Why our future should be made in Africa

Why our future should be made in Africa
  • PublishedMay 18, 2013

From my motherland, Ghana to the rolling plains of the Serengeti, from the Cape of Good Hope to Tunis, the birthplace of Hannibal besieging the Mediterranean Sea, for the past 7 years I have watched Africa nurse itself to health. A rude and vibrant health on the cusp of accelerated growth, like seeing the first green shoots after a long drought.

Just a decade ago or so, The Economist called it “The Hopeless Continent”. It damned Sierra Leone as an exemplar for the continent’s fortunes, writing in their own good style:

“Sierra Leone manifests all the continent’s worst characteristics. It is an extreme, but not untypical, example of a state with all the epiphenomena and none of the institutions of government. It has poverty and disease in abundance, and riches too: its diamonds sustain the rebels who terrorise the place. It is unusual only in its brutality: rape, cannibalism and amputation have been common, with children often among the victims… In itself, Sierra Leone is of no great importance. If it makes any demands on the world’s attention, beyond the simple one of sympathy for its people, it is as a symbol for Africa.”

By 2012, its peace enshrined, the IMF had estimated that with GDP growth of 35%, Sierra Leone had the fastest growing economy in the world. And now an analysis by The Economist reveals that over the 10 years to 2010, six of the world’s fastest-growing economies were in sub-Saharan Africa. On IMF forecasts, Africa will grab seven of the top 10 places over the next five years (Ethiopia, Mozambique, Tanzania, Congo, Ghana, Zambia and Nigeria). Libya will also return to being a powerhouse in Africa, as stability returns to the region. Over the past decade the simple unweighted average of countries’ growth rates was virtually identical in Africa and Asia. Over the next five years Africa is likely to take the lead. In other words, the average African economy will outpace its Asian counterpart.

Undeniably, not every country in Africa is at peace. There are still open wounds lingering, particularly in the former Francophone colonies that still need to be healed, have absolute freedom of destiny returned and their coffers replenished. Some of our children are still hungry, some of our people sick and dying without care. Such ills must be cured.

But I see a hope everywhere. Hope that is growing stronger. The four horsemen of apocalyptical prediction are in retreat. And a promise is being fulfilled that this cradle of humanity is stepping from the yoke of servitude, neglect and abuse to take its place alongside all others as mankind’s first-born.

It is fitting, therefore, that this month marks the 50th anniversary of the formation of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU). And its successor, the African Union (AU), has launched year-long Golden Jubilee celebrations under the theme Pan-Africanism and the African Renaissance to honour an organisation that was set up to promote unity and solidarity among African countries and to act as a collective voice in the fight against colonialism and apartheid, as well as build economic growth. But post-liberation, the OAU blew with the weather of Africa; a victim of cronyism and corruption, humbled and manipulated by external powers. Its successor, the AU, is now under a new chairperson, Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, the first woman to lead the AU Commission in the AU’s 10-year history. Under her, and moving forward from 2013 onwards, I believe it is Africa’s opportunity to bask and develop in the sunshine of the current surge of optimistic hope and growth, which many are calling Africa’s rebirth. Also this year, it is the 50th anniversary of the 4 August 1963 accord of the founding nations that formed the African Development Bank (AfDB). And in a stunning initiative, led by Donald Kaberuka, its president, the 52 nations of the African Union and Morocco will be asked to find a common economic will for the good of all and

pledge 5% of their foreign reserves which are presently supporting Western economies and instead use them to bolster a $22bn finance facility to propel Africa into the 21st century and beyond.

This facility will be of a size capable of ensuring that the infrastructure projects – roads, railways, ports, clean water, abundant electricity and wireless connectivity – necessary for the renaissance of Africa occur. In the main, these will be the large regional integration projects contained in the AU-approved Programme for Infrastructure Development in Africa (PIDA). The PIDA priority action plan requires a $68bn investment.

I would urge that the $22bn facility from our African nations acts as a partial guarantee of this requirement. Such a guarantee will ensure that African growth is seen globally to be supported by Africans rather than by well-meaning donors. And it will ensure that the money will be raised freely from the international capital markets, unfettered by the sometimes patronising moral demands or unrealistic burdens upon our natural resources which are all too common a feature in our present negotiations; a burden that lies not just upon us but indentures future generations. China, Russia, Brazil and India all have five-year infrastructure plans requiring investment of over $200bn.

It is estimated that PIDA will enable African countries to increase access to electricity from 39% in 2009 to nearly 70% in 2040, thereby providing power access to an additional 800 million people. According to Shem Simuyemba, chief infrastructure economist at the AfDB, by 2040, the plan will create transport efficiencies of at least $172bn with the potential for much larger savings as trade corridors open up. PIDA will boost broadband connectivity by 20% – every 10% increase in broadband penetration increases GDP by 1%. And this investment will prevent the predicted coming crisis of food and water scarcity. Personally, I believe that much of this will be achieved by 2025 rather than the more conservative estimate of 2040. Growth patterns are not the result of linear interactions but rather the product of the innumerable connections of all the seemingly infinite variable opportunities.

The greater the number of nodes of connection, whether they are geographic, demographic or economic, the greater the density of potential destiny for growth is created.

What a more linear projection suggests will occur in 25 years will actually happen in 10 years – our growth will be accelerated, its impact exponential. Africa will transform beyond recognition as we reach the soon-coming catalytic moment. There are some lessons we can pick up from China.

The poverty rate in China fell from 16% in 2001 to 4% in 2007. This compared to a poverty rate of 60% 25 years ago, lifting well over 500 million people out of poverty. According to the World Trade Organisation (WTO), in 2010 China ranked first in exports to the world market, with merchandise export sales of more than $1.5 trillion and a world market share of 10.4%. In 1998, China had less than 2% of the world market. Africa presently has 3%, but with 15% of the world’s population, 60% of the world’s uncultivated arable land and a fast-growing proportion of the world’s discovered valuable natural resources. Its potential for growth over the next 10 years is greater than China’s over the same period.

Such explosive growth patterns have been replicated in South Korea, Indonesia, Singapore, Dubai, Mexico and Brazil. More creates much more and when the law of mass action meets collective belief then the will of Africa shall be defined. Charles Robertson, global chief economist of Renaissance Capital, estimates that Africa’s GDP will increase from $2 trillion to $29 trillion in today’s money by 2050. Africa will produce more GDP than the combined economies of the US and Eurozone do today. This is the potential for growth. This is what we must strive for. It is the duty of Africans to dream and realise this dream.

It is commonly said that the richest man in history was the African king, Mansa Musa, with a fortune that would be valued today at $400bn. Looking at Africa’s potential wealth this should come as no surprise. Mansa Musa ruled West Africa’s Malian empire in the early 1300s, making his fortune by exploiting his country’s salt and gold production. Many of the mosques he built stand today and the education and literacy that he brought to his capital, Timbuktu, resonate still. It is a fitting example to the great African entrepreneurs emerging in our age, who have also set up foundations to aid and stimulate growth in Africa; an appreciation of communal responsibility that sets our philanthropic billionaires apart. But desire is not enough. We must also construct a plan.

In 2011, we set up a foundation, the Made In Africa Foundation, with Nigerian businessman Kola Aluko and with the generous support of Atlantic Energy. The purpose was to support and fund feasibility studies, preparation materials and master-plans for transformational and large-scale developments and infrastructure projects across the African continent. We set ourselves the task of raising $400m and both the AfDB and the World Bank agree that this pivotal sum would be sufficient to provide bankable, investable studies to get the priority action plans of PIDA on the road. Lamentably, only 10% of Africa’s trade is within the continent; anyone trying to fly from Marrakech to Harare (a trip that requires at least two stops including either London, Paris or Dubai) understands the reason why.

With proper master-planning of the continent, Africa’s present lack of infrastructure shall be an advantage as it means that the most efficient routes, the cleanest energy and the greatest benefit to both agricultural value chains and the fast-growing African cities can be secured. Already, Africa is the leader in usage of mobile financial transaction technology through M-PESA. The efficiency that this and similar innovations will eventually create will spread to loans, insurance, mortgages and retail transactions, working in tandem with banks to create a private response to the woefully expensive and mispriced cost of debt and risk on the continent.

As a fashion designer, I have taught myself to look at what is there and ask myself what can be made of it. To fashion from it, the best of it. For Africa, that requires us to consider what would be its perfect future.

As part of the African Diaspora, I feel this is my duty. As Kwame Nkrumah said: “I am not African because I was born in Africa but because Africa was born in me.” But also as a Diasporan, I can see how striving for the best for Africa can grow, heal and ennoble the rest of the globe.

The people and continents of the world are not separate, they are part of the same social and economic system – a system that must return to balance and harmony. Europe, Asia, the Americas and Africa are like four horses pulling a carriage. Starving one horse may mean that the others are fuller, but the carriage won’t get anywhere fast. By letting the horse feed, heaven knows what horizons we might cross together.

If the world economy is to get beyond boom and bust, it requires African creators, farmers, workers, industrialists and leaders to be given the tools and opportunities to play their part for the good of all. It requires an efficient use of the world’s resources, where processing plants and factories are sited near the raw materials and energy sources. It requires the positive growth of a strong African middle class of consumers of global goods and access to a life worthwhile for all. The decisive step towards a better Africa has been taken.

Its growth is assured, its development inevitable. We have worked hard these last few years, but now let us go boldly forward, into a great future made in Africa, by Africans.

Written By
New African

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