Economic Development means employment, income and non-income equality, low poverty rate, quality health services, shared prosperity, and high literacy and life expectancy – amongst other things. It is puzzling that after 5 decades of independence most African countries are still terribly struggling with most of listed above.
On Poverty, recent figures affirm that Africa is the least successful continent in reducing deficiency – 300 million Africans live below $1.25 per day. Quoting the United Nations’ Human Development Report of 2015, the bottom 17 ranked nations were all African. Also, the ‘resource curse (also known as paradox of plenty)’ and ‘agrarian paradox (good climate and arable lands for agriculture but still much food insecurity)’ narratives make the story of the continent a very bitter one. Generally, resources have ended up fueling corruption, deeper fractionalization, conflicts and primary-export-dependence.
As industrialization deficit, low manufacturing capacity, security crisis, governance crisis, food supply deficit, high child mortality rate, corruption, infrastructure deficit, and the consistent running of ‘mono economies’, it could be said that African leaders have failed to lead their countries towards economic development despite having enormous resources to do so.
Most other countries in other regions that also got their independence around the 1960s and used to be at par [considering Gross Domestic Product (GDP), Human Development Index (HDI), Per Capital as measurement] with most African nations, are now High Income Countries. Examples range from Malaysia, Singapore, South Korea, Indonesia, Taiwan, Hong Kong, United Arab Emirates (UAE), Qatar, Kuwait. Their remarkable economic successes have widened the concerns about Africa’s slow economic development. Some of these countries, who also often have elements which could increase the risk of failure such as scarce or no mineral resources, or less arable lands for agriculture, have transformed themselves from third to first world economies with outstanding macroeconomic indices. South Korea is an example. Others, despite lack of resources, have made good use of their natural resources to the fullest – UAE, Qatar, Kuwait and Indonesia are shining examples of the latter.
A lot of reasons have been considered for Africa’s condition: from corrupt governments to lack of policymaking and implementation crisis as well as blaming the effects of colonization and seasonal foreign manipulations.
The continent has indeed made some progress since the end of the Cold War. For example, many countries have progressed in the return from dictatorships to multiparty democracies, whilst others such as Kenya now grant civil and media liberties, private ownership of enterprises, and are seeing the emergence of a middleclass. Although there is progress, the situation is far from resolved as many African leaders have found new ways of abusing constitutions to stay longer in power, an example being Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe who has been in power for more than 30 years. Other leaders are re-continuing embezzlement such as Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo of Equatorial Guinea.
Despite the hopes, the economic growths recorded in most African countries do not translate to economic development. The continent has been an ‘infant’ for too long, depending on foreign aid, with agglomeration of debts whilst African leaders keep transferring billions of dollars to private accounts abroad.
There is also an escalating population growth which is reducing the continent’s capacity to feed, educate and employ its people. This has to be tackled through family planning mechanisms and through educating and giving employment to women.
A great example of how policies can be applied to fight poverty in a developing country is the Brazilian Bolsa Familia where, through Conditional Cash Transfers, parents are incentivized to keep children in school and take them to clinics for healthcare. Policies on effective taxation of the wealthy, wealth re-distribution and rural development will also make a strong impact on the reduction of economic inequality in the continent. There must also be far-reaching economic development policies to address infrastructure deficit, diversify economies and reduce the cost of doing business to attract investors. Regional integration should be pursued and actualized to tap the advantages of regionalism. As quoted by the United Nations’ Economic Commission for Africa, the continent could gain over $300 billion within a decade if it implemented a Continental Free Trade Area Agreement of the African Union. Regional integration is not only an economic imperative: exercising influence in international relations that is commensurate with Africa’s size and population and driving better negotiations, require greater political cooperation through political and economic integration.
It’s very important however to note that no nation has ever achieved meaningful development socially, politically or economically without the input of effective development mechanisms. The numerous problems, in which African states lived on, are also the results of ineffective development policies.