A ground-breaking study by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) has sought to predict what life in Africa could be like by 2025.
Contributions to the study came from more than 1 000 thinkers across the continent. Their prognosis: four scenarios ranging from imminent doom or stagnation to rapid modernisation and heightened prosperity.
The report — Africa 2025 — was coordinated by the African Futures project of the UNDP, and edited by Alioune Sall.
“Over 1 000 persons spread over 54 African countries at one time or another participated in this exercise, which resembled an intellectual odyssey — and that began in South Africa,” he writes.
As an architect of and lobbyist for the pan-African dream inherent in the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (Nepad), South African President Thabo Mbeki has been a supporter of the African Futures project.
Writing in the foreword of Africa 2025, he notes that the continent “does not have a divine right to succeed in her endeavours in the current age. Nor is there a supernatural force that can will us to fail. How events unfold over the next 20 years or so depends in large measure on what we as Africans do.”
The continent’s researchers started by drawing up a situation report of key trends that have come to define the continent. The first is the population boom currently being experienced. Contributors believe this is not exceptional, but that “Africa is catching up to its former proportion of the world’s population.”
But, this boom is also fuelling low economic growth and developmental stagnation — more so than Aids, environmental problems, corruption or bad governance. Record numbers of young people are presenting African governments with a hefty education bill. The continent also has the highest earner-dependent ratio in the world.
Urbanisation is another important trend. In 1950, about 10% of populations across the continent lived in towns and cities. This figure has since tripled.
A vital challenge concerns the way in which most African economies are structured. The study says that “Africa on the whole remains a rent economy” — one where there has been little foreign investment in sectors other than those relating to commodity exports.
The “process of accumulation has not yet truly begun” in the continent, says the report. Sub-Saharan Africa remains locked in a pattern of high indebtedness, is marginal to international trade and investment flows — and has a huge informal economy.
What will our fortunes be in 22 years? Sall employs various metaphors of a lion to portray the possible realities. These are called “the lions are hungry”, “the lions are trapped”, “the lions come out of their den” and the “lions mark their territory”.
An Africa in which the lions are hungry is the doomsday scenario.
“It is to be feared that Africa will increasingly teeter on the brink in the next 25 years. Several factors will contribute to the increasing fragility of regimes that cause the economy to stagnate,” observes the report.
This will be caused by a steep drop in foreign aid, the stripping of the environment and by conflict.
“We cannot forget that sub-Saharan Africa will have the highest proportion of young men aged 15 to 29. Worldwide, this is the age bracket most prone to violence,” said contributors.
In a “trapped lion” scenario, Africa will remain marginal in the global community, the Nepad projection of 7% annual growth “far from having been achieved”. This reality will see “Africans go on living or surviving. But their standard of living [will not improve] as significantly as on other continents.”
The set of millennium development goals — a United Nations plan to stimulate development by 2015 — has not been met in the trapped lion scenario. This is also because “people are reluctant to contribute to government’s coffers. They still see government as picking people’s pockets, rather than providing expected services.”
The study then considers the final two alternatives, in which the lions come out of their den and mark their territory. These are the renaissance scenarios in which a generation of entrepreneurs comes to the fore, driving growth, and where strong leadership evolves: “There emerges a new generation of politicians who break away from the previous generations.”
For these things to become a reality, a series of preconditions must be met. These include the achievement of universal education and health, better infrastructure and a more equitable international architecture.
“African governments will probably have to make themselves heard, loud and clear, to obtain the new exemptions they need to protect their fledgling industries,” says the study.
And what of Nepad in 23 years’ time?
“Nepad certainly did not bring about all of the radical changes that its promoters expected. But it was the starting point for an ‘African renaissance’.”
Pockets of hope in various parts of the continent suggest that this final scenario could come to pass, says Sall, pointing to the entrenchment of multiparty democracies in various states, some stability and stronger economies.
He adds that the jury is still out on Africa 2025 — which was launched at the end of last month.
But, he believes the UNDP’s willingness to undertake the project bodes well for the future: “After having fallen out of favour and been relegated to the rank of shibboleths … the long-term view has now found its rightful place in development circles,” says Sall. — IPS