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Friday, May 24, 2013

An African millennial reflects on the African Union's golden jubilee

The world economic growth may be slowing down and Europe may be facing is biggest financial crisis. However, Africa's economic growth is doing well according to experts. And this positive may be decisive in the making of Africa's unity for the next decades.

Dr.Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma  (Photo : peaceau.org)
In fact, an online World Bank article says that public-private collaboration can make Africa globally competitive. The same article states that the economic growth  observed in Africa does not necessarily benefit Africans themselves who remain poor.
Africa's economies have been experiencing annual growth rates well above 5% in the last decade. There is a widespread optimism about the Region's prospects for steady growth amidst a global economic downturn. However, as The Africa Competitiveness Report 2013 cautions, serious challenges remain.
In 2012, Africa's exports have reached 500 billion USD in 2012. The phenomenon is led by Eastern African countries including Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi, thanks to their soft commodities: tea, coffee, grains, oil.  On Moon of the South, award-winning journalist Issa Sikita da Silva reports comments from Zambia-born Gwen Mwaba, Standard Bank executiveVice-President for Structured Trade Finance: 
International commodity traders are turning to African banks to finance trade transactions as the global economic slowdown, Eurozone debt crisis, and tougher capital requirements force international banks to pull back their lending in Africa, Mwaba said. Therefore, many international banks have reviewed their risk appetite and have withdrawn from, or limited their exposure to trade finance in Africa.

Excellent! Africa is economically on the right track. Now, the question is whether this economic growth really benefits Africans? I surely agree that Africa is rising. However, one cannot overlook the fact that 61% of Africa's population still live below the $2 poverty line and 44% below the $.1.25 poverty line, as reported by the African Bank of Development (AFBD). On page 4, the new AFDB report defines the Africa's emerging middle class:
Africa's middle class is characterized by a high concentration in the lower ranks with per capita expenditure levels of $2-$4 per day, thus putting many of these households in a vulnerable position and facing the possibility of dropping back into the poor category in the event of any exogenous shocks. The results of this study show that about 21% of Africa's population falls in this category and remain barely above the poverty line. This represents about 216 million people.
The obstacles that prevent Africa's unity run deep. I will allow myself to point out two factors:
  • The social issue of tribalism that is at the root of the division within African families as well as most civil wars on the continent.
  • The heavy financial dependence of African countries on foreign investors.
Merriam-Webster.com defines tribalism as the exaltation of the tribe above other groups. In my opinion, tribalism is the invisible cancer of Africa. Some of my African friends shared with me that the ethnic group (tribe) of their partners would determine their acceptance in their families. At a personal level, some will never think of marrying someone from another ethnic group (tribe) than theirs. Go figure. 

Then, there are the many 'gifts' from foreign investors. This is the case of the 200-million new headquarters of the African Union built in Addis Abeba, Ethiopia by the Republic of China. Trade between China and Africa reached $120 billion in 2011, a six-fold increase in the past decade, as reported by Global Post. According to BBC News Africa, this 'gift' will only strengthen China's influence on African leaders. A more recent example is the financial assistance request by the AU to the United Nations for the situation in Mali. And the list can go on. The financial dependence keeps African leaders from making independent decisions that may actually benefit Africans.





What do 50 years mean to an African millennial? When I think of 50 years for my continent,I think of my relatives of that age, their same-aged friends, and the parents of my friends. Some of them have studied abroad and came back to their homeland with their heads filled with dreams. So they have worked hard in order to provide a bright future to their children. Some have worked honestly, others haven't. Despite their efforts, most of them have not realized their dreams and are now unable to help their children realize theirs.  As a result, they now look up to us, their children, for hope. They are willing to ruin themselves in order for us, their children, to realize their dreams ... abroad. Simple dreams such as having a career, getting  married, or raising healthy children.

The vision of the African Union is that of: "An integrated, prosperous and peaceful Africa, driven by its own citizens and representing a dynamic force in global arena." The celebration of the AU's Golden Jubilee is the chance for current African leaders to evaluate themselves and to review the best strategies to bring the development of Africa forward, under the leadership of Dr. Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, the first woman to chair the African Union (AU).