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African Futures

Africa Achilles Heel, Connecting The Dots

by Gichobi Stanley Mwangi


In the book Why Nations Fail, Origins of Power, Prosperity and Poverty, Dan Acemglu and James A Robinson investigate why some nations are prospering while others are either retrogressive or stagnant. The introduction of the book is thought provoking with an observation of the city of Nogales, north of the American and Mexican border, and Nogales south of the border. A fence separates this two. The city of Nogales in north is accommodated by the state of Arizona is doing well: it has an average income of 30,000$ a year, literacy level are higher and among the best in the world, the citizenry enjoy good health care, high life expectancy, dependable electricity supply, telephone and poster services, good road network, law and order among many other things, however in the south of the border, one feet away, Nogales accommodated in Mexico has an annual income that is only a third what their counterparts make in the north, majority has no access to higher learning, high infant mortality rate, poor public health, roads are in depraved state, crime is high and running a business is often high risk. How could this be? , These two regions have: people, culture, environment, geography and even blood relations.

Coming closer back home and having a closer a look at our continent, it has an interesting observation, for instance Africa is a significant player for many mineral resources: in Zambia copper and cobalt, in South Africa platinum, gold, and diamonds, bauxite in Guinea, in Algeria liquefied natural gas, phosphates oil in Nigeria and Angola among new discovery of oil in Uganda and Mozambique and still the continent boasts very rich deposits of ores that are higher grade than elsewhere on the planet such as bauxite, copper, gold, iron and phosphate (JICA research institute). Least to say Africa is definitely a very wealthy continent in terms of resources. But on the flip side we also observe that Poverty is increasingly consuming African face, with efforts eradicating making very small strides. The region currently accounts for only 10 percent of the world’s population but accommodates 30 percent of the world’s poor. Yet all this challenges has not gone blind in lieu of the global community, International donor organizations have given more than a trillion dollar in donor Aid over the years since 1970 but over the same period poverty levels have increased; For instance, the world over the last three decades has cut poverty by nearly two-thirds between 1970 and 2000. In contrast, Sub-Saharan Africa has short from 36 percent of the population in 1970 to 50 percent in 2000 living within poverty lines; one in two Africans are poor, spending less than $1 a day on basic necessities of life. This proportion is twice as high as the world average, and the number of the poor is twice as high as it was in 1970.


Weak institutions

The case in Nogales provides very interesting insight that clearly paints the picture, similarly when we generally look at Africa versus other part of the world that are progressing it’s the same observation. An outstanding critical factor that account for the differences is the kind of institutions in place, on one hand we have a Nogales in Arizona which has strong institutions running the nation, they are inclusive; people elect leaders who are supposed to deliver, they often work for the interest of the community and if they do not deliver they are voted out since the electoral process has ensured the integrity of the voters. The government in place is by the people for the people with the people. On the other side, Nogales in south, elections are mostly marred corrupt, people can easily by their way into positions of power; power is for those who can afford. This makes it hard for institutions deliver to its people instead protects those in power.

In Africa this is no new phenomenon. The extractive institutions in Africa are responsible for erratic growth performance compared to the other developing regions. In Africa there is a huge reward to be in power, this is because those in power will always benefit a lot by either taking huge perks or benefiting from huge government projects. Because of the nature of these institutions, there is stiff competition for power, compromise of electoral process rampant: bribery and tribalism is what decides who gets into power. This whole fiasco has complicated the delivery and eventually performances of countries especially in poverty eradication.


Looking Ahead

Challenges faced by African countries are daunting and there is no doubt about it. However, they are not insuperable. Over the last three and a half decades Asian countries, in particular, have demonstrated that countries can break out of the poverty trap, achieve sustained growth, and improve living standards. Even closer home Africa has good example of countries with inclusive institutions that have shown good record for instance according to a World Bank report:

(Mauritius, Botswana, and Seychelles have maintained per-capita income growth rates above 3 percent for nearly four decades, making major strides in improving living standards and placing them in the group of middle-income countries.) World bank report on challenges of African Growth

To sustain more great examples for the continent, institution strengthening will play a critical role. Huge reforms in the institutions from exclusive to inclusive will be a huge driver; there is need for institutions that are beyond individuals or class of individuals to deliver the continent to futuristic growth. The output will be an accelerated progress that’s inclusive. A majority of developed countries across the world seem to have sharply distinguished themselves in these terms.

Inclusive institutions are pure based on principles of transparency, accountability and visionary leadership rather than opportunistic leadership that’s often short sighted. They are formed through a democratic process and work for the interest of all citizenry.


Gichobi Stanley Mwangi

Political consultant

Consultant Analyst: Wylde International

Read more about Gichobi and his view on being a futurist


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