Saturday, March 19, 2011

Why Only Part of the African Diaspora?

Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Managing Director of the World Bank, has presented a dynamic plan whereby the African Diaspora can buy into bonds that can accelerate the continent’s development. She cites, for example, the fact that 50% of the world’s arable land is in Africa, but African farmers lose up to half their produce due to poor roads and lack of storage. The so-called “Diaspora bonds” would be sold by governments, private companies and public-private partnerships to raise funds to correct this problem and others limiting African development, but under her plan, these bonds would be sold only to native-born Africans living abroad.

What’s wrong with this picture?

When the African Union sponsored a conference on the African Diaspora in Washington in December 2002, the conflict over how many African viewed the Diaspora and how the descendants of Africa saw the Diaspora was highlighted. Until then, when the AU spoke of its Diaspora, they meant only those born on the continent who live elsewhere. However, as members of the traditional African Diaspora – those whose ancestors were kidnapped into slavery long ago – made clear during that conference, we are a part of that Diaspora too. When the AU soon thereafter declared the African Diaspora to be the continent’s sixth region, many of us thought this conflict had ended. Apparently, we were wrong.

Many native-born Africans may say they believe the traditional Diaspora is part of the global African Diaspora, but their actions and sometimes their words – such as Dr. Okonjo-Iweala’s – belie their continued belief that only native-born Africans really qualify.

On this side of the Atlantic Ocean, members of the traditional Diaspora continue to reach out to our brothers and sisters in and from Africa. This is increasingly due to the African Ancestry DNA tests that link people like myself to Africa (in my case Cameroon), but our links to Africa much predate such scientific evidence. It dates back to the 1800s when freed slaves and their children returned to Africa. The links have included Diaspora missions to provide health and education assistance and Pan African conferences to outline terms of engagement. It included such projects as Marcus Garvey’s Black Star Line. More recently, it included Reverend Leon H. Sullivan’s summits in Africa. Today, it includes Congressman Bobby Rush’s African Investment and Diaspora Act (H.R. 656).

H.R. 656 recognizes and offers to build on the potential of Diaspora investment in Africa. Investments on the continent have averaged nearly 30% annually over the past several years, according to a United Nations Conference on Trade and Development study. For Diaspora and other American investors, whose investment portfolios have taken a beating in the bursting of the various tech and housing bubbles in the past decade or so, investment in African companies offers a potentially more profitable means of growing our money. While investment in Diaspora bonds could be one way of making such investments, H.R. 656 is not limited to any one vehicle for investment.

Congressman Rush’s bill calls for the appointment of a Special Representative for United States-Africa Trade, Development and Diaspora Affairs; directs the establishment within the Department of State of the Office of United States-Africa Trade, Development and Diaspora Affairs headed by that Special Representative, and mandates the establishment of five regional centers of that office to conduct public outreach, education and liaison.

Since 1996, the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) has sought to encourage both U.S.-Africa trade and American investment in Africa. To date, much of the trade still involves the extractive sectors, although non-extractive trade admittedly has grown as well. But the American investment in Africa still focuses on the extractive industries, and without the encouragement offered by vehicles such as H.R. 656, it may remain focused on those industries.

As Congressman Rush points out in his bill, the combined consumer spending of Africa is projected to reach US$1.4 trillion over the next decade. Much of the rest of the world – from China to India to Brazil to Turkey – sees the potential of African economies. Unfortunately, Americans still haven’t completely caught on to the financial rewards Africa already delivers to its investors. When you factor in the anticipated US$1.24 trillion in consumer spending by African Americans alone by 2013, you have an economic explosion waiting to be experienced.

H.R. 656 is an example of the interest and willingness of African Americans to engage with the rest of the African Diaspora and Africa in the coming years. More of us realize our common heritage and destiny every day. First- and second-generation Africans in the Diaspora increasingly work collaboratively with us. Relationships between members of the African Diaspora and Africans have been built over more than a century and continue today. What we need to know is: does official Africa accept us as member of the family?

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Why Hasn’t AGOA Worked Better for Africa?

Since 2000, the African Growth and opportunity Act (AGOA) has been America’s main vehicle to enhance U.S.-African trade. If you look merely at the numbers, trade between the United States and the AGOA-eligible African countries has increased significantly. However, growth has been uneven and has not benefitted the bulk of African entrepreneurs and their societies as was intended.

When AGOA was crafted, the textiles and apparel sector was predicted to be the key to sparking African industrialization as it had been previously for Great Britain and other currently industrialized countries. Unfortunately, the process of vertical integration, synchronizing several stages of production from raw materials through the finished product, never widely took place in Africa. Cotton producers in countries like Benin and Mali looked to sell their product to America rather than other African countries, although the latter was an easier market to crack.

Under AGOA, African textile and apparel producers were originally intended to buy their raw materials from their neighbors or from the United States. Because this was either impractical or unworkable, a third-party fabric exemption was granted to allow the purchase of inputs from other sources. This has not helped African producers nor sped the development of vertical integration, which has been a source of frustration for American lawmakers who created and must maintain AGOA.

If you travel by road in Africa, at some point you will see old, abandoned factories left behind by the colonial powers. Breweries still operate, but many cereal production facilities and other manufacturing plants no longer operate. Partly, this is due to inconsistent or non-existent electric power in places where production would be most efficient. It also may be due to the lack of financing for such facilities because of disinterest in local banks in financing large, long-term projects under favorable terms. Whatever the reason, Africa lags behind the rest of the world in industrialization and remains dependent on the production of manufactured goods by other nations when it could be creating jobs and selling its own products to the rest of the world.

This is especially critical in the agriculture sector, which should be Africa’s most productive sector. During and just after the colonial period in Africa, many of its countries were not only self-sufficient in agricultural production, but also sold their products internationally. Due to war and unrest, many areas became non-productive. In Nigeria, the discovery of oil diminished interest in agricultural production. Without value-added agricultural production, its nations are vulnerable to a volatile world market for primary products. The massive leasing of African land to foreigners is ostensibly meant to be mutually beneficial, but it does not involve African farmers and doesn’t increase the indigenous capacity to produce value-added agricultural products. Moreover, there doesn’t seem to be strategies to grow more valuable crops such as gum Arabic, even though desertification is increasing the land most useful for its production.

In America and other developed countries, there is engagement between government and the business community that allows for impediments to trade to be identified and eliminated. This process is far from perfect, but it is helpful. In Africa, there remains far too much mistrust and lack of mutual understanding for such a process to be established or last even if it is. I have helped such public-private partnerships be created, as have some of my colleagues, but it is an uphill battle to maintain them. In no country is government good at business, and if there is no effective input from the private sector, too many logjams are created, and investments in infrastructure can easily be misdirected. African executive and legislative branches work together far worse than they do in America even in this time of political discord. This is a recipe for disaster in creating a productive export industry in any African country.

Finally, we in civil society promote the “three-legged” stool concept of government-private sector-civil society cooperation, but in far too much of Africa, civil society organizations lack the information and understanding of the trade process to be of much help in this. Thus, their influence on policy is minimal in far too many countries. If you think mistrust between government and the private sector is rampant, you should see the lack of trust between government and civil society. Not only do thin-skinned government officials resist constructive criticism from civil society organizations, but many of those organizations are considered way stations for would-be politicians. Consequently, what could be useful sources of information for government and the private sector go unheeded, even when such information comes from the many functional, and even exceptional, think tanks on the continent.

U.S. government policymakers have expressed frustration over the lack of progress by Africans in enhancing their own machinery of trade. Moving forward with the next AGOA bill, or whatever its future vehicle will be, this disappointment on the part of American lawmakers could limit future trade benefits for Africa. The American government clearly needs to do more, but that may not happen if African governments and their private sectors and civil societies can’t meet us halfway.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

U.S. Federal Budget Should Reflect Africa’s Importance

Amid all the talk of federal budget cuts these days, spending on foreign aid of all sorts is a prime target. Public opinion polls have consistently shown over the years that voters believe our government spends far more on assisting other countries than we actually do. So that brings on talk of drastic cuts – even consideration of eliminating the U.S. Agency for International Development.

In all these deliberations, many members of Congress and even some Administration officials may see aid to Africa as particularly ripe for cutting back. We have seen corrupt African leaders fall and others desperately hold onto power in lands so far away to many Americans that they might as well be on the dark side of the Moon. But America is linked to Africa in many ways that are too important to ignore, and our social investments on the Africa continent are not just favors we do for foreigners for whom we have sympathy; it is spending to protect allies, save lives and safeguard our own future.

In the last few weeks, unrest in North Africa has caused oil prices to rise steadily. We face the prospect of US$5-a-gallon gasoline not only because oil supplies are interrupted, but also on the fear of potential interruption. The United States gets nearly one-fifth of our oil from West Africa, and with increasing oil finds in Uganda, Ghana, Sierra Leone, Sao Tome and Principe and other locations on the continent, Africa has become too important a petroleum source to hope that the supplies will not be interrupted. Energy security has long been a concern of the U.S. government – even before the creation of the Africa Command.

Failed states provide safe havens for terrorists and now pirates, who threaten commerce and lives. Somalia and Sudan have long been well known as sites for al Qaeda and other terrorist organizations to train and harbor their minions. The Horn of Africa in the East is home to Islamic fundamentalists, some of whom perpetrated attacks on the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. As we watch government after government fall suddenly or crumble under the pressure of popular uprisings, there is concern that Islamic militants could seize power and create enemy states where allies now exist.

Failed states or even weak states can become bases for international crime cartels. International drug trafficking is increasingly using African countries as transshipment points. In fact, since 2003, West Africa has been the source of 99% of all drugs seized in Africa, and those seizures have increased by a factor of five during that period. The United Nations has dubbed Guinea Bissau, one of the world’s poorest countries, as Africa’s first “narco-state.” The War on Drugs has shifted from Central and South America and that fact cannot be ignored.

Health care concerns in Africa have limited the life spans of Africa, but beyond the basic human concern for the welfare of other people, Africa’s health issues impact others in the world, including Americans here in our own country. Globalization has accelerated the linkage of the world and allows people – and sometimes the diseases they carry – to leave one country and arrive in another in less than a day. Scientists tell us that West Nile virus has existed in Africa for 1,000 years and has been identified as one of the possible causes of the death of the legendary Alexander the Great. Now this disease is loose worldwide. West Nile virus was first identified in the United States in 1999, and it has been identified in locations across the country.

The very air we breathe is partially created by the world’s rain forests. While the role of rain forests in oxygen generation has been somewhat exaggerated, they are realistically estimated to be responsible for the production of 20% of earth’s oxygen. Cutting down the rain forests in Africa is not merely a local problem for African countries; it is a global issue for all of us. We debate the concept of global warming, but climate change is indisputable. We just don’t know yet what impact it has on the global ecosystem. Certainly, we know storms in West Africa contribute to hurricanes in our hemisphere, so mitigating the negative impact of climate change in Africa is our problem too.

The rise of food prices in recent years is a global problem. Scarcity of food produced in Africa means the worldwide shortage causes our prices to rise too. The Food and Agricultural Organization says the global food price index has hit a record high for the third straight month. Even if we produce enough for ourselves, the market for food is not limited to one country alone. The demand for staples such as rice, wheat and corn affects everyone, and the lack of money to buy such agricultural products means American farmers have their market opportunities limited.

I have said before and repeat now that nearly 80 percent of the strategic minerals we need originate in Africa. An estimated 97 percent of the world’s platinum is from Africa, as well as 90 percent of the cobalt, 80 percent of the chromium, 64 percent of the manganese, half the world’s gold reserves and as much as a third of all uranium. In recent years, the mineral coltan, largely coming from Africa, has enabled the development of computers, cell phones and other electronic devices. We would be hard-pressed to construct jet aircraft, automobile catalytic converters or computers, cell phones and iPods without the minerals found in Africa, and in some cases, almost nowhere else in the world.

The health, security and well-being of Africa and its people must matter to us. So when we look at the necessary task of cutting the federal budget, we must be careful to consider the implications of cuts in aid to Africa. Such aid is not just a kindness to others; it is a favor we do for ourselves as well.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Cote d’Ivoire Impasse Threatens African Unity

In the aftermath of the disputed elections in Cote d’Ivoire late last year, the African Union suspended Cote d’Ivoire from all AU activities until presidential challenger Alassane Ouattara was seated as the rightful winner. The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) also took a forthright stand in support of the election results as certified by the country’s election commission, even going so far as to threaten military action to remove sitting President Laurent Gbagbo for refusing to accept the election results.

For awhile, it looked as though Africa was united in insisting that the long-delayed election in Cote d’Ivoire had finally come to a definitive end. African envoys visited Washington and other capitals to confirm their stand against what is generally believed to be the refusal of one of the continent’s leaders to accept defeat. Unfortunately, this united stance seems to be unraveling as time goes by.

First, the threat of using “legitimate force” to remove Gbagbo evaporated when Ghana refused to send troops to such an intervention. Then Nigeria, facing April elections, had to decline to participate. With two of the largest regional armed forces standing down, no effective fulfillment of the military threat was possible.

Next, the High-Level Panel asked by the AU to resolve the Cote d’Ivoire standoff began to splinter in its resolve to maintain a united AU stance on supporting Ouattara’s widely accepted victory. At the January AU Summit in Addis Ababa, Nigeria and Burkina Faso stood firm on the AU position, but they clashed with Angola and South Africa, who are urging a resolution of the electoral dispute in a less confrontational manner.

Then, South Africa sent a warship, the SAS Drakensberg, off the coast of Cote d’Ivoire, ostensibly on a training mission that didn’t require notification of its Parliament. ECOWAS strongly criticized the presence of the South African vessel, even as the South African government explained that it was there to possibly evacuate the South African embassy or be used as a negotiating venue. The presence of the ship only further highlighted the growing split among African leaders about the proper response to the deadlock in Cote d’Ivoire.

South Africa has never endorsed the election of Ouattara, and instead backs Gbagbo’s insistence that the votes be recounted. The presumed pro-Gbagbo camp also includes Angola, Uganda, Gambia and Zimbabwe. Nigeria and Burkina Faso are joined in their support for Ouattara’ victory by Senegal and Kenya. The majority of African nations appear to favor a negotiated settlement, including Congo Brazzaville, Gabon, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Guinea, Cameroon and Tanzania.

Meanwhile, Gbagbo apparently is playing the waiting game, trying to hold out against robust international sanctions. About 90 prominent Ivoirians and 11 parastatals, including the electric company, the Abidjan port and the bodies that manage trade in coffee, cocoa and rubber, are under international sanctions. However, sanctions will take time to work effectively, and in the case of cocoa, they may have been instituted too late to make much difference. Approximately 40% of the world’s cocoa is grown in Cote d’Ivoire, and 895,000 tons of it had been shipped by the end of January. Moreover, significant cocoa smuggling into Ghana is being anticipated. Nevertheless, as cocoa represents 90% of the country’s export earning, it has to hurt at some point.

The question is: will African resolve be worn down by that point?

The West has been quick to call for governments of national unity in countries such as Kenya and Zimbabwe when an election is highly questionable with no easy resolution at hand. This is partly because of the cost and logistical problems inherent in re-running elections and also the intransigence of leaders such as Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe. The lesson learned by such leaders is that if you can wait out the international community, you can hold onto power with a fig leaf of a coalition government. Ask Kenya’s Raila Odinga or Zimbabwe’s Morgan Tsvangirai whether their coalition governments work well. They will surely recommend against following their experience.

There are reports that Gbagbo has made off with US$500 million worth of CFA francs from the Central Bank of West African States, so he has some ability to hold out. Meanwhile, violence and human rights abuses reportedly are increasing. In the face of suffering and lack of movement by either side, a coalition government could look like the best alternative at some point.

But when will we reach the tipping point at which the various African camps coalesce into agreement on an expedient solution that ends the crisis in Cote d’Ivoire? Few except the fanatics have the stomach for allowing Ivoirians to suffer long so we may reach that tipping point sometime this spring at the latest.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Lending Africa a Helping Hand

Do you care about Africa? If so, what have you done to help the continent?

The Leon H. Sullivan Foundation has developed concept of the “Afripolitan” to describe the swelling ranks of those who care about Africa and are engaged in efforts to advance the continent and its people in joining the global economy of the 21st century. The term is a melding of “Africa” and “metropolitan.” Africa, of course, centers this concept on those who see the continent’s importance to the world at large. The metropolitan aspect conveys the sense of worldliness that understands the interconnectedness of all societies and the need to ensure that no society is left to languish. But the Afripolitan does more than see Africa; he or she makes an effort to help in whatever way they can.

In short, Afripolitans act, while others merely watch.

Now that we have established what an Afripolitan is, who is an Afripolitan? Certainly members of the African Diaspora who realize the importance of their motherland and take the next step to help would be Afripolitans. However, the young person who volunteers for the Peace Corps or the Teachers for Africa Program of the International Foundation for Education and Self-Help (IFESH), no matter what their ethnic heritage, also is an Afripolitan. Current and former government officials whose work in Africa has led them to make an enduring tangible connection with the continent and its people would be Afripolitans. Those who have donated to and who continue to sustain humanitarian efforts and church missions would be Afripolitans. Students who learn about the world and want to make it better are Afripolitans.

Two notable Afripolitans are the late Reverend Leon H. Sullivan, who established the African-African American Summits (now the Leon H. Sullivan Summits) to build a bridge between Africa and America, and organizations such as Opportunities Industrializations Centers International and IFESH, which have helped tens of thousands of Africans to achieve self-sufficiency. Ambassador Andrew Young, the former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations and U.S. Congressman, is another Afripolitan whose interventions on America’s Africa policy are still felt in countries such as Angola.

There are many other notable Afripolitans – from Ron Dellums, the former U.S. Congressman who fought apartheid and then waged a campaign to help victims of HIV-AIDS on the continent that led to programs such as the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), to Oprah Winfrey, who built a model school for exceptional girls in South Africa, to Bono, the U2 lead singer who has had such a significant impact on developed world policies on African debt and development to Angelina Jolie, whose work as Goodwill Ambassador for the United Nations High Commission for Refugees has brought much-needed attention and assistance to people worldwide, including victims of genocide in Darfur.

Afripolitans are not just people of African descent. They are not just the rich and famous who make public contributions to Africa’s wellbeing. They comprise millions worldwide who care about the present and future of Africa and are willing to give of their time, talent and treasure to help Africans in their ongoing effort to reach their great potential.

The Peace Corps, an independent federal agency established in 1961, is an example of a mechanism by which Americans can provide tangible help for African people. Tens of thousands of Peace Corps volunteers have participated in programs to help African governments, schools, civil society organizations and entrepreneurs in areas ranging from education to health to business to agriculture. The Peace Corps currently operates in 25 African countries – from Benin to Zambia.

Church missions and individual evangelical organizations have sent thousands of people to African countries to provide food and medical supplies to those in need. From Pentecostals to Lutherans to Presbyterians to Catholics, men and women of all races in America have contributed to giving from their resources to make life better for African people – be it establishing feeding programs to building schools.

Dozens of people contributed to the US$50,000 the Sullivan Foundation sent last year to Manyatta School outside Arusha, Tanzania. Many more have contributed to the millions of dollars worth of books and school supplies the Sullivan Summits provided to various African nations through Books for Africa and the millions in medical supplies sent through MedShare. Future projects are being planned through these organizations and others.

The ranks of the Afripolitan grow each day. Are you ready to join them?

Friday, February 11, 2011

Does Black History Month Serve the Diaspora?

Historian Carter G. Woodson initiated Negro History Week in 1926 in order to integrate the history of African-Americans into American history as a whole. From the beginning, Woodson intended for this week to raise the status of the contributions made in the creation of America by the descendants of Africa and gain full acceptance as part of the fabric of history as taught to all students. Instead, it has become a specialized celebration of events in the history of the African Diaspora that remains outside the general history all students learn.

During what is now Black History Month, African American history is taught to students across the country in elementary, middle school and high school classes. College students can study about the African Diaspora in elective courses. But what do black and white students think about this history in other months? Do they take seriously the history of the descendants of Africa otherwise?

Critics of Black History Month point out that February is the shortest month of the year and that this month also is American Heart Month, International Boost Self-Esteem Month, International Embroidery Month, Library Lovers Month, National Cherry Month, National Children’s Dental Health Month, National Snack Food Month and even Return Shopping Carts to Supermarkets Month.

If you watch cable television, you already know that black American films (and sometimes African films) are segregated into this month. To be sure, some black films make it out of this celluloid ghetto, but your best chance of seeing films, documentaries and other programming featuring Diaspora people is during February. This is also the best time to find Diaspora products in places they don’t normally appear or where don’t appear with prominence or regularity.

I would submit to you that this specialized treatment sets aside the history of the African Diaspora as something apart from “real” history. If human beings originated in Africa, how can history be taught properly while ignoring this vital fact? Every so often, some scientist or researcher tries to show that human beings originated in parallel places, only to be subsequently refuted. Perhaps the reason it’s so hard for some people to accept the common African origin of mankind is that it still has not fully become part of everyone’s history curriculum.

I recall going to a forum at which scholar Mary Lefkowitz denied the Egyptian influence on the Greeks, even though the Greeks themselves acknowledged where they gained some of their learning. She said Cleopatra was not Egyptian, but what she failed to acknowledge was that the Cleopatra with whom are familiar, while part Greek indeed, was not completely so. Despite all the African features on statues of Pharaoh Akhenaton and even the Sphinx, many people still want to deny the African presence in Egypt. This seemed foolish to me standing in Giza looking at the pyramids built so long ago by Pharaoh Menes and other early Egyptian rulers, who were from the south of Egypt.

The great Carthaginian general Hannibal has been played by white men in the movies, so his African origin is often bypassed. So many other famous Africans from history are not well-known to be African, such as St. Augustine of Hippo in what is now Algeria. But what is truly sad is that the great African kings and queens of antiquity have faded into anonymity because they are only taught to those who look for them. They are a part of our common history. We know of the European explorers of Africa, but not so much of the rulers they encountered, such as Queen Nzinga of what is now Angola.

Closer to home, we have developed a celebrity orientation to black American history. We are so fixated on the most popular figures such as Martin Luther King, Jr., that comedian Chris Rock once quipped that when asked for the name of an equally notable black woman, a child might likely suggest “Martina Luther King.”

As silly as that sounds, without a solid basis for understanding the roles played by Africa’s descendants throughout history, non-Diasporans will always be inclined to believe we have contributed little of value to the world. An ancient Roman reportedly once asked: “What good can come from Africa?” If you know little of African history such an opinion is to be expected.

So many of the inventors who are of the Diaspora are not identified as being black. Therefore, the mass of Diaspora contribution to science is not well known. Perhaps more Diaspora children would consider science as a career if they knew more about their ancestors’ role in the development of science throughout the ages.

Some progress has been made in developing curricula to teach Diaspora history, but so long as it is considered apart from “real” history, it will always be seen by some as a gimmick to enhance the self-esteem of black people and not knowledge that completes the picture of our common history. For this, we all suffer a deficiency in our education.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Giving Credit Where Credit is Due

African leadership is often challenged, but few measures accurately examine how well Africa’s leaders perform. There is the African Leadership Prize from the Mo Ibrahim Foundation, established in 2007, but even the world’s richest prize (US$5 million) does not adequately reflect the progress that has been made on the continent among the presidents and prime ministers of Africa.

The Nation Media Group, publisher of the EastAfrican magazine, has created the African President’s Index, which rates the continent’s leaders using several measurements: the Nation Media Group’s own political Index (35%), the Mo Ibrahim Index (15%), the Economist Intelligence Unit’s Democracy Index (15%), the Reporters Without Borders Press Freedom Index (15%), Transparency International’s Corruption Index (15%) and the United Nations Development Programme’s Human Development Index (5%). What they arrived at is five Africa presidents who were given an “A” rating for their governance.

Prime Minister Navinchandra Ramgoolam of Mauritius received an A+. Son of Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam, known as the “Father of the Nation,” the Prime Minister presides over one of Africa’s most highly-developed countries. Mauritius has been named the best governed African country by Mo Ibrahim’s index since it was initiated.

President Pedro Verona Rodriques Pires of Cape Verde is a hugely respected figure in his country, having been so since independence from Portugal was achieved in 1975. He was the country’s first Prime Minister from 1975 to 1990, and after remaining active in politics, he returned to power in 2001. Pires’ country is one of the few African countries that is on track to meet the United Nation’s Millennium Development Goals.

President Seretse Ian Khama of Botswana is the son of the country’s revered first President Sir Seretse Khama. The current President worked his way through the political system before assuming the presidency in 2008. Botswana, already a democratic model to the international community, President Khama has worked to expand his country’s circle of admirers. The country has been beset by HIV-AIDS, but under Khama’s rule 92.5% of those needing anti-retroviral drugs are receiving them.

President John Atta Mills of Ghana, known throughout the country as “The Prof,” is one of Africa’s best educated leaders. The former Vice President under President Jerry Rawlings, Mills won the office vacated by President John Kufour when he stepped down after two terms. President Mills is now responsible for developing the country’s oil sector and will have royalty revenues with which to extend the development of an already advanced nation.

President Hifikepunye Luca Pohamba of Namibia is the former Lands Minister who successfully sped up the transfer of land from white farmers to black citizens. One of the founding members of the South West Africa People’s Organization (SWAPO), he won office in a landslide in 2004. He received the 2010 Food, Agriculture and Natural Resources Policy Analysis Network Food Security Policy Leadership Award for creating responsible fisheries policies in Namibia.

Just missing this group with a B+ was President Jacob Zuma of South Africa. Zuma is a longtime leader of the ruling African National Congress who served time in jail with other party leaders such as former President Nelson Mandela. Zuma received much kudos for his successful conduct of the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. He missed an A by a fraction of a point despite leading a major nation struggling to overcome the lingering aftermath of apartheid.

Five other African Presidents received a B grade: President James Alix Michel of Seychelles, President Amadou Toumani Touré of Mali, President Ernest Bai Koroma of Sierra Leone, President Jakaya Kikwete of Tanzania and President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia. All have significant accomplishments that may have been somewhat dimmed by unresolved issues or laws seen as not fully upholding full civil rights.

Even those rated with a C have laudable accomplishments. For example, President Rupiah Banda of Zambia has provided treatment for 90% of HIV-AIDS victims and allowed Angolan refugees to remain in his country after residing there for many years. Kin Mohammed VI of Morocco has hic country on track to exceed targets for water and sanitation services under the Millennium Development goals thanks to greater government spending on water supply and sanitation infrastructure.

Several leaders, such as President Goodluck Jonathan of Nigeria, were considered to have been in office for too short a time to be rated.

So leadership is alive and well in Africa. Kudos goes to the Nation Media Group for its index, which allows a fuller view of African leadership than even the Mo Ibrahim Index. Attention is too often focused on those African leaders who violate human rights and fail to meet the needs of their people. It can make us forget that there are many others who do serve their citizens and earn the respect of their nation and the international community.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Youth Unemployment: A Danger for Africa’s Future

The International Labour Organization (ILO) just released a frightening report on unemployment worldwide. It said that more than 1.5 billion people, or half the world’s working population, are in vulnerable or insecure jobs and that 205 million workers were unemployed last year. According to the ILO, the official figure is probably an underestimate because many people have given up trying to find a job. The most unsettling aspect of the report is that 77.7 million young people between the ages of 15 and 24 are unable to find work. This is a particular problem for countries in Africa.

There are 200 million Africans in this age range, comprising more than 20% of the continent’s population. Worldwide, youth are 43.7% of the total unemployed people even though they account for only 25% of the world’s working population. In sub-Saharan Africa, about 60% of the unemployed are youth, and an average of 72% of youth live on less than US$2 a day.

Young Africans have tried to seek better opportunities in urban areas, but too often find themselves stuck in slums with little or no way to make a survival salary. Many of them end up being paid as thugs by political parties or joining militias – not because of an ideological compatibility, but because they need to eat. Criminal enterprises also recruit from this pool of the unemployed, hopeless youth. This large, desperate and restive population poses a danger for many African countries. One of the underlying causes of the sudden revolt in Tunisia was high youth unemployment. While the overall unemployment rate in Tunisia is 13.3%, it is much higher among the young.

It is still higher in many other African countries, whose base unemployment rate is high to begin with:

Zimbabwe: 95%
Liberia: 85%
Mozambique: 60%
Djibouti: 59%
Namibia: 51.2%

With rates that high, the entire population is having trouble surviving, and youth are three times more likely to be unemployed than their elders, so there are veritable armies of unemployed youth eager to make a living doing whatever they have to do to survive. An increasing number of unemployed youth are college graduates. While some do leave for the developed world, many are stuck without the funds to go abroad. They are dissatisfied with what their governments have done for them and have the smarts to connect with others to channel their discontent into action.

The Tunisian example spread to Egypt, whose population is comprised by two-thirds under the age of 30. They make up an estimated 90% of the unemployed. Even though Egypt’s official unemployment rate is 9.4%, university students facing the prospect of no jobs and ever-rising prices are the moving force behind the Egyptian demonstrations that are demanding change. The wave of youth-motivated demonstrations for change in government have reached Yemen, and though the focus is now on the Arab world, African governments should be very concerned about what their youth will do given their economically dire straits.

If unemployment of less than 15% in North African countries boiled over into demonstrations, what might be the case in Africa, where more than 20 countries have equal or higher unemployment rates?

Poor governance, corruption and systemic economic problems certainly cause much of the unemployment in African countries. However, a lack of investment in enterprises that could create jobs also is at fault. If African countries can attract more investment – both domestic and foreign – then the problem of unemployment gradually can be minimized.

Many of Africa’s countries are sitting on a powder keg. More and more youth leave school each year, whatever the grade, with little prospect of honestly earning a living. They will not tolerate being kept in such a situation forever. With a window on the world provided by the internet, young people know how their status matches that of their counterparts elsewhere, and they now see that young people elsewhere are taking steps to remedy their predicament.

If you are a government leader in Africa, don’t wait too long to tackle this issue. Young people are notoriously impatient. Ask the Tunisians and Egyptians.

Monday, January 17, 2011

A Twitter Revolution in Africa?

Africa is a large continent with more than four dozen countries. It is difficult for any government to keep track of what is happening in all its countries. That is, of course, quite obvious, but it also is an explanation for why surprising things happen so suddenly on the continent. Such was the case a few days ago in Tunisia.

Tunisia has been an American ally in Africa and was considered safe enough to host the African Development Bank when Cote d’Ivoire became too turbulent. Little has been said publicly about Tunisia’s government being unstable. In fact, Tunisian President Zine al-Abdine Ben Ali was only the second president in the country since independence from France came in 1956. He had governed the country since 1987 and was most recently re-elected in 2009 with 89.62% of the vote. Yet Ben Ali has been forced to step down as president and flee the country.

So how did he come to be deposed within weeks of street protests and anti-government Internet activity being launched?

Corruption was perceived to be rampant in the Tunisian government. I use the term “perceived” because the government has been quite successful in keeping a lid on information. The media has not reported much of the negative side of Ben Ali’s rule and has made a strenuous effort to clamp down on the Internet, especially social media. Despite leading North Africa and the Arab world in the level of Internet access, Reporters Without Borders ranks Tunisia 164th out of 178 countries in its press freedom index. Tunisia is listed as one of the group’s “15 enemies of the Internet” and says it has established a “very effective system of censoring” the web.

However, its system apparently was not effective enough. BBC News reported that a steady flow of protest videos, tweets and political manifestos have made their way into Tunisian homes and offices in a variety of languages: Arabic, the Darija Tunisian dialect, French and English. In addition to informing Tunisians of the depth of misrule by their government, social media were used to coordinate demonstrations. Most of this activity was generated by Tunisians, though some came from abroad. Moreover, while unions and opposition political parties have played some role in the uprising that has now deposed the President, much of the anti-government content has come from average citizen bloggers.

In yet another example of unrest insufficiently tracked by Western governments, an ally was forced out without warning. I give credit to our intelligence services who may well have known how bad things were, but if their information was taken seriously by those who make our foreign policy, they surely kept it to themselves. The U.S. government now has issued a travel warning, but if the situation was looking as dire as it now is, why wasn’t there some prior warning for tourists and business people caught in the midst of the current unrest? A group of Swedish wild boar hunters were arrested for being in the wrong place at the wrong time in Tunisia, and I’ll bet they wish there had been some prior warning for them.

Ironically, some North African leaders, such as Libya’s Muammar el-Quaddafi, believe American intelligence services deliberately leaked information detrimental to the Tunisian regime to Wikileaks in order to bring it down. This belief also is catching on within the remaining government operatives within Tunisian. This conspiracy theory comes despite the American government’s battle with Wikileaks on other leaked cables that have proven embarrassing to the Obama Administration. Those who buy into this conspiracy don’t say why America wanted Ben Ali deposed and
Tunisia thrown into chaos; they just believe America is too all-powerful to get caught unaware by an Internet site.

Arab and North African leaders are becoming increasingly concerned that the Internet and social media could lead to their downfall as well. But little is said about how sub-Saharan Africa leaders may be taking the Tunisian example. Governments like Zimbabwe’s have made every effort to crack down in the Internet and social media for some time. The Tunisian example and the Wikileaks tales about U.S. views of their government leaders will undoubtedly lead to more repression on freedom of speech elsewhere in Africa, but we have gone past the time when that could be completely successful, as Tunisia has now shown.

Wireless Internet allows video and commentary to be distributed worldwide immediately, forcing transparency on government dealings when none is wanted. So if our intelligence services uncover weaknesses within foreign allies, those who execute American foreign policy need to take heed. Governments who replace those overthrown by the release of secret information will not be so friendly to an America complicit in their misery.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Building the Links to African Unity

There is a famous 19th century drawing of adventurer-businessman Cecil Rhodes standing like a colossus with one foot in South Africa and the other in Egypt. It symbolized his dream of a Cape to Cairo land connection. The British Empire that he represented wanted a road, but Rhodes preferred a railway. More than a hundred years later, that land connection is still not fully realized, and in the failure to complete it lays the explanation of why Africa’s transportation infrastructure remains inadequate.

The British saw this land connection as the key to advancing their commercial and military interests on the continent. The road (or highway) would link the British colonies of Egypt, Sudan, Kenya, Nyassaland (Malawi), Northern and Southern Rhodesia (Zambia and Zimbabwe) and South Africa. Unfortunately for the British, Tanzania (then Tanganyika) was a German possession until after World War I, but soon after the so-called Great War, Egypt became independent.

Then there were the problems of climate and terrain. Furthermore, French ambitions to link their territories in West Africa to Djibouti in the East and Portuguese ambitions to link Angola and Mozambique also interfered with the land connections the British sought. After World War II, the struggles for African independence put a final cap on British ambitions (as well as those of the French and Portuguese).

What the colonial powers left behind when their African empires finally ended in the last half of the 20th century was a conflicting collection of roads that didn’t connect neighboring countries, railroads of different gauges that could not be linked, ports that were too shallow or too small for significant cargo handling and air traffic designed to serve the colonial powers but not the Africans themselves. All too often, to get from here to there in Africa, you run into dead ends, impassable rivers, vast deserts and other natural and man-made obstacles.

Now that we are entering the second decade of the 21st century, it is long past time to identify and correct the problems that hamper transportation linkages on the continent and allow more efficient movement of goods and people. In his book “Guns, Germs and Steel,” author Jared Diamond explains that Africa’s geography has led to its fragmentation. He writes that the continent’s north-south orientation, as opposed to Asia, Europe and North America’s east-west orientation did not facilitate the sharing of culture and intermingling of people that allows unity.

But we now have the technology to overcome the obstacles that prevented Africa’s forefathers from learning from one another and becoming stronger for this sharing of knowledge. The question is now: Does there exist the will to create transportation infrastructures that allow for progress in the modern world?

There are efforts underway to address the obstacles to freer transportation in Africa. For example, the Sub-Saharan Africa Transport Policy Program is a partnership of 35 African countries, eight regional economic communities, the United Nations Economic Community for Africa (UNECA), the African Union’s New Partnership for African Development (NEPAD) and the African Development Bank (ADB). The aim of this partnership is to better enable African governments to integrate their transportation strategies into their poverty reduction strategies. The driving force behind this partnership is a commitment to regional planning and cooperation.

The German Marshall Fund and the Hewlett Foundation are working on a Development Corridors program to stimulate the expansion of existing and creation of new transportation structures to allow African products, especially those produced by smallholder farmers, to be brought to market. The plan is to encourage public-private partnership that will allow currently underutilized economic potential to be realized more fully.

By the way, the Cairo – Cape Town Highway – envisioned by Rhodes more than a hundred years ago – has been taken up by UNECA, the ADB and the AU. When completed, it will link Cairo, Khartoum, Addis Ababa, Kampala, Nairobi, Lusaka, Harare, Gaborone and Cape Town and smaller cities and towns in between. Only this time, the road known as Trans-African Highway 4 will serve the needs and interests of Africans and not just those of foreign powers.

The positive cost-benefit ratio of investing in transportation infrastructure in China has demonstrated the wisdom of investing in roads, for example. At the G8 Summit in Gleneagles back in 2005, world leaders highlighted Africa’s lack of infrastructure as the main constraint on economic growth and development. The World Bank and other international organizations pledged create a diagnostic to determine the state of the continent’s infrastructure, but while we now know far more than we did before then about the limits of Africa’s transportation infrastructure, the financing of projects has been slow to materialize.

The World Bank estimates that US$93 billion in infrastructure investment is needed annually for African infrastructure to be brought up to date, but only US$45 billion are arriving. Now that African governments and regional institutions are cooperating in creating the necessary policy structure, perhaps lenders and investors will loosen the purse strings.

As the old saying goes: “God helps those who help themselves.” Apparently, international lenders and investors live by that motto as well.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Africa Predictions for 2011

When I looked ahead last January to important African developments in 2010, I focused on elections because they seemed to offer the most important events that could be foreseen. This new year is little different in that election issues are important, but there are non-electoral developments that loom large for the continent as well. The following are my five top forecasts for Africa in 2011.

1. The results of next week’s referendum on the independence of Southern Sudan could produce the world’s newest country or a renewed North-South conflict in that country. According to a recent article in the New York Times, neither the National Congress Party government in Khartoum nor the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement government in Juba wants a return to war because each has too much to lose. Both North and South depend on oil for most of their revenue, and renewed war would be devastating in that regard.

While that is true, and while Northern leaders have sounded accepting lately of the upcoming referendum’s likely results, the Khartoum regime has not taken any action in recent memory that didn’t have loopholes allowing it to renege on promises. In this case, the government has not removed its troops as required by the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, continues to support rebels in the South and has prevented the full level of voter registration as required in the 2005 peace accord. That sounds like the government is hedging its bets. However inevitable independence of southern Sudan is, this will not be an easy process, and problem likely will linger beyond this year.

2. My next forecast is that for the more than two dozen African elections scheduled for 2011, the international community’s response to serious discrepancies could be different from what it has been -- depending on the outcome of the deadlock in Cote d’Ivoire. The usual international community response has been to complain about election irregularities when it involves an ally and sanctions when it is not a friendly government. Most often, the preferred solution has been to call for a government of national unity to smooth over problems. In the current Cote d’Ivoire case, though, there has been pressure on the presumed losing party to step down rather than accept the winner as a partner.

Having set this new precedent, it will be difficult to go back to taking the easy way out of electoral deadlocks in the future. Perhaps it also will encourage more international support for earlier training of parties and election officials and monitoring of the pre-election environment. It is much easier to prevent bad elections before they actually happen than to correct them once they have taken place. Elections in Nigeria, Egypt, Madagascar, the Democratic Republic of Congo and other countries are too important to rely on cookie cutter approaches to electoral problem solving.

3. In the largest change of land ownership since the colonial era, more than 50 million hectares of African land has been leased or is in the process of being leased by 20 African countries. This modern land grab is displacing African farmers and failing to create jobs for African workers. In 2011, the trend toward leasing massive amounts of African land will accelerate due to the continuing global food shortage and dwindling supplies of water. This shortage is especially acute in the Middle East, which happens to be the main source of African land leasing arrangements. In Madagascar in 2009, a government was displaced largely due to reports of a land deal with foreigners. Perhaps as early as this year, there will be other citizen eruptions because of what they see as negative consequences from these land deals.

4. African societies, especially in rural areas, cling to traditions that are sometimes millennia old. One of these traditions is the disdain for open homosexuality. Those who keep their sexual orientation to themselves usually are ignored, but in recent years, evangelical activists have taken their war against what they describe as the gay agenda to Africa to warn of foreign influences drastically changing African cultures. Some point to Zimbabwe, where gays there were encouraged by outsiders to be open about their sexuality. Unfortunately, African societies are not as tolerant of behavior celebrating what African spiritual leaders largely find as being n violation of religious standards. Apparently, these American evangelicals did not realize that African governments would not react as the U.S. government has. Gays have been arrested and prosecuted in countries like Zimbabwe and Malawi, and Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga, speaking to supporters in November, called for gays to be arrested and jailed for their behavior. Pressure from the international community forced Uganda to back down from a law that would in some cases have sentenced homosexuals to death sentences. In 2011, the clash between modern views of human rights and traditional views of acceptable sexual behavior in Africa may come to a head, provoking court challenges to laws and rising harassment of openly gay citizens in African countries.

5. Finally, a hopeful sign in 2011 will be an increase in foreign investment. The continent as a whole is expected to see a growth rate of 5% or more this year. The fall of interest rates in many African countries is caused by lowered rates of inflation. Along with the anticipated rise in the level of bank credit on the continent, one can expect renewed interest in the more than two dozen African equity markets. Various economic analysts say the fastest-growing areas will be telecoms, banks, retail outlets and manufacturing. With the broad use of advanced telephones in Africa, many on the continent are in a position to take advantage of tele-banking. Members of the recent African Diaspora have been increasing their transfer of funds to Africa, and remittances now outpace foreign aid. Moreover, traditional elements of the African Diaspora, some of whom have been linked to specific countries through DNA testing, are taking a closer look at the African equity markets and see opportunities for profits that exceed what traditional Western stock exchanges are offering.

I see a mixed picture for Africa this year, with some progress and some challenges, but even the challenges provide opportunities for advancement.