A New Approach to a New AfricaMonday, Mar 19, 2012 in Office of Tony Blair, Africa Governance Initiative
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Without doubt Africa is on the move. Just consider the following: in eight of the past 10 years, the growth rate of Sub Saharan Africa has been faster than East Asia. The middle class is expanding. Today 60 million Africans have an income of over $3000 pa. Within three years the figure will be 100m. McKinseys predict that consumer spending will double over the course of this decade to $1.4trillion. Foreign Direct Investment has multiplied six-fold in the last 10 years. The composition of that investment is also changing. This year China will invest more in African infrastructure than the World Bank. Since 1991, African Governments have been changed through democratic elections 30 times. In the previous twenty years this happened only once. There were only 3 democracies in Sub Saharan Africa in 1989. Today there are 23.
The challenges of course remain immense. Despite vast quantities of arable land, Africa is still a net food importer. Only 25% of Africans have access to electricity. Many millions still live in dire poverty. There is still conflict. So much depends on the reform programme in Nigeria succeeding since without Nigeria succeeding Africa will always struggle. But there is no doubt: Africa is changing for the better, the perceptions of Africa are also changing for the better. There is a new sense of hope and confidence, an optimism and an expectation that is based on evidence not dreams. Above all, I am noticing in my frequent visits there that there is a new generation of leaders in politics, business and civic society who don’t simply have a new competence about how they approach their tasks; but a new attitude, a new frame of thinking, a new way of looking at their own situation.
This is best characterised by their attitude to aid. The Gleneagles G8 summit of 2005 was remarkable for many things but I am most proud of its emphasis on Africa. The rise in aid promised has not been delivered in its entirety. But it did result in a huge increase in resources flowing from the wealthier nations to the poorest, including in debt relief which allowed many countries to boost significantly the number of children being vaccinated and going to school for the first time. And aid has helped with governance too: according to a report released today by the global campaigners ONE, by 2015 UK aid alone will help 44.9 million more people to vote in freer and fairer elections. The success of aid was supplemented by an enormous revival of the best traditions of philanthropy through organisations like those of the Gates Foundation and CGI. I have my own criticisms of Aid policy but before our people think this has all been money wasted, let us remember: the number of deaths from HIV/AIDS has fallen dramatically; deaths from measles has been halved; and we are on the way on the anti-malaria campaign, with deaths falling by a fifth compared with 10 years ago. So aid can work.
But the Commission for Africa report presented to the 2005 summit also made another change in policy. The report was the product not of a Western analysis conducted by Westerners; but the product of a collaboration between North and South. It stressed Partnership as the way forward in which the problems of Africa were to have an African solution led by Africans. The new generation of leaders were anxious that the aid commitments were met; but they recognised that it was their own efforts that would determine the destiny of their continent.
This largely defines the attitude of today. 20 years ago a conversation with African leaders would often be dominated by the legacy of the past, often a colonial legacy. Today there is impatience with such a dialogue about history. There is instead an urgent desire to focus on the future. So what will it take to translate this aspiration into an emerging reality? I think there are seven factors for the future.
- First, the reality is that the biggest obstacle to Africa’s development is Governance. In fact, I would say that the world over the hardest thing about modern Government, is how to get things done. The truth is that as a result of the experience of the past 60 years in global governance, there is ample evidence from round the world as to what works and what doesn’t. The tough part is not knowing what to do, but doing it. Governance has traditionally been the poor relation of the development community, usually consigned to broad brush civil service reform programmes, training days and the like. Actually in its proper sense it is utterly fundamental. And in the modern world, it is the one thing that unlike capital or technology simply can’t be imported. It means prioritising; focusing; putting in place the people and the systems to deliver. For example, there is a mass of footloose capital looking for an outlet for investment today. Whether they come to country A or country B depends of course on things like resources; but it also today crucially depends on having in place a proper system for attracting that investment, treating it predictably, having a legal system that functions fairly and it depends on a minimum level of infrastructure. This is not only about transparency, that is, honest Government, important though that is. It is also about effective Government. That is why I founded the Africa Governance Initiative – precisely to help Governments create the mechanisms that can allow them to deliver on sharply identified and focused priorities. As I discovered, the hard part is not having the vision, but making the reality. It requires a completely different skill set, mindset, and organisational capacity. It is what Opposition never teaches you and if you are not careful, Government never gives you time for. This should become a mainstream part of our development policy. This is beginning, but it should become central.
- Second, today, the vital necessity is functioning infrastructure, especially power. With electricity, given the technology we now have at our fingertips, everything is possible. Without it, progress will be depressingly slow. Likewise with roads and often ports. The people are eager for it. in 2000, there were only 10m mobile phones in Africa; in 2012 the figure is 735m. Take simple things like the lights being on in Freetown and Monrovia delivered by Presidents Koroma and Johnson-Sirleaf. The moment people see change actually happening it lifts the spirit of the nation and it gives them hope that Government can indeed get things done. To achieve this we need focus from Government and of course capital. But as Bill Gates and Tidjane Thiam told G20 leaders last year, this must be a high priority for the public/private partnerships and for cooperation between private sources of capital, IFIs and SWFs.
- Third, Africa needs to carry on increasing the amount and the quality of FDI: to finance Africa’s infrastructure deficit; to partner African capital, and build continent-wide businesses; to create the conditions for a vibrant private sector in which small and medium business can flourish, bringing jobs and livelihoods. It is true that there has been this extraordinary increase in FDI since the turn of the century. But there is still great potential unfulfilled. This is not only true of the resource sectors, though clearly in areas like mining and food production there remain huge opportunities and there is going to be a rapid expansion of the oil and gas sectors in many countries. It is essential that intellectual capital comes in and can be transferred, particularly in the service sector. And there should be major possibilities for cooperation between inward investors on areas like infrastructure where they can also improve the development of the country.
- Fourth, this leads naturally to consideration of the stellar rise of China on the continent of Africa. There are real issues here for concern .But there is also a big opportunity. The fact is that China has both the capital and the capacity to get things done. This is especially true in infrastructure. How many times do you see in Africa a road promised for years, that finally is being built; and we, in the West, at the same time as we make legitimate points about the methods of investment sometimes used, have to face up to the uncomfortable fact that this didn’t happen with us. We should look to engage China – along with the host nations - in trying to work together to make the most of our combined efforts. This will mean changes for both of us – China in its position toward us and us toward them. We should be development partners not rivals.
- Fifth, African nations have to educate their people. Everywhere has to; but Africa is starting from such a low base and never forget 70% of Africans are under the age of 30. My advice is that they do not try to replicate our systems exactly, but instead learns from both our successes and our failures. The same is true of healthcare. There are great possibilities here for Africa to take a path that stresses notions of mixed public-private partnerships; radical use of technology and the systematic import of the academic capital of the developed world. But the lesson from round the world is clear: past a certain point, without the emergence of at least an educated middle class, there is a ceiling to growth and development.
- Africa has to increase the size of its markets. There has been, rightly, attention paid to the need for the wealthy world to open its doors. But the stark reality is that if trade barriers came down within Africa itself, there would be the most dramatic improvement in opportunity for commerce. Here the East African Community offers some hope for the future. But just take the Mano River nations and think of the potential if there was proper trade between them and cooperation on power and roads. The impact would be immediate and large.
- Finally there is something wonderful, vibrant and exciting about Africa’s culture and traditions. It is what makes the tourism prospects alone a reason for investment and hope. It is not only the beauty of the landscape; it is the warmth and spirit of the people. It is why I feel instantly uplifted when I visit, despite all the poverty and the problems. But like all of us, Africa has its cultural challenges. It needs to pursue relentlessly the empowerment of women – including in the private sector, a focus of my wife’s Foundation in Africa, now in a very fruitful partnership with the leading mobile phone operators there. And it needs – though this is a warning not at all confined to Africa – to watch the religious divide. In many nations, thankfully, there is harmonious co-existence between those of different faiths. But the lesson from elsewhere is that to preserve this, requires constant focus and vigilance.
So, the changes in Africa are clear, the opportunities are there, the obstacles known and surmountable. The new Africa needs a new approach from African leaders, from the development community, and from the private sector.
For African leaders, the opportunity is there truly to transform their countries. To get there they must set out a clear, and ambitious vision for the development of their countries. And, crucially, build their systems of government to deliver it.
For the development community, we need a new way of rich and poor countries working together. The old way, where the rich world gives and the poor world passively receives, looks increasingly out of date. African countries must be in the driving seat of their own development, setting the priorities and making the decisions. Where aid is needed, it should get behind these priorities and use and strengthen the government’s own systems. I believe, with the right kinds of support and the right policies, Africa can be free of dependence on aid within a generation.
And for the private sector, for the people in this room, Africa is a great investment destination. The returns are there, the trajectory is positive. And as you invest, invest for the long term, in partnership with African governments. Investment done right holds the key to Africa’s future.
I don’t under-estimate or hide from the immense challenges that remain. But I do say that the rising stars of the 21st century can indeed be African. It has taken a long time. Too long. But go to Africa and see it happening. It’s worth it, for Africa and for us.