Time to recognise the emergence of the new Africa
By Rich Mkhondo, Executive for Corporate Affairs at MTN Group
For decades, Africa was often depicted as a continent of starving children, flies in their mouths and malnourished bellies, families decimated by AIDS, or adults in raggedy clothes walking past the decaying corpse of animals beside a dusty road, running away from their war-torn country into the neighbouring country’s makeshift tents. How about pictures of child soldiers brandishing AK47s.
Who can one forget the late Kevin Carter’s Pulitzer Prize winning picture of a child crawling towards a UN food camp as a vulture waited for the child to die so that it can eat him?
For years these pictures and political instability formed negative perceptions about the continent, prompting analysts and the media to describe Africa as a waste basket case, a Dark Continent...
Tony Blair, former prime minister of the United Kingdom, once had this to say about Africa: “The state of Africa is a scar on the conscience of the world. But if the world, as a community, focused on it, we could heal it. And if we don't, that scar will become deeper and angrier still."
Thankfully, these descriptions and perceptions are changing fast. Now Africa is described as a continent of emerging markets, rising skyscrapers lining the horizon, cities teeming with educated graduates hungry for opportunities, a thriving small business environment, emerging farmers and emerging mineral wealth and economies which have doubled in size this century and continues to grow, fast.
Perceptions are changing, thanks to the rising number of democratically elected governments, the disappearing violent conflicts, scarcity of wars and coups, ebbing inflation, innovative business executives, rising foreign investment from other emerging markets (Chinese, Brazilian and India). Of course the rising commodity prices of oil, aluminum, cotton, and diamonds and other minerals has also fueled this growth.
For many years, Western nations advocated increased aid as a silver bullet for Africa's development.
Former South African President Thabo Mbeki, in his speech to the UN Assembly once said: "We seek to ensure that we move away from the donor- recipient relationship with the developed world to a new partnership based on mutual respect as well as shared responsibility and accountability.”
Thanks to leaders of Mbeki’s ilk, to improve our image, Africans have embarked on a road to build a future filled with hope through joint efforts to halt and prevent hostilities and accelerate common development, shared responsibility and economic growth.
This has forced African countries to become more self-reliant and to take responsibility. Our continent is slowly emerging from darkness into a region described as the next big growth market.
Africa is thriving. The fact that the flow of aid stayed flat even as growth took off in several African economies suggests that the begging bowl was never going to solve our problems. Now the all-consuming discussion of aid is being overtaken by Africa’s homegrown solutions.
Africa’s rising can be attributed to a mix of better governance, new technologies, improved and friendly economic policies, investment by Eastern nations, the growth of mobile telephony and inevitably, globalisation.
Rise of democracies
It is hard to believe that for almost two decades only Botswana, Senegal and Mauritius were the only true democracies. Today despotism is fast disappearing and more than 48 out of 54 African countries hold regular multi-party elections. The continent is a freer and more democratic place.
Military dictatorships and single- party governments have gone from being the norm to the exception.
The more open political and economic climate has meant that Africans who worked and lived overseas are returning home to provide valuable resources: their brainpower and enthusiasm.
Young people who've lived overseas are returning to work in democratic governments or start businesses. For them the opportunities are enormous.
The Chinese are here
As the Western powers concentrate on other priorities, the Chinese, Indians, Russians and Brazilians are prowling the continent for economic and investment opportunities. They are crawling our cities and villages looking for opportunities to invest.
They are exploiting natural resources such as agricultural self-sufficiency and high-value agro-exports and natural resources such as oil and metals, copper and other commodities.
For example, South African gold is still an attraction. Nigeria is awash with black gold, currently producing two million barrels of oil a day and Ghana is producing oil for the first time.
Africa is now a final frontier for investors. According to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the world top 10 fastest growing economies include six African countries, Angola, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Chad, Mozambique and Rwanda. Of the 10, Angola has experienced an 11.1 growth rate, Nigeria 8.9% Ethiopia 8.4%, Chad, 7.9%, Mozambique, 7.9% and Rwanda 7.6%.
Sub-Saharan Africa is considered the world's second fastest growing region after Asia. According to the IMF, GDP forecast for 2012 is 5.8%. The United Nations says foreign direct investment(FDI) in the region has increased from $9 billion in 2000 to more than $88 billion today.
There is also an expansion of unique range of service industries, including tourism with westerners thronging African beaches and world wonders such as Victoria Falls in both Zimbabwe and Zambia. South Africa continues to reap the benefits of having hosted the 2010 FIFA World Cup.
With all of these opportunities come beneficiation deals to technology and skills transfer brought by foreign investor partnerships.
Also, African currencies have been more stable and inflation in the main is more acceptable. Additionally, the income of many African nationals has been rising steadily. This has led to significant investment in infrastructure and growth in the telecommunications industries.
Africa is feeling the impact of information and communication technology. We all know that technology is not limited to the sector in which it is produced, but rather spreads to all sectors of production and consumption. This is true for mobile telephony in Africa.
Mobile telephony, even though it is still significantly below the saturation levels of the developed world, has contributed to global economic development in a positive and significant way.
Indeed, infrastructure, while improving, remains inadequate. The boom in mobile phones is transforming everything from agriculture to healthcare. Young Africans - impatient for change, and innovative and increasingly well-educated - are using mobile technologies to solve problems presented by poor services and political stagnation.
Across the continent, mobile phones accelerate the maintenance and formation of social capital and social ties. Mobile phones strengthen existing social networks and overlap with economic networks. This means of communication is being incorporated in rural production and commercial activities and has become an everyday business communication tool.
Regionally-sponsored peace agreements
The end of apartheid was an example and motivation that Africans can solve their own problems, hence South Africa‘s role in the region is encouraging economic development across the continent.
Today, regionally sponsored peace agreements, supported by African peacekeeping and peace-building mechanisms are becoming the norm.
Mbeki has brokered peace in Sudan. As Africa's largest country, its stability was critical to the pursuit of durable peace in the Horn of Africa and the Great Lakes region.
Also, joint efforts made by African leaders in recent years have led to a halt to long-standing conflicts in Sierra Leone and Angola.
Africa has realised that it cannot be left behind when it comes to globalisation. A new Africa is emerging, powered by capitalism, embracing globalisation and finally shaking off the shackles of colonisation, the begging bowl syndrome and the cold war that proved so crippling to development.
To accelerate the momentum of growth, African governments should champion the setting of the scene for private sector participation.
Such development models must rest on the pillars of political stability, property rights, access to capital and investment in health and education.
Also, there is a greater need for transparency and accountability and for eradication of corruption. Governments need to develop the right policies and incentives for ideas, capital and businesses to circulate and develop
This will help establish sound, sustainable business institutions and investment and development of infrastructure, build transport links and constructing solid strategies.
African governments must continue to support entrepreneurship and small businesses, grow companies that will create a multiplier effect and see Africa rise and rise.
Let the continent be the pre-eminent frontier for economic boom and political stability.
Let Africa continue to rise.
Rich Mkhondo is Executive for Corporate Affairs at MTN Group. He delivered these comments during a keynote address at Highway Africa, the continent’s largest annual gathering of 600 African journalists on the continent recently held at Rhodes University.