Africa is the world’s richest continent. Crammed full of diamonds, manganese, copper and other precious metals, the potential of the ‘dark continent’ is enormous, yet so little has been achieved in terms of development.
The situation has not changed significantly since the advent of decolonisation in the 1950’s and 60’s, in which cash-strapped Britain and France relinquished their possessions rapidly following growing agitation for independence. At one time colonial powers had sought to extract mineral resources from Africa, yet this is now being replaced by multinational corporations usually of western, and now increasingly Chinese origin doing the exact same practise.
Colonial-era railways in Africa did not connect towns and cities; it linked up mining operations to seaports for the purpose of wealth extraction for European factories. Such an enterprise still exists to this day, as seen here in West Africa.
The hopes and dreams of independence have failed to materialise, and Africa remains a continent forgotten in terms of investment in its people. Decades of kleptocratic governments, often backed up by western powers have eradicated much hope of a meritocracy, thus stifling the development of many African nations. This can be shown through the length of time many leaders have remained in power of such states. Cameroon’s Paul Biya for example, has remained in power for 42 years, making him the nation’s 2nd president since independence in 1960. Likewise, the illustrious Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe would be celebrating his 38th year in office in 2018 after a tenureship of strong and stable rule followed by economic mismanagement and oppression particularly at the turn of the century.
Conversely, there are stories of successful democracies in sub-Saharan Africa; notably in Botswana. Lauded as a continuous multi-party democracy, this landlocked country has an exemplary human rights record outshining many western nations. Moreover, Botswana is one of the fastest growing nations in the world in terms of GDP growth, and boasts one of the highest ratings on the Human Development Index in Africa.
Neighbouring Zambia also holds a exemplary record in terms of development and stability, topping Africa’s Global Peace Index in 2015. It’s economy is incredibly diverse, not being plagued by the single cash-crop enterprises that has blighted many other nations in the region. Rich in copper, cobalt and tobacco, China in particular has become one of Zambia’s chief export partners; a trend which has been Chinese investment into sub-Saharan Africa since the beginning of the 21st century.
Tourism, Tobacco and Titanite: Zambia has benefited from a diversified economy, which has attracted much foreign investment.
Dubbed the ‘New Scramble for Africa’, China has increased its trade with China by a staggering 700% during since 2000, justifying its involvement as an effort to “push forward the creation of new, fair and just political and economic order”; in the words of the nation’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Such involvement has brought a degree of scrutiny from the wider world; criticising China for its continued economic support of Sudan’s government, which has been accused of killings and bloodshed in it’s Darfur region. Likewise, China has supplied military aircraft and machinery to Robert Mugabe’s Zimbabwe, who also has been accused of his nation’s poor human rights record.
Aside from human rights and economic development, Africa faces a great deal of other challenges to face in the 21st century. One such sticking point remains employment and the efforts to provide sustainable, good quality jobs. The continents labour force grew by 91 million in the past decade, yet only 37 million regular jobs were created. Another often overlooked issue in Africa is one of climate change and food security. The IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) has earmarked the continent as being the most vulnerable to global warming, facing severe threats from droughts, storms, flooding and desertification; issues that are not addressed often enough by the global community.
Despite these challenges, it is the potential of Africa in the 21st century that excites contemporary political and economic pundits. The nasty scars of Idi Amin, Emperor Bokassa, Leopold II, colonialism and apartheid are long gone, and Africa is slowly emerging from the labels of poverty and miserably that it has suffered from for so long. Indeed, Africa is rising, yet it still has a very long way to go, but the digital revolution has benefitted the continent in a creative and positive way. The internet, and mobile technology are being harnessed for the public good, facilitating commerce and creating growth for regular Africans in a way never seen before. The indentured servants, groundnut farmers and garden boys of the past are being replaced by entrepreneurs, fashionistas and tech-savvy business owners redefining the African of yesteryear.
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