Saturday, January 03, 2004
In Everlasting Chains under Darkness

The fate of the angels cast out from Paradise is described in Jude:6. The same sentiment is often heard in describing the fate of Africa. War, famine, AIDS and wholesale death appear to range across this wide continent, picking off victims in a random and wicked fashion not seen in the West for over fifty years. In all, a time of tribulation and lamentation.

Comparisons are often drawn between Ghana and South Korea in the 1950s since one was richer than the other, yet the wealthier nation then has not created a thriving industrial economy now. Yet, when the peoples of South and East Asia are beginning to attain a better quality of life in the span of a generation, one must ask how long before sub-Saharan Africa travels the same upward trajectory.

Ronald D. Palmer, a retired US diplomat, writes an article of measured optimism on the future of Africa. Whilst the severe challenges that Africa faces can be portrayed as insurmountable, there are a number of trends and developments that provide a counterweight to the pessimistic views often expressed.

The number of wars that have plagued Africa in the postcolonial period are beginning to flicker out and subside. Sudan, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Angola and parts of the Democratic Republic of Congo are enjoying the peace of warweary populations. Set against this is a rising assertiveness amongst Muslim populations, linked to the incessant tribal identities that criss-cross national boundaries and leading to civil war in the Cote D'Ivoire or instability in North Nigeria.

The other reason for optimism given by Palmer is the New Partnership for Africa, where a process of peer review and the promotion of good governance was designed to spread liberal democracy and the rule of law amongst African states. However, Mbeki's flatlining 'quiet diplomacy', which appears to have been translated into support for the Mugabe regime in Zimbabwe, has undermined this collective endeavour. Perhaps Mbeki's support for a dictatorship is advantageous to other African countries like Nigeria, Kenya or Ghana, since it undermines the leadership that South Africa appears to wield by 'divine right'.

Palmer's prognosis is relatively cheerful (No.3 is developmental aid or intervention from the US, UN or other bodies - intervention that is probably more damaging than beneficial in its consequences) :

1) Prospects for Peace? Tentatively improving.
2) Prospects for African Solutions of African Problems? Growing.
4) The United States and Africa and the Globalized Economy? US-African trade is already significant despite the low level of overall African trade. Prospects for further trade improvement appear bright. US investment lags but should improve as African observance of WTO business, banking, and legal norms develop.
5) The Promise and Peril of African Hydrocarbon Development? This is an imponderable. To the extent that the development of African hydrocarbons is accompanied by better governance and transparency, prospects are bright. Lacking these elements, hydrocarbon development will present staggering politico-economic-social problems that may precipitate continuing instability and conflict.

The coast of Africa is now a focal point for the strategic thinkers of certain Western nations. They see these countries as a potential source of hydrocarbons that may postpone the inevitable reliance upon Middle Eastern energy sources. Both the United States and Britain have begun to increase their economic and political influence in these localities. The US predicted that Africa would provide 25% of US oil imports by 2015, according to their 2002 Energy Outlook Report. Britain, once North Sea oil runs out, cannot be far behind, and another challenge for the immiserised of Africa is oil largesse.

However, the Africans have proven more impatient with the actions of their elites than ever before as access to more advanced communications technology, greater literacy and more educational opportunities spreads the thirst for a more accountable, market led politics that secures property rights and solid laws rather than Big Men and daily corruption. It is these trends that have led to more democratic African states in the last few years, not development or charity, but Africans learning to read, write, listen, think, discuss, debate and find their place in our world. The upward curve probably began some time ago and the tide is now lifting.

(23.17, 3rd January 2004)


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