Economic growth and development in Africa, by Former President Olusegun Obasanjo
Thank you for the warm welcome to the beautiful city of Houston and to Texas Southern University (TSU). In the last couple of days, I have had engagements in a number of cities in Africa and in the US but Houston presents a special ambience for me. I offer special thanks to the leadership of this University as well as to staff, faculty and students and in particular to the Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs & Research, James W. Ward and all others who facilitated my coming to TSU today.
As one of the leading historically-black universities in the US, we applaud the success stories recorded since this university was founded in 1927. Your national and global ranking in several disciplines commendably stand you out. For us in Africa, TSU is our pride. The university has produced a large number of graduates of African origin who are now in top leadership roles in the continent, with Nigeria appropriating a large share. Since I came, everywhere I turned, I can see what I can call a “Nigerian face” among faculty and students. Recall that by sheer numbers, Nigerians make up one out of every four on the African continent. Perhaps the faces I see as Nigerians could very well be those of Ghanaians, Kenyans, South Africans and others with African roots.
The level of diversity exhibited by your institution does not only reflect in the composition of your students but also in your faculty capacity. It is a delight to observe Dr. Sunny E. Ohia and the Interim Associate Provost, Associate Vice President for Research, Adebayo Oyekan, have Nigerian roots. It is on account of this rich African ancestry of staff, faculty and students of TSU that I have steered this lecture to address the issue of political and economic growth in Africa, so that we can keep ourselves up-to-date on issues relating to development in the continent from which most of you derive your roots.
Distinguished ladies and gentlemen, I have decided to share my thoughts with you on, Current Dynamics and Future of Political and Economic Growth & Development In Africa.
We are at a point in history where Africa, in spite of its challenges, has emerged a critical player in the global development agenda, As a continent, we have, learned a lot of lessons from our colonial past. When the wave of independence blew across Africa in the late 1950s and 1960s, history was made. I do not wish to bemoan the past predicaments of our continent. We are all familiar with how the contact between Africa and the outside world precipitated death and destruction, untold misery, dislocations, distortions, contradictions and conflicts all culminating in the underdevelopment of Africa and its marginalization in the global divisions of labor, decision-making and power.
Obasanjo in Texas
Today, my aim is to celebrate Africa; to show that Africa is moving away from being a region of hunger, pain, misery, backwardness and perpetual bad news, to a continent of opportunity, possibilities; and progress. I will show that Africa has a lot to be proud of by way of achievements and more importantly that we have a sense of direction, a sense of mission and a determination to engage our problems directly. Of course, as always, and as it is with other continents, we will continue to need the understanding and support of our friends in our quest to effectively reposition the region for peace, harmony, Self-sustained growth, development, democracy and good governance.
It is true that Africa still has problems that constrain and indeed distort development and precipitate instability and crises. These include corruption, bad governance and bad leadership, poor resource management, technological backwardness, structural deficiencies, among several others. These are not new problems. However, two issues can be regarded as new. First, even in the most depressed African economy, people and leaders are increasingly aware of the depth and implications of the problems and current commitment to change. Second, the majority of the 54 countries in Africa are not in the group of distressed, failed, exhausted, regressing, and unstable economies. This is something to be celebrated.
About five decades ago, the wave of military coups and totalitarianism was common place. Democracies that were wrestled from the colonial masters were truncated at their prime. Youthful and ambitious young military officers were too impatient to see the democratic process bloom. For a continent that had experienced colonialism for far too long, coups and counter coups soon replaced the short-lived freedom that followed. In the face of taking power using the barrel of the gun, lives were lost, the will of the people were subverted, life was snuffed out of democracy. This deviation from the sanity of a new world order where leaders were chosen by the citizenry was cut short.
Before these lapses set in, desire for progress was what motivated the leaders of independent African countries in 1963 when they came together to form the Organization of African Unity. Top on their agenda was “to accelerate the political and socio-economic integration of the continent.” This aspiration remains as relevant today as it was 52 years ago. From my experience in and out of government,· the success of this ambition and many more like it depends largely on the commitment, and in some cases involvement, of African leaders in the public and…important as its economy. Although some school of thought may oppose this view, my experience in government has clearly validated it. When you attempt to separate political development from economic growth, you are inviting chaos.
Talking about the dynamics of democracy in present day Africa let me be quick to remind you about the historic Presidential elections that took place in Nigeria a few weeks ago. It was the first time in our young democracy that an incumbent president lost an election. Contrary to the wave of violence that followed the declaration of the 2011 elections, a sense of peace, tranquility and patriotism prevailed. The incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan was quick to concede defeat. His statesman-like decision partly contributed to the post-election calm but more importantly is the level of patriotism and citizenship exercised by the people. Many people defied scorching sun and downpour of rain to collect their permanent voters cards (PVC), to get accredited on the day of election and to subsequently vote and protect their votes. This is a clear indicator of the level of growth and development that our democracy is experiencing, which I believe other African countries are poised to emulate.
Nexus between Political and Economic Growth and Development in Africa
Distinguished ladies and gentlemen, if we were to plug in variables of politics and economy into the development equation, we will find the links to be positive, large and significant, The color and nature of politics practiced in the land have direct impact on growth and development. So also is economy which intertwines with politics to affect development. How do these play out on the ground in Africa?
The wave of protests across the Arab world which started in 2011 had its roots in Africa. The living conditions…Africans is gradually being turned into a tool of empowerment for the citizens. That singular action in Tunisia set the Arab world on its guard and threatened the remaining dictators on the continent and around the world. Some forty, or fifty decades ago, opposing voices are only heard as whispers in the face of fierce dictators and power-drunk civilians. In Africa of today, Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa and many other countries have shown us that credible elections can be conducted with bold and organized opposition. Young people on the streets are now proud and certain that any government that under-performs will be ushered out at the ballot.
Regional bodies like the African Union have intervened timely in situations that can or have degenerated into violence and have ensured credible political systems on the continent. I have led a number of African Union election monitoring/ observer teams, the latest being Sudan, and I attest to the reasonable efficacy of the intervention. Although not perfect, these are indications of a growing and promising political growth and development, and it gives a lot of hope for the present and the future.
Of course, all countries on the continent are not blight free with regard to practicing true democracy. Although some leaders have been in power for upwards of one decade, such acts can be recorded in only a handful of states. I believe that the successes recorded in other countries on the continent where democracy is being continuously nurtured will propel the few hesitant countries to improve on their practice of democracy.
Ladies and gentlemen, let me now take on the economic aspect of Africa’s growth and development. Political instability,violent conflicts and war are bane of economic development. The loss of human resources, destruction of existing inadequate infrastructure, disinterest of local and foreign investors, are immiscible with economic growth. African leaders are aware of these are
enhancement of economic development and prosperity.
For a more prosperous continent, internal linkages and the integration of African economic sectors is important. The continued expansion of African multinationals is a very commendable effort. In many more ways, Africa’s private sector has proven effective in blurring state-border lines and promoting the free-flow of goods and services, capital, labor and markets.
Some twenty years ago, it was almost impossible to find Africa-owned multinational companies that are based in Africa expanding across the continent. Today, many of such multinationals are increasing in number. Brand names like Ethiopian Airlines; Kenya Airways, South Africa’s MTN, Nigeria’s Globacom, United Bank for Africa, Guaranty Trust Bank, Dangote, are some of Africa’s multinational corporations with business landscape spanning the continent and even further afield to other regions of the world.
This success story of the emergence of multinational corporations owned by Africans does not in any way underplay the importance of foreign investment and partners. The flow of Foreign Direct Investments (FDIs) is a necessary component of economic growth and increased output. FDls are so critical that they drive the growth of local businesses and enhance job creation. They blur the border between Africa and the rest of the world by enhancing transfer of technology into the continent from developed countries. They create wealth, reduce poverty and improve the standard of living of the citizens.
Challenges to Political and Economic Growth and Development in Africa
As an incurable optimist when it comes to Africa, I will not pretend that all is well with Africa as we still have a long way to go. A number of challenges still clog the wheel of progress. Some of these challenges form part of…
Let us take the issue of terrorism which is fast rising on a global scale. Terrorism is a global cancer that requires collective global effort to be surgically and strategically removed. Poverty, unemployment and warped social and religious values are among the many contributory factors leading African youth to enlist in the ignoble ranks of terrorists. Recruitment on social media channels targeting young people in Europe and America calls for global concern and action. This outlook provides a daunting challenge for Africa. Exactly three weeks ago today, gunmen suspected to be Al Shabaab devotees attacked Garissa University College in Kenya killing about 147 innocent students. This happened even before the pains and hurtful memories of the Westgate Mall attack of 2013 in Nairobi can begin to fade. For six years, Boko Haram killed and slaughtered people in Northern Nigeria with the kidnap of 276 Chibok school girls being one of the outstanding entries in their black book. Their activities were even extended into neighboring Cameroun, Chad and Niger. March 2015 also witnessed attacks on the Bardo Museum in Tunis, Tunisia, with foreign and local causalities. In France, Denmark, Australia, Turkey, Mali, Egypt, horrendous attacks on innocent lives have been perpetrated by terrorists and their sympathizers.
Terrorism threatens to reverse the progress in political and economic stability that has so far being made in Africa. It discourages economic growth by creating insecurity which drives investors away and discourage more FDls. As the global community press on in this fight, Africa should be seen as a partner in progress to combat this global threat to human security. Individual nations should embark on socio-economic programmes to lift up marginalized and disadvantaged areas of their countries .Intelligence sharing and joint military operation at bilateral and multi-lateral levels must be…
Another challenge facing the continent is the high level of unemployment. The global unemployment outlook is not very positive but Africa’s unemployment rate remains alarming. The youth who constitute about 60°/o of the population are more affected by this challenge.
Employment is a right of all those who want to’ work and that right must not be denied them. Growth without job creation can only lead to frustration, bitterness and anger particularly among the youth who, in restiveness and restlessness, can trigger a tsunami of social unrest that would make nonsense of the highest of growths.
Although the era of military incursion into democratic systems in Africa is becoming rare, pockets of violent conflicts and ethnic tensions are still being experienced in some areas. In 2013, the number of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs)in Africa grew by about eight percent. The conflict in Democratic Republic of Congo shattered the political system and ruined any record of growth recorded before the conflict began. The civil war in South Sudan has seen the humanitarian crisis in that country degenerate beyond acceptable levels. I was approved Chairman of the AU Commission of Inquiry on South Sudan as a result of violent conflict after independence.
Uninterrupted democratic systems signal the only way to a prosperous Africa.