Construction works in Ethiopia © Simon Davis/Department for International Development (CC BY 2.0)

Inclusive Development is needed to Sustain “Africa Rising”

Against predictions, the past 15 years have seen many African countries on the path towards greater stability, investment and growth. Now the challenge is to ensure that this success filters down to the level of ordinary citizens.

For most of the previous century Africa has generally suffered from negative stereotypes – particularly from a governance perspective. The continent has been typified as an underdeveloped, conflict-prone, and corrupt basket case. At the turn of the 21st century, the Economist went as far as to dub it “The Hopeless Continent” depicting a child soldier with a grenade launcher flung over his shoulder on the front cover.

Yet a decade later, the same newspaper had to concede that it might have misdiagnosed the continent’s prospects and ran another cover story under the heading “Africa Rising”. Many Sub-Saharan African countries have stabilized their internal affairs, adopted democratic principles, and implemented prudent economic policies. They have turned the continent into the second fastest growing region in the world after South-East Asia.

It is true that this growth has occurred from a low base and that there is still much room for economic infrastructure to improve. It is equally true that parts of Africa are still ravaged conflicts. Yet, on the whole the trend has been towards greater stability that has allowed for greater investment and growth.

The great challenge now is to ensure that these gains are consolidated and that the proceeds of growth are translated into inclusive economic development. Ordinary citizens – not only governments and big business – should feel that the economic gains are filtering down to their level.

The international community needs a more nuanced picture of Africa

To do so, international investors and donors require a more nuanced picture of the countries that drive change across Africa. Probably most importantly the international community must shed its lazy prejudices that lump views about an entire continent into one perspective.

The Bertelsmann Transformation Index (BTI) by the German Bertelsmann Foundation is part of a new generation of indices that provide such detailed analyses. BTI’s governance indicators examine 129 development and transition countries, including 38 Sub-Saharan African states that are undergoing or have recently undergone profound socio-political transformation.

As part of a broader research project, titled Next Generation Democracy, the Bertelsmann Foundation together with the Club de Madrid and other organizations has recently released a series of papers on the strength of democracy, based on the insights of the BTI 2014.

These regional analyses focus on different dimensions of democracy development, among them the imperative for access and inclusiveness, which will be vital to ensure that Africa’s progress at the macro level is felt at the micro level amongst ordinary citizens. The BTI reports look at two components here, namely political and social integration and inclusiveness and non-discrimination, with a score of 10 being the best possible ranking and 0 representing the worst performance.

For ordinary citizens, obstacles for economic participation remain high

The paper for sub-Saharan Africa finds that only 16 of the 38 countries in the regional sample scored higher than 5 out of 10 on the measure for access and inclusiveness, with Mauritius, Ghana, South Africa, Botswana, and Namibia occupying the top five positions, while Somalia, Eritrea, the Central African Republic, Côte d’Ivoire, and Chad occupy the bottom five. In the entire sample only the top five countries managed a score of 6 and higher for both political and social integration and inclusiveness and non-discrimination.

Overall the scores for inclusiveness and non-discrimination point to some of the most stubborn problems. With the exception of five states, all countries score high on their degree of statehood, in other words the degree to which citizens respect the legitimacy of the existence of the state that they live in. However, only one country, the island state of Mauritius, scores higher than 5 as far as the absence of economic barriers to greater prosperity is concerned. Only three countries, South Africa, Namibia and Botswana recorded scores of 5, while the remainder of the 38 sampled countries score 3 and below. While citizens can therefore identify with the state as an entity and feel a sense of belonging, there are significant obstacles for ordinary citizens to find prosperity in these countries.

Moreover, the BTI 2014 results suggest that the odds to succeed economically are also unevenly stacked. Some citizens, depending on their race, ethnicity, gender or religion have to work harder due to different forms of prejudice and discrimination.

African governments must invest in the countries’ greatest assets: their people

Most of the initial beneficiaries of the economic gains of the past 15 years were business people and politically-connected individuals. Thus, the challenge for governments all across the continent will be to convert the economic growth gains into inclusive development for a broader cross-section of citizens.

Inclusive growth requires targeted investment over time in the greatest assets that countries have: their people. Results will take longer to manifest, but these are policy priorities that cannot be postponed. Unfortunately competing immediate pressures exist to create shortcuts to leverage growth on the one hand, while alleviating poverty on the other, leaving little room for these investments to mature.

Future discussions on the nature of developmental support should place greater emphasis on the incremental, but visible attainment of this balance, without having to compensate in terms of economic growth. Not only does this create the potential for more widespread prosperity amongst African citizens, it also opens the prospects of new markets for established producers in developed economies.

Jan Hofmeyr heads the Policy and Analysis Programme at the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation (IJR) in Cape Town. The institute, a recipient of the 2008 UNESCO Prize for Peace Training, focuses its activities on matters of transitional justice within African societies. Jan Hofmeyr is one of 250 country experts who is currently working on the BTI 2016.

Related BTI

Study: BTI 2014 Report
Political Management in International Comparison

Report: Next Generation Democracy
Regional analyses of the state and future of democracy

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