Collective voices in expanding Africa's horizons

Mo-Woza cross-border traders. Regional groups have focused attention on easing cross-border activities

Mo-Woza cross-border traders. Regional groups have focused attention on easing cross-border activities

Is the “Africa Rising” narrative still a realisable and achievable reality, as it promised when it emerged a few years ago, when Africa’s growth averaged 6 to 7% a year?

There are key questions today regarding the narrative, especially if one considers that poverty remains endemic and inequality seems to be increasing every year.

The recently released Mo Ibrahim Index shows modest improvements in most categories, but also reveals deep cracks in human development, safety and rule of law, among others. And with the Ebola outbreak in the Mano River Basin, further weaknesses have been revealed, especially in health systems and their responsiveness to emergencies and complicated medical problems, and the lack of investment in education.

The reversals in Africa’s achievements due to the outbreak include the poor economic performance of the affected countries; stigmatisation and social exclusion and discrimination and xenophobia in some of the more developed economies, which have also adopted protectionist policies.

The outbreak and subsequent responses have had a significant impact on regional integration to end poverty eradication. Instead of promoting free movement of people, goods and services, thus boosting intra-African trade, there is retrogression in this area.

Countries are closing in and implementing stringent frameworks that hinder rather than promote regional integration. This is a travesty given that more than 80% of Africa’s trade is  with Europe, China and North America, and less than 20% is within.

If this trend and the subsequent reactions to Ebola continue, coupled with the lack of industrialisation base, poor technology, bureaucratic bottlenecks, poor governance and leadership, the “Africa Rising” narrative will evaporate fast.

Yet Africa, and in particular Southern Africa, possesses the fundamentals for a collective developmental approach.

Through regional industrialisation strategies, entrance into global value chains and good management of natural resources, the potential exists for Africa to leapfrog into an advanced, integrated industrial base, and a globally competitive market.

Africa’s development rests squarely on integration and combined resources. This is integral to how pan-Africanism emerged and its subsequent achievements, such as the struggle against colonialism, which was premised on unity, solidarity and self-reliance.

This was also at the core of the formation of the integration process in Africa, which in the Lagos Plan of Action outlined the various stages of economic integration, such as customs unions, free trade areas, monetary unions and other  such processes.

This is the case in the regional groupings such as the Southern African Development Community (SADC), which in 2008 established the Free Trade Area and jointly with the East Africa Community and the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (Comesa), within the tripartite framework, have focused attention on easing cross-border activities through one-stop border posts.

Africa’s collective voice is also instrumental in international political and economic negotiations, as well as in properly positioning the continent and its various regions as investment destinations.

This voice, however, cannot be complete without the involvement of Africa’s entrepreneurs, the private sector, youth, women, children and civil society formations. Thus, Africa’s development horizons can be expanded with the involvement of all social, economic, political and cultural forces. This is only possible if synergies are promoted, unity enhanced and solidarity cultivated among the different sectors that make up the whole of Africa.

The Investing in the Future and Drivers of Change Awards are a special occasion for the Southern Africa Trust and the Mail & Guardian and their related partners. This year’s awards are dedicated to showcasing individuals, businesses, civil society and governments that are engaged innovatively in regional integration and poverty reduction.

With industrialisation becoming a sine qua non in the region, this year there is a particular focus on sectors that are essential for Africa’s leap-frogging potential. These are, among others, science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

These areas, however, need to be combined with the essential roles played by advocacy, policy-oriented and capacity enhancement actors, most of whom are always celebrated in the awards.

In order to promote regional integration, industrialisation and good management of the region’s resources, we invited the executive secretary of  the SADC to be the keynote speaker at the awards. In many ways, we are hoping to take the SADC back to the people of the region,  especially the women, the youth and a big section that  who feel marginalised, and don’t think that the SADC means anything to them.

Bhekinkosi Moyo is executive director of the Southern Africa Trust and a member of the judging panel of the awards