Telling tales: Figuring out AfricaBy MWENDA wa MICHENI | Friday, June 15 2012 at 14:43
Not many hours ago, US President Barrack Obama launched his country's strategy on Africa. Coming three years into his leadership, it can only be telling.
According to the plan, Americans are seeking more trade interactions with the continent, especially with China's increased interests in Africa. Apparently, Uncle Sam is eying the economic opportunities that Africa stands to offer, new security partnerships as well as the usual interest in democratic institutions on the continent.
The Herald Sun online reports that the US blueprint will notably seek to encourage the "stunning" potential of economic growth to lift millions out of poverty in a continent more often associated with famine, poverty and strife. That is not surprising coming from them--That is what they want to see of Africa.
The same paper goes on: "The plan will be unveiled nearly three years after Mr Obama, the son of a Kenyan father, laid out his priorities for the often crisis-scarred continent in Ghana, on the sole trip of his presidency so far to sub-Saharan Africa."
So why now? "This strategy commits the United States to be proactive in the face of the numerous challenges and opportunities that we have identified," a senior US official told the paper after the launch of the strategy.
The question is, why did Obama have to wait this long ? Maybe because Africa, in their eyes, is the same old wasteland? Those are some are questions that must be posed.
Back to our series on small stories, that started earlier this week. Here, we are trying to figure out Africa; picking the small stories that make the bigger picture of the continent that thousands from across the world have often ignored, misrepresented or just misunderstood.
On this part, I pick some interesting facts about the continent that suggest the future of the continent, from different sources.
Trade: In ten years, trade between China and Africa has moved to over $120 billion in 2011, from more than $20 billion a decade earlier. This is clear if you travel across the continent. Chinese workers, even traders in some cases, have their hands full whether in Dakar or Addis Ababa. Interestingly, the Chinese have their formulae, defying that of traditional traders with Africa, who have often combined trade, governance and international politics making some Africans uncomfortable and robbed of their sovereignty.
In the Chinese case, Africa seems to get favourable returns, if the numbers are anything to go by.
- The population: Population of 30 African countries will more than double by 2050. Being a time when the rest of the world is suffering from the opposite, that is a declining workforce, this could be a big asset for the continent. But there are serious threats that need to be addressed before an explosion blows the opportunities away: 40 per cent of the unemployed in Africa young people; the rate of youth inactivity which stands at 62 per cent and 42 per cent in Northern Africa and sub-Saharan Africa respectively.
Urbanisation: Between 2010 and 2025, 16 of the fastest growing cities in the world will be in Africa. These include Ouagadougou in Burkina Faso, which is one of the tiniest in the continent; Lilongwe, Blantyre-Libe and Yamaussoukro in Cote d'Ivoire and Niamey in Niger.
This will greatly transform the way of lives and could even threaten agricultural production, unless the continent mechanises faster. It could also mean more commercial activities, especially if economies will grow at a faster rate.
Integration: African rivers could be the answer to the dream of one Africa, if the number of shared waters are anything to go by. According to a Mo Ibrahim Foundation report, Africa’s trans-boundary river basins contain 93 per cent of its total surface water resources. They are also home to approximately 77 per cent of Africa’s population; Africa has more rivers shared by three or more countries than any other continent; The Congo basin is shared by 11 countries and discharges 40,000 m3 into the Atlantic Ocean every second.
There are those who see danger in this but judging from the recent efforts towards regional integration, this could bring riparian countries even closer.
Land: Up to 79 per cent of Africa’s arable land remains uncultivated according to the Mo Ibrahim Foundation. Small or micro-scale farming, adds the report, is the primary source of livelihood for over two thirds of Africans with small-scale farmers contributing over 90 per cent of Africa’s agricultural production.
With greater exploitation of land resources, especially at a commercial level, issues of food insecurity in the continent could easily be dealt with. It could also help create employment opportunities for the youth, especially if the sector proves rewarding to them.
- Growth: In Africa, GDP per capita has been growing steadily since 2000. In 2000 about 59 million of Africa's households earned at least $5,000, the point at which families begin to spend half their income on non-food items. With increasing numbers of Africans living in urban areas, the number of households with discretionary income is projected to increase by 50 per cent to 128 million over the next decade.
With these kind of indicators, it is clear that Africa has its challenges to deal with, just like the rest of the world, but aren't there several growth opportunities that could be harnessed too ?
Email: email@example.com; Twitter: wamicheni
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