Tuesday, 22 May 2007

AFRIKA: GETTING IT RIGHT?

A few days ago, I read and commented an interesting post by Benin Mwangi at AfricanPath, about an article recently appeared in the Economist under the title “Will Africa ever get it right?”.

I couldn’t avoid referring to it while reading the commentary herein attached. It opens with this statement: “These days, there are two stories of Africa. One of these, dominant internationally, consists of missed targets and broken promises. The headlines of recent weeks — Nigeria’s presidential elections, Zimbabwe’s slow-motion economic collapse, continued insecurity in east Africa — all point to genuine challenges for African and international leadership. The second story, proving the adage that bad stories crowd out the good, is less reported in the international media but just as important. This story is of the recent uplift in Africa’s economic growth, the extraordinary buoyancy of the continent’s capital markets, gradual improvements in political governance and the outbreak of peace in Côte d’Ivoire and Uganda.”

It also notes that “there are at least two new elements that should give policy makers, investors and business people pause for thought. The first is the changing composition of the mosaic that is Africa. A few years ago, there were small islands of good news in a sea of bad. These days the negative stories seem the more surprising because they are occurring against a background of improvement. The second is the changing nature of Africa’s risk outlook. Beyond the known risks to Africa’s growth and prosperity, Africa is increasingly exposed to global risks that originate outside the continent but which can have powerful effects on it.”

Having presented those global risks, namely climate change, terrorism and an asset-price collapse, it concludes that “for now, none of these global risks — highlighted in the Global Risks 2007 report released at the Annual Meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos — has found a full African response.”

Could it be that the reason for such lack of a full response is that most African countries are still grappling with such “homely” issues as the HIV/AIDS pandemic, the brain drain and all sorts of institutional weaknesses before the continent can effectivelly "thicken its skin"? Whatever the answer, I think that this line of reporting on Africa can be taken as a more balanced response to the negativism expressed in that Economist’s article.

A few days ago, I read and commented an interesting post by Benin Mwangi at AfricanPath, about an article recently appeared in the Economist under the title “Will Africa ever get it right?”.

I couldn’t avoid referring to it while reading the commentary herein attached. It opens with this statement: “These days, there are two stories of Africa. One of these, dominant internationally, consists of missed targets and broken promises. The headlines of recent weeks — Nigeria’s presidential elections, Zimbabwe’s slow-motion economic collapse, continued insecurity in east Africa — all point to genuine challenges for African and international leadership. The second story, proving the adage that bad stories crowd out the good, is less reported in the international media but just as important. This story is of the recent uplift in Africa’s economic growth, the extraordinary buoyancy of the continent’s capital markets, gradual improvements in political governance and the outbreak of peace in Côte d’Ivoire and Uganda.”

It also notes that “there are at least two new elements that should give policy makers, investors and business people pause for thought. The first is the changing composition of the mosaic that is Africa. A few years ago, there were small islands of good news in a sea of bad. These days the negative stories seem the more surprising because they are occurring against a background of improvement. The second is the changing nature of Africa’s risk outlook. Beyond the known risks to Africa’s growth and prosperity, Africa is increasingly exposed to global risks that originate outside the continent but which can have powerful effects on it.”

Having presented those global risks, namely climate change, terrorism and an asset-price collapse, it concludes that “for now, none of these global risks — highlighted in the Global Risks 2007 report released at the Annual Meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos — has found a full African response.”

Could it be that the reason for such lack of a full response is that most African countries are still grappling with such “homely” issues as the HIV/AIDS pandemic, the brain drain and all sorts of institutional weaknesses before the continent can effectivelly "thicken its skin"? Whatever the answer, I think that this line of reporting on Africa can be taken as a more balanced response to the negativism expressed in that Economist’s article.

5 comments:

Nick said...

I think the issue here is about media reporting. Not whether or not Africa is "getting it right". What can possibly be "right" in a world where "wrong" almost always prevails?

Koluki said...

You're right, as (almost) always Nick. The issue to me is, nevertheless, whether there is a point in questioning if Africa is "getting it right"... and I think there is!

Benin "Mwangi" said...

Deep and I think that it's a wonderful discussion. In life there are usaully more than two sides to every story. So I think that there is ample room for both questions that you Nick and Koluki ask.

The reason that I wrote that post is that to me the article was overly ambiguous. I mean, OK journalism should be unbiased, but even with that in mind most of the time when we hear a story it is a little bit more certaiin in its tone. To me the level of uncertainty that the writer of this article in the Economist displayed about Africa, does not seem to reflect all of the strides that the continent has made in the last decade.

On the otherhand, maybe it was not so bad that the writer sort of ended the article a little bit open ended, because as Koluki says there are still big, but basic issues that some African nations face.

Nick, I agree with you that there are so many things that no country gets right...but at the same time if countries and regions got absolutely 0 right, then there probably would be no need for debate. To be honest with you, it is even harder to us to fully discuss this topic when we use the word Africa, because there is so much that is left out of the equation when we just speak in such general terms. One person may look at one country and see a totally bright picture, whereas another may look at another African nation and say the opposite. However, in the aggregate organizations like the UN and the World Bank seem to concur that presently, in the economic realm the African region, is the only one still growing.

Of course, if we go into other issues outside of economic growth, then again, this argument wwould change a little bit.


Anyhow, thanks for the discussion.

Koluki said...

Benin,

You've certainly heard this before: "there are three sides to every story: my own perspective, the other involved people's perspectives and the facts"!

I agree with you that the two perspectives presented here so far, mine and Nick's can be conciliated with the facts under discussion.

I would, however, be more severe in the appreciation of that article: to me it was not just overly ambiguous, it was plain distorting of the facts mainly because of its gross generalisations. But what I found positive about this article from Business Day - a paper, by the way, that sometimes also falls in the generalisation trap as far as Africa beyond South Africa is concerned (by the way, did you know that when most South Africans speak of "Africa" they are not including their own country?) - was the fact that they talk about a Africa as a "mosaic" and not just as a single entity... even though, ironically, this is one of the stated intentions of the AU.

Thanks a lot for your input!

Nick said...

Benin:
Thanks for your notes on my comment.
Perhaps I should clarify the point I was trying to make: what I mean by "a world where wrong almost always prevails" is literally the entire world, not particularly Africa, be it considered as a single unit, the sum of its parts or a mosaic.
Regardless of which side of the globalisation debate we are, there's no denying that the world is becoming more and more interconnected and the wrongs of global decision makers, including the WB and the UN, have a greater bearing on African political, economic and social outcomes than often credited for by international media.
I tend to agree, however, with the view implicitly expressed by both you and our host that impacts and consequences of globalisation, positive or negative, can be different for different African countries.
But what mustn’t be overlooked is that it is Africa and Africans who ultimately hold responsibility for making those outcomes right or wrong.