The Cape Times, 16 Feb. 2012 —-THE 49 African countries south of the Sahara are finally ready for takeoff – economic growth and international empowerment. They will realise these long elusive goals thanks to the dramatic rise of an African middle class and the resource hungry appetite of China. China’s flourishing economy, growing now at nine percent a year, drives the sub-Saharan African average GDP annual growth rate per capita, now about six percent throughout the sub-continent. Sub-Saharan Africa, overall, has never grown so rapidly and so consistently – only Botswana and Mauritius grew at such rates in the 1990s and the first years of this century. Now the oil and gas suppliers are leading the African race to prosperity along with other mineral producers. China is buying up all of these underground and undersea commodities. It even provides a market for agricultural exports and for some manufactured goods.
Naturally, there is a huge downside. Although China is building roads, railways, harbours, thermal power plants, football stadiums, state houses and much more almost everywhere, and also exploring for gas and oil (and even investing in banking in SA), Chinese private and state-owned firms employ very few Africans, preferring to import Chinese labour to complete many of the more important construction contracts (China thinks its own workers are more “reliable”). So there is little effective technology transfer in addition to Africa’s appalling levels of unemployment being virtually unchanged by Chinese efforts. China also supports some of Africa’s most notorious malefactors. It backs the Sudanese military junta that shot up Darfur with Chinese weaponry and Chinese aircraft and who now harass Sudan’s own southern states such as Blue Nile and the Nuba Mountains region of South Kordofan. China also gave fighter aircraft to Robert Mugabe’s Zimbabwe, supplied uniforms to his military and built a training college for his securocrats. Furthermore, China lavishly supports the autocratic elite that tightly govern Angola. The rampant corruption that pervades Angola, Zimbabwe, Sudan and many other sub-Saharan countries bothers the Chinese very little. Indeed,China is interested in securing Africa’s abundant resources, not in the future of Africa or the future of its people. Chinese desire and determination, in other words, is enabling Africa to prosper as well as fuelling the continent’s hopes of continuing to prosper for decades to come. Indeed, without China, there would be little optimism about an Africa that will grow during the rest of this century to become the second largest collection of people on the planet.
By 2100, there should be 10 billion of us, 4 billion of whom will be Asian and 3.7 billion of whom will be Africans. Nigeria, now 162 million, will emerge as the third largest country in the world in terms of population, after India and China. Nigeria’s population will then be 780 million. Little Malawi, over the same period, will grow from 13 million today to 139 million. Zambia will grow even more, as will Tanzania and the Democratic Republic of Congo, in 2100 predicted to be the seventh largest population in the world. SA, Botswana and Namibia, because of HIV/Aids, enhanced schooling for girls and reduced fertility for women, will grow less rapidly than the rest of Africa. Zimbabwe will only double in size while all of the countries to its north will explode. Sub-Saharan Africa, about 50 percent urbanised now, will reduce its rural populations to a mere 35 percent of the total. Fifty percent of these populations will be young, with all of the attendant problems connected with a youth bulge which will pulsate throughout the decades up until 2100. Crime rates could rise, as could all kinds of other social problems.
Asia’s population increased greatly in the 1980s and 1990s, but Asia (especially Singapore, Malaysia,Taiwan and South Korea) realised a demographic dividend. As its potential consumers multiplied, so its governments supplied more than just education, including technical education. That happy conjunction of births and policies gave Asia a much better educated population. As its middle class became larger and more prominent, so it contributed to the growth of a global, modernised, responsible political consciousness. The Asian middle class consumed. But it also demanded better governance, strengthened democracy and a much improved capacity for building and training. Will Africa benefit from a demographic dividend? Will it – can it – emulate Asia and use its predicted population increases to deliver better economic, social and political results to its long suffering peoples? That is the key question for the leaders of sub-Saharan Africa at this critical juncture. If there are to be positive answers, much of sub-Saharan Africa will have to learn lessons from its best led, best governed and most enduringly prosperous nations: Botswana, Mauritius and now Ghana. Sir Seretse Khama and his gifted successor presidents in Botswana, Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam and his successor prime ministers in Mauritius, and Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew in Singapore, all understood in the 1960s, from the very beginning of their political careers, that effective leadership started with articulating a comprehensive vision of integrity, growth and prosperity. Then these leaders, and others, had to demonstrate to their constituents that corruption would never be tolerated – corrupt practices sap the vitality and destroy the moral fibre of any political enterprise. Once Khama, Ramgoolam and Lee showed their followers that they were “real” leaders – honest and forthright and possessing intellectual honesty – they had to deliver good governance and positive results in the areas of schooling, health care, roads, energy and overall economic performance. Few other African leaders followed the lead of these three gifted presidents and prime ministers. But now the lessons of Botswana and Mauritius provide the only effective way forward for sub-Saharan Africa.
If Kenyans, Tanzanians, Nigerians, Liberians and the rest do not develop better governance and benefit from enlightened leadership, sub-Saharan Africa could easily sink under the weight of its projected population bulge. Policy makers must move rapidly to strengthen schooling chances. Only six percent of eligible Africans move from secondary school to higher education, and secondary educational places (especially for girls) are too few to meet demand.
Africa will not benefit from the demographic dividend without a renewed attention to the quantity and quality of educational opportunity. The new African middle class, 25 percent of the population and growing (a dramatic leap in size in the last decade) wants these and many significant social changes. It pleads for more transparency and accountability. It wants Africa to join the modernised global village where despots like Mugabe no longer tyrannise their people and where political elites are fully responsible to the aspirations of their disparate people rather than succumbing to personal greed. China may cease growing rapidly in a decade or two. Some of Africa’s resources may run out in a few decades. In order to prepare for those dangerous eventualities, sub-Saharan Africa must prepare responsibly and wisely, firstly by democratising, reducing corruption, and nation-building. Stability will also be critical, which will mean ending the civil wars of the Congo and the Sudan, damping down on crime and strengthening good governance in order to attract new foreign and domestic investment (in addition to China), to reduce the brain drain that sends some of Africa’s best minds overseas, and to give Africans in their exploding numbers renewed faith in their personal and national futures. If the peoples and countries of sub-Saharan Africa are to catch up and possibly surpass Asia, Latin America and Europe, they must act now. Then Africa will surely realise its long-suppressed potential.