Africa Diary - Africa Rising


What are the prospects for an African century? Are the 48 countries of Sub-Sahara Africa finally finding their place among developed and developing countries of the world? How do we map the trajectory of these 48 countries? There are no easy answers to these questions. More importantly, however, where you look for the answers strongly influences whether you will be optimistic or pessimistic about Africa. Your choice of optics or how you organise what you find, will colour your findings, believes Dr James J Hentz

Much has been made in the last few years of Africa’s economic rise and potential. Six of the 10 fastest growing countries in the last decade are in Africa. On the whole, its GDP is projected to grow by 5.2 percent in 2014. One half of the increase in the world population in the next 40 years will come from Africa; creating large markets for the developed world to compete over and in which to invest. Africa reportedly has the world’s fastest growing middle class; the purported backbone of democracy around the world. And indeed, Africa has a growing number of democracies or countries transitioning to democracy. In 2011, roughly 60 million African households earned at least $3,000 a year. By next year, more than 100 million households will make that much. Trade between Africa and the rest of the world has increased by 200 percent since 2000. Since 1996, the poverty rate has fallen by one percent per year. Life expectancies are shooting up. The Afro-optimists have a point.

Yet, Africa is the most conflict prone continent. During the last decade, more than half of Africa’s states have been in warfare. There are more UN peacekeeping troops in Africa than in any other continent. By the end of 2013, 70 percent of the 98, 267 UN peacekeepers around the world were in Sub-Sahara Africa. Since 2000, Africa’s wars have cost an estimated $700 billion in damages. According to the Heidelberg Institute’s 2013 Conflict Barometer, in 2013, there were 45 highly violent conflicts in the world (20 wars and 25 limited wars), 18 of them were in Africa, and that was an increase of 10 from the previous year. Conflict rages in Sudan and South Sudan; in Somalia; in the Democratic Republic of Congo; in Nigeria, in the Central African Republic; and across the Sahel. The Afro-pessimists have a point.

Inequitable Spread of Success

From an economic perspective, Africa appears promising. But the above indicators may be misleading. Faster growth from a low baseline is not unusual. Mozambique, which is growing quickly, for instance, has a per capita income of $593. Most African states are still poor. Population growth may promise larger markets, it also strains countries that already have problems providing basic services. A growing middle class belies the fact that income inequality is high in Africa, particularly in its two largest economies, Nigeria and South Africa. Nonetheless, for the sake of argument, we can acknowledge that Africa, or much of Africa, has made significant strides over the last decade. The problem may be, however, what affect do the countries that are not making such impressive strides have on the rest of Africa?

Obviously, such success as Africa has had over the last decade has been uneven, leaving many countries unstable and poor. The Fragile States Index 2014 lists five states on ‘very high alert’: South Sudan, Somalia, Central African Republic (CAR), the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Sudan. Each of them is witnessing a conflict. Eleven countries are listed in the next most serious category, ‘high alert,’ five of them African: Chad, Zimbabwe, Guinea, Côte d’Ivoire, and Guinea Bissau. Eighteen countries are listed under the third level of fragility, 11 of them are African: Nigeria, Kenya, Ethiopia, Niger, Burundi, Uganda, Eritrea, Liberia, Cameroon, Mauritania, and Rwanda. Economic success has eluded many: at the bottom, CAR had negative 36 percent GDP growth in 2013 and Sudan negative 6 percent. Even where there is growth, official corruption can retard the equitable spread of its benefits across the population: The DRC grew by 8.5 percent in 2013, but is also ranked 145th out of 175 on the 2013 global corruption index; Nigeria is 144th; and Somalia, Sudan and South Sudan round out the bottom three.

A Better Optic for Africa’s Prospects

Underperformers could be considered exceptions to the rule, the proverbial outliers. The problem, however, is not the relatively small number of poor performers, but their neighbourhood affect. Focussing on individual countries provides a profoundly distorted view of Africa’s prospects. A better optic for looking at Africa is viewing the continent as a collection of regions, or cluster of states. Within these regions, failing states have fostered conflict zones that spill across borders. Repackaging the Fragile State Index by region is revealing. The Mano River Basin includes three countries from the above list: Guinea, Côte d’Ivoire and Liberia (and Guinea Bissau borders Guinea); The Great Lakes region has four: the DRC, Burundi, Uganda, and Rwanda. The conflict zone that straddles Darfur includes: CAR, Chad, Sudan, and South Sudan. Nigeria has conflicts in its north and south; the former fuelled by Boko Haram has spilled into Cameroon (and possibly Chad). The Trans-Sahel conflict zone includes Niger and Mauritania from the list (and should probably include Mali). The Al Shabaab insurgency in Somalia has spilled over into Kenya, and its internal conflict was triggered by its failed attempt to take the Ogden region from Ethiopia. And Ethiopia and Eritrea fought each from May 1998 to June 2000. All these conflict zones are protean, changing over time and often spilling across contiguous zones.

Looking at Africa by focussing on regions of war and peace gives us a clearer picture of Africa’s prospects. Southern Africa has only one country on the Fragile State Index – Zimbabwe. The rest of the sub-continent has been at peace since the end of the Angolan civil war in 2002. It is anchored by Africa’s second largest and most diverse economy, and includes Africa’s most stable democracy, Botswana. The Mano River Basin is relatively calm with the end of the civil wars in Liberia and Sierra Leone, but includes fragile states that are now dealing with the Ebola virus. The DRC is still the epicentre of a war across states, which includes, to various degrees, its eastern neighbours. The greater Horn of Africa, from Somalia to Sudan has conflict; and the Darfur conflict cannot be separated from the simmering conflict in Chad. The entire Trans-Sahel region is on a knife’s edge, and has connections to the Boko Haram insurgency in northeast Nigeria.

Thus, even from an individual perspective, Africa is more safe than dangerous, only 18 of its 48 countries had highly violent conflicts in 2013; the problem is that these conflicts often metastasise creating regional conflict zones.

New Wine in New Bottles

In July, the United States held the US-Africa Leadership Summit and announced its commitment to enhance its economic and security assistance. This approach acknowledges the symbiotic relationship between good governance and security. The initiative is an extension of existing efforts that have fallen short of their goals. It is new wine in old bottles. We need new wine in new bottles.

One of the new programmes is the ‘African Peacekeeping Rapid Response Partnership’ or A-Prep, to enhance the ability of Africa’s nascent Rapid Deployment Forces (RDF) to move quickly into crisis zones. A-Prep will do so by originally supporting six partners that already have competent militaries: Senegal, Ghana, Ethiopia, Rwanda, Tanzania, and Uganda with $110 million over 3-5 years. Although the US expects to work through the African Union, this will essentially be bilateral arrangements. This does little to strengthen Africa’s regional economic communities (RECs), each of which is developing standby brigades under the AU’s relatively new African Peace and Security Architecture (APSA). Furthermore, the US currently supports UN or AU peacekeeping missions in CAR, Côte d’Ivoire, DRC, Liberia, Mali, Somalia, South Sudan and Darfur; none of which are one of the proposed partners. Each, however, belongs to a REC, which through APSA is expected to develop regional standby forces. Although the US under the auspices of Africa Contingency Operations Training & Assistance (ACOTA) has since 2005 trained 2,48,000 Africans from 25 partner countries, and has included assistance to the AU and support for increased interoperability, the bilateral nature of the military aid belies the regional logic of Africa’s conflicts.

The ‘Security and Governance Initiative’ also takes a bilateral approach. It will spread $65 million originally to six countries: Ghana, Kenya, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, and Tunisia. None of these countries are in ‘very high alert’ and ‘high alert’ category noted above – states most likely to fail and subsequently be the epicentre of regional conflict zones. This initiative builds on the purported success of the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), which was to give reforming African countries the most liberal access to US markets. But, again, it does this on a bilateral basis which does little to support Africa’s REC’s. Since AGOA, dating back to the presidency of Bill Clinton, conflict has hardly abated in Africa.

Africa’s future trajectory will mostly depend on decisions it makes. Outside actors can help. In the end, as with the original 13 colonies of the US, Africa’s nations will either hang together or they will certainly hang apart.

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Dr James

Dr James J Hentz is Professor and Chair of the Department of International Studies and Political Science at the Virginia Military Institute, and the editor-in-chief of the Taylor & Francis/Routledge quarterly journal African Security.

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