Until very recently, one word was associated with Africa: rising. Such a scenario seemed so compelling that nobody doubted the prevailing wisdom, that the 21st century would be Africa’s. Now, that moment seems to belong in the past.
Two factors have made the difference. One is the sudden drop in commodity prices, particularly oil. Two, peace has been eroded across large swathes of the continent, with a sharp increase in violent events generated by terrorist activities. Unsurprisingly, this has brought to the fore the issue of security in Africa’s economic development. A question then comes to mind: what are the implications for Africa’s economy when peace is at risk?
Peace and security have always been the prime variables necessary for creating a conducive climate for economic development, political stability and social cohesion. For many years, especially during the past two decades, we have come to believe that the impressive economic growth rates recorded by many national economies would be enough to allow our societies to achieve their developmental goals. Across Africa, in addition to that economic momentum, various indicators led to a sense of growing optimism: protracted conflicts were coming to an end; a middle class, which some estimated at over 400 million, was emerging; foreign direct investments of over $50bn per year were flowing towards a continent seen as yielding the best return on investment; outside partners, following in the footsteps of China, started flocking back; natural resources were discovered at an amazing pace; and a dynamic demographic dividend, in a peaceful atmosphere, shredded away the image of the “dark continent” so long associated with Africa. Furthermore, macro-economic policies were better managed, mostly by governments which had won power through transparent elections. An active private sector flourished. Africa could no longer be described, in the words of a renowned publication, as the “hopeless continent’’. That same magazine reversed its bleak prophecy of a decade previously and pronounced the continent as “hopeful”.
Then suddenly, the Boko Harams, the al-Shabaabs, and the Aqmis shattered the too-good-to-be-true picture. Due to globalisation, terrorism in Africa cannot be viewed in isolation; it is clearly not just an African challenge, even as the instinct is to depict the people of this continent, to use Fanon’s famous term, as the wretched of the earth. When terrorists strike in Mali, Algeria or Chad, the victims are not just Africans. And when terrorism and insecurity disrupt the developmental process in many African countries, especially in resource-rich nations like Nigeria or Angola, those who pay the price include the foreign corporations that have invested in the dream of an Africa on the rise.
It makes sense therefore to include Africa in the ongoing debate on global peace and security. What must however be avoided is letting outsiders – the same Afro-pessimists, recently turned to Afro-euphorists – define the discourse. Africans must be heard. Not just as idle stakeholders but as active home-grown solution providers to a challenge that hits them directly.
Building on our long history that encompasses colonial violence, post-colonial domination, and internal and externally-generated insecurity, we have the capacity to discuss our security in far more holistic and nuanced ways. We must empower our institutions at the national, regional and continental levels to handle the new security challenges. Partnerships and cooperation with the rest of the world should arise from this internal cohesion.
*Olusegun Obasanjo, former President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, is the Chairman of the Tana Forum. www.tana.org