Reinventing Africa for the Challenges of the Twenty-First Century

Death By Public Policy

These are just a few of the consequences of the failure of what the African elite has dubbed “public policies,” “policy-making,” “development planning,” and “governance” since the 1960s.  It is no wonder that at the beginning of the new millennium, Africa was the poorest, most technology-backward, most politically unstable, most crisis-ridden, most-indebted, and most foreign-dominated and exploited as well as the most marginal continent in the world.  Foreign debt represents up to 80 percent of GDP in net present value terms in most countries, inflation rates average between 12 and 45 percent, unemployment rates (excluding the informal sector) ranges between 12 and 25 percent, while the savings rate in Africa is the lowest in the world.  As well, 15 of the world’s 20 most impoverished nations are in Africa, with over 3 million refugees and 18 million internally displaced persons.  It is estimated by international agencies that over 250 million Africans lack access to potable water, while over 200 million have no opportunities to access basic health services.  More than 2 million children die before their first year, over 150 million youth are illiterate, and almost half of rural females do not attend formal schools. Africa looses more than 23,000 professionals annually while it expends US$4 billion on the services of 100,000 foreign consultants and advisers.  Civil wars, violence, decayed values, failed policies, bad leadership and governance have contributed to the brain drain.  The statistics can be disheartening and intimidating (see African Union, Global Coalition for Africa, Economic Commission for Africa, and the World Bank).
No matter how we stretch the statistics, the African continent has performed woefully.  Countries that showed promise in the 1960s and were hailed as “miracles” and “model states” degenerated into wars, dictatorships, and aid-dependent states within a decade of independence.  Most pitifully, the average annual growth rate in most African states has been in the negative since the 1960s, though doctored or manufactured data may have given some states growth rates above 5% which are often not reflected in the Physical Quality of Life Index, GNP per capita levels, or infrastructural development outside the capital city.
This is amazing because according to the Lagos Plan of Action (1981), “Africa’s underdevelopment is not inevitable.  Indeed, it is a paradox when one bears in mind the immense human and material resources of the continent.  In addition to a reservoir of human resources, our continent has 97 per cent of world reserves of chrome, 85 per cent of world reserves of platinum, 64 per cent of world reserves of manganese, 25 per cent of world reserves of uranium, and 13 per cent of world reserves of copper, without mentioning bauxite, nickel and lead; 20 per cent of world hydro-electrical potential, 20 per cent of traded oil in the world (if we exclude the United States and the USSR); 70 per cent of world cocoa production; one-third of world coffee production, 50 per cent of palm produce, just to mention a few.” For a continent that is so resource endowed, the ordinary observer must wonder as to what went wrong.  Over 50 years of freedom, we are talking of “reserves” and “potentials”.

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