Africa Slum

Six Challenges Facing Africa in 2016

While I am an optimist with regard to global poverty alleviation, my optimism is sorely tested when it comes to my beloved birth continent, Africa.

Because Africa is huge, diverse, and complicated, it is difficult to make sense of what is going on in the continent, how the continent interacts with the rest of the world, and how America might best pursue its national interests and the global common good in its relations with Africa.

The recently published report from the Africa Growth Initiative at the Brookings Institution, Foresight Africa: Top Priorities for the Continent 2016, serves as a both a filter (selecting what from the mass of data is helpful to the sensemaking enterprise) and a key (unlocking insights by offering interpretations of the filtered data) to this complexity.

Foresight Africa is carefully researched, clearly written, and helpfully illustrated. Marked by clear-eyed honesty and modest optimism, this report provides valuable points of reference as we consider the relationship between America and Africa after Obama. It identifies key challenges in six areas that require serious action.

Challenge #1: Africa’s current economic growth rate is far too low.

Sub-Saharan Africa’s GDP per capita (at constant 2005 prices) was $1,036.10 in 2014. At the 1.4% growth rate estimated for 2015, it would take Africa 50 years to double GDP per capita.

Challenge #2: African industrial development has been stalled since the 1970s.

Only one in five workers in Africa has a job in the wage economy. Historically, the only way to generate such jobs on a significant scale in developing countries has been by means of export-oriented manufacturing. But Africa has made little headway in growing export-oriented industries in the past four decades.

Challenge #3: The lives of most Africans are marred by poverty, hunger, poor education, ill health, and violence.

Although the poverty rate in Africa has dropped in recent years, rapid population growth means that the number of people suffering poverty keeps growing: from 280 million in 1990 to an estimated 330 million in 2012. Of the 20 countries in the world with the worst food and nutrition security, 19 are in Africa. More than two out of five African adults cannot read or write. Health outcomes are worse in Africa than anywhere else in the world, even though life expectancy at birth has risen and chronic child malnutrition has declined since the mid-1990s. Tolerance of domestic violence is twice as high as in the rest of the developing world. Incidents of violence against civilians are on the rise. While this litany of suffering is true throughout sub-Saharan Africa, with regard to all these measures life is particularly harsh for people living in the roughly 34% of Africa where states have collapsed to the point of irrelevance.

Challenge #4: Every year more Africans live in urban slums.

About 400 million Africans lived in cities in 2010, and 60% of those people lived in slums with no access to basic services. By 2050 that number is expected to grow to 1.26 billion. By 2035 half of all Africans will probably live in cities, with continuing urbanization expected thereafter.

Challenge #5: Corruption, corruption, corruption.

Perhaps the most upsetting sentence for me in Foresight Africa reads, “No reasonably democratic government in Africa has seen a rupture from corrupt and clientelistic modes of resource distribution.”

Challenge #6: Imminent changes to the architecture of global trade will disadvantage African countries.

The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP)—neither of which includes sub-Saharan African countries—will offset many of the trade benefits African countries currently enjoy under America’s Africa Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA).

The primary responsibility for addressing these challenges rests with Africans. African businesspeople will have to create the industries that will generate the jobs African workers need. African teachers will have to provide the education that African children need to be economically productive and politically effective. African nurses and doctors will have to do the hard work of raising the quality of health care Africans need. African parents will have to give their children the love, security, and discipline they need to grow into responsible and courageous adults. African political leaders will have to make the changes that will reduce corruption and generate the laws, policies, and practices needed to enable and encourage these preceding non-political efforts. And African citizens will have to create the popular pressure that pushes African governments towards these necessary changes.

But America can help.

Gideon Strauss is a Senior Fellow of the Center for Public Justice and Associate Professor in Worldview Studies at the Institute for Christian Studies

Photo Credit: A young boy sits over an open sewer in the Kibera Slum, Nairobi (by Trocaire, via Wikimedia Commons)

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  • Wm Armstrong

    That photo can be replicated a hundred times over, as I have seen almost the exact same scene in Freetown, Sierra Leone. But America can do nothing until the spectre of corruption is removed or abated. Every single leader from the President of the country to the policeman standing on the corner, feel that it is their God given prerogative to take bribes. They do not even see them as bribes but as part of their pay (Philippians 4:19).

    • I thoroughly agree with you on the necessity of reducing political corruption in Africa, Mr. Armstrong. I disagree with you that America can do nothing until this has happened. This is the primary question I’m exploring here in Providence this year: Given things as they are (rather than how we’d wish them to be), what can the USA do politically to encourage and help African citizens and governments make African states better in this century? Also taking into account, inter alia, the American national interest and the global common good.

      • Hancy Mponzi

        The problem is that now corruption has grow to the extent that it needs a big efforts to eliminate it so that even poor people can be treated fairly

        • So true, Mr. Mponzi! From what I read it seems to me that at least four things are needed to eliminate corruption: (1) Strong laws against corruption; (2) Government bureaucrats with a deep sense of their calling to public service, and along with that personal moral commitments against corruption; (3) Political reform movements made up of citizens who demand the elimination of corruption; and (4) Vibrant market economies that result in the emergence of classes of industrial workers, smallholding farmers, and independent business entrepreneurs, so that people have pathways to prosperity other than corrupt government employment. Do you think these four things would make a difference to corruption in African countries? I would love to hear your insights.

          • Kodzo Dekpe

            Agreed, it would. And that’s absolutely a great start, i.e. being able to identify what’s needed. The “how” question is where the difficulty shows up. How do you get a corrupt government to pass and abide by strong laws against corruption? How do you mobilize citizen for political reform movements against the elimination of corruption, when they are always crashed in blood by dictatorial governments? The vibrant market economies are beautiful ideas, but how and where do you start in this interwoven web of challenges? I’m not trying to be cynical or discouraging, but just hoping that we can discuss these challenges with a heavy dose of realism. My personal take is that if anything is really going to work, it’s going to have to come from a visionary leadership. Even if, all African businesspeople decide today to go invest in various industries in Africa, they will face a corrupt leadership which lacks vision and empathy for its own constituents. Looking forward to reading your feedback.

          • Shirsha

            I am so much impressed with all the ideas, identifying the problems affecting an incredible continent African, and how these problems will be solved. But take a look at African leaders how corrupt they are, with little corncern for the masses of the continent especially the less privilege. Despite all the difficuities, I think self-sufficient will help reduce most of the challenges. So, I will encourage the educational system to be teaching the youths more of practical skills than excessive theory that makes them dependants for government JOBS after many years of studies.

          • Mr. Strauss, I totally agree with your observation about the situation on the continent and in looking for ways to work within the constraints that exist there currently. In a region
            where 50% of the population are living in extreme poverty, the prime cause for most of the problems they face is joblessness, poor education, poor health, hunger, malnutrition, social instability/violence, extreme corruption
            and poor democratization. All these are causes which the world now fights as separate expensive battles but it is obvious that wrestling Extreme Poverty down and helping Africa minimize corruption in government, will solve most of
            these issues.

            The new government of Nigeria led by Mr. Buhari is fighting a very serious battle against corrupt politicians and corruptions in Nigeria. He would need all the help he can get from the USA and others wishing Africa well. It is very likely that if he succeeds in Nigeria, (which makes up 20% of Africa) the positive impact would be felt in other African countries. So this is one type of area where USA and others can help.

            Another thing America and the other rich countries (the G8 & OECD) can do now is to change their thinking in the way
            development assistance is given to Africa. Collectively the rich countries drop over $25 billion every year on the rich in Africa, in the name of development assistance and hoping for an economic trickle-down to the poorest 550 million. Billions of dollars have been spent over several years and only a merge has reached the poor. Given the past poor
            performance of African governments, this is now a wrong
            approach. Today we have 370 million children and their 180 million Breadwinner-parents living on less than $2 a day. If USA and others can agree to directly empower each
            of these already enterprising but poor parents with an average of $500 in revolving micro capitals (through local Community Based Organizations or Micro finance institutions; and not through their governments), to leverage and utilize the skills/energies these poor people already have. This will enable them to earn more, boost overall economic growth, quickly reduce extreme poverty and we could achieve poverty history within 10 years.

        • kabanda daniel(UG)

          what could be the way out of this eradicating corruption in African countries

          but put on mind what happened in the due course of imperial colonialism

          it is by this fact that africa is experienceing poverty and corruption and at the same tym underdeveloped

          its only because the called so colonialists mis managed our reasources and they deprivetised us(African)

          to your NOTICE mr. Gideon cant do away with corruption by laws yet the implementors of those laws are the very people placticing corruption morely in Africa