‘Africa Rising’ has become one of the catch phrases in global economic governance discourse. It refers to a new chapter for the African continent characterized by healthy economic growth and improved governance. Africa is now seen as a source of hope, and sustained one at that since the continent’s GDP growth looks set to continue. In recent decades, the African continent is experiencing unparalleled economic growth. This growth, captured by the concept of ‘Africa Rising’, has attracted billions of dollars in foreign investment. Of the world’s ten fastest growing economies, seven are from Africa with sub-Saharan Africa overtaking many other parts of the world in terms of its impressive economic growth. Some have even referred to this inundation of foreign interest in Africa as the 21st century ‘scramble for Africa’ only this time Africa is in control of the planning, managing and financing of its own destiny.
However, this robust economic growth is not without its own set of challenges especially because such growth remains unequal with poverty and unemployment still prevalent in many African countries. As the president of the African Development Bank put it: “you can’t eat GDP”. Many see good governance as the only sustainable solution to these challenges. The concept of good governance became noticeable in international circles around 1989/1990 and for over a decade since it has been a guiding principle in global economic governance to refer to certain ‘proper’ administrative processes believed to enhance the value of development. Broadly speaking, the definition of good governance is aligned with principles of democracy, which in turn are believed to secure the terrain for trade liberalization. Traditionally, good governance was defined in universal terms and did not necessarily take into account the wide variety of socio-cultural and political contexts. An example of this notion is the use of good governance as a condition for the granting of aid by ‘traditional’, western donors between the late 1980s and early 2000s.
Today it is widely argued that no single approach can be applied to a continent as diverse as Africa, although there are certain facets of good governance that have been agreed upon as imperative for peace, stability and sustainable growth. Some of the most important principles of good governance include multi-party democratization, the establishment of strong institutions, and the decentralization of power. There has been an increase in studies on the relationship between democracy and development; some have argued that democracy is not a necessary precondition for economic growth while others insist that democratic regimes appear to be more conducive to development because they are associated with stability. However, the democracies that are considered to be stable appear to be those that have been maintained over a long period of time and therefore have a strong, institutionally entrenched processes and decision-making procedures. One can suggest that an established democracy lays the foundation for long-term developmental affects, made possible by the features such as accountability and an active civil society. With regards to accountability, it is argued that democratic governments are accountable to their electorate and are therefore more likely to make concerted efforts to meet the needs of the majority. Another important feature of democracy as a feature of good governance, is the importance it places on civil society. Civil society plays a vital role in advocating notions such as equality and improved standards of living. When combined, these factors paint a picture of constant dialogue between the state, civil society and the electorate, which would mean that social problems such as poverty and inequality could be tabled and addressed.
According to Mo Ibrahim, “As Africa rises, our ability to face our greatest challenges will be determined by how strong, inclusive, and equitable are our institutions”. According to one of the arguments presented above, if good governance is the only solution to Africa’s challenges, it is necessary that the fundamental principles of good governance be well enough established across Africa as stability and development thrive in long-term, institutionally strong democratic systems. This however takes time and, as already mentioned, each sovereign state needs to implement good governance within the framework of its individual social, cultural, political and economic contexts.
As applied to the concept of ‘Africa Rising’, globalization has presented itself as a double-edged sword. It has created a wealth of opportunities for Africa to integrate itself into the global economy and channel the proceeds into development but it has also highlighted the need for Africa to play ‘catch up’ with its more developed counterparts in terms of the political and institutional capacities needed to manage its space on the international stage. As we embark on a new path of global economic governance, the phrase ‘trade not aid’ comes to mind as encapsulating the break away from downward moving transactions between the global north and south and the move towards a more horizontal model of development amongst ‘equal’ partners. However, in order for African countries to engage in this new realm of trade amongst ‘equal’ partners towards the goal of sustained economic growth, there development too needs to be sustainable and this can only be achieved by remedying the social ills (poverty, inequality, unemployment) that constitute the continent’s major obstacles.
“Africa Rising” delineates the African continent as being a source of positivity and promise based on recent levels of impressive growth. This notion is well founded as African countries continue to emerge as formidable forces in the international economic arena but it is evident that reforms in the institutionalization of African development need to be made in order to secure a future of sustained growth and prosperity for this vibrant continent. Africa should not stand in the way of its own bright future.
Written by: Emma George