claims that increased aid would solve Africa’s problems. This does not come as a surprise because in recent times aid has been turned into an avenue for corruption within receiving governments and development agencies. These claims are evidenced in a hearing before the US Senate Committee on Foreign Relations in May 2004 in which Jeffrey Winters, a professor at Northwestern University, argued that the World Bank lost up to US$100 billion of its loan funds intended for development to corruption. At around the same time, the British envoy to Kenya, Sir Edward Clay, raised the alarm on corruption in Kenya, which was immortalized in this paraphrased quote: Kenya’s corrupt ministers were ‘eating like gluttons’ and vomiting on the shoes of the foreign donors (The Economist, 2009).
The list of corruption incidents in Africa in relation to foreign aid is endless, as political elites and their cronies divert stolen funds to foreign bank accounts leaving their nations in massive debt. This leads to the question: Should aid to Africa be abolished? Perhaps the best possible answer is better management through the establishment of control systems to verify expenditure of public funds. This would provide for greater transparency on how funds intended for development are spent.
State failure and fragility
Two broad but inter-related factors characterize state failure: conflict and slow and/or lack of development (Naudé and McGillivray, 2011: 5). Conflicts are destructive to human development (Naudé and McGillivray, 2011: 8) as they create a vicious cycle of under-development known as the ‘poverty trap’. Per capita income is what distinguishes developed, developing and least developed countries from each other. The connection between poverty and fragility is that many of the low- and middle-income countries have substantial state debt. A country’s vulnerability on the other hand refers to a state’s potential to suffer negative effects of future challenges (Naudé and McGillivray, 2011: 10).
The concept of ‘developmental state’ was coined to denote the ideal orientation and functioning required from governments to improve developmental outcomes, and hence states can fulfil a central role in development (Naudé and McGillivray, 2011: 14), despite their lack of commitment and capacity (Naudé and McGillivray, 2011: 15). The two mentioned criteria of determining a fragile state characterize most African countries, because in most cases the interest of the state is placed before that of the citizen. These issues have been widely discussed in various African regional economic blocs without much success because most counties have sought to promote cross-border trade without dismantling tariff and non-tariff barriers.
Fragility leading to state failure in Africa after the Cold War has mostly been through intra-state conflicts such as the ongoing unrest in the Central African Republic and South Sudan.
When such conflicts erupt, they can be contained only if individual states uphold the principle of the R2P and act quickly to prevent further escalation as opposed to depending on the international community.
China’s continued economic growth in the last 30 years has seen it transform especially in the manufacturing sector from an underdeveloped country to an emerging global power,3 with its economic growth and increase in revenue trickling down to State Owned Enterprises (SOEs). This growth was triggered by the Chinese government’s actions of closely monitoring shifts in the global market (which was leaning more towards manufacturing) and thereby aligning the SOEs in accordance with the changes. This meant equipping SOEs with the right resources as well as backing them diplomatically in order for them to venture into markets outside of China. As a result, China became the world’s largest holder of capital, with over $1 trillion in foreign reserves in 2006.
With this strategy, the Chinese expressed interest and put in place a strategy to engage from an economic perspective, hence serving as a development model for Africa while at the same time doubling up as an alternative source of trade and capital – complementing the traditional western development partners. The natural and energy resources sectors have been on top of China’s continued interest in the continent, something that has contributed to increased bilateral agreements with African governments translating to an increase in FDI.
According to the Chinese Ministry of Commerce, China’s FDI in Africa has increased by 46 percent per year over the last decade. The stock of foreign investment stood at $21.23 billion in 2012 compared with $1.6 billion in 2005. Strategic sectors of Chinese interests include oil, minerals and infrastructure through SOEs that receive grants or loans from the government or state-owned banks.
Following these developments, China’s relations with Africa were enhanced and eventually 2006 was even dubbed by the Chinese leadership as China’s ‘Year of Africa’, leading to the 50th anniversary commemoration of formal Sino-African diplomatic ties at a forum called Forum on China-African Co-operation (FOCAC) hosted by Beijing, during which the first white paper on China’s Africa Policy was released. China’s growing footprint in Africa has raised important questions regarding its win–win partnership formulae, which the Chinese leadership maintains to be of mutual benefit.
The question, however, is: For how long can Beijing keep its political and economic face towards the continent in return for access to Africa’s markets and resources?
If African countries expect Beijing to expand on its 2006 FOCAC commitments to ensure that gains are mutual, it must set the rules of engagement with China and not the other way round. This means developing terms or consensus regarding the relationship with China, ensuring that the rule of law and an effective monitoring and regulatory framework are in place to see that investment practices are conducted appropriately and legally, and that, above all, the people of Africa are the main beneficiaries of the partnership as opposed to only economic elites.
This article looked at some contentious issues facing Africa today, such as security, governance and regional integration, which call for more research and policy analysis in order to fortify the foundations of Africa’s state institutions. This includes the need to redefine the term security so as to move beyond militaristic thinking and embrace the concept of human security. African leaders need to foster accountability and be accountable – first to their citizens before moving to the level of the international community. However, this can only be achieved if the current leadership approaches the continent’s problems from a self-critical point of view and questions the negative narrative about Africa – whether it is substantive or not.
The next step will be to face the problem with a ‘we want change’ mindset that sets aside old norms and stereotypes about Africa. By doing this, it will be possible to identify gaps existing between other continents and Africa and enable the continent to regain its dignity in the international arena. The time has therefore come for the continent to drive itself through good leadership rather than simplistic responses to donor regulations, something that can only be realized through self-criticism as opposed to the current ‘us’ versus ‘them’ accusations between Africa and the West. China–Africa relations must also be reviewed so that they are based on goodwill and mutual understanding, while adhering to strict regulations that will prevent exploitation – perhaps through an AU policy towards China.
1 See Fukuyama’s definition of the term democracy.
2 This series of events is part of the worldwide process that Huntington (1991) refers to as the ‘third wave’ of democratization.
3 See Naidu (2006). See also President Thabo Mbeki’s speech to the 2006 FOCAC Summit, as well as President Hu Jintao’s speech delivered at the same conference. For a detailed discussion on China–Africa relations, see Alden and Alves (2009).
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