CAIRN-INT.INFO : International Edition

1More than ten years ago, Sylvie Brunel, a specialist of development questions and of Africa, published L’Afrique, un continent en réserve de développement [Africa, a continent with great development potential] (Bréal, 2004), in which she put forward all of Africa’s assets conducive to rapid development. The title of her new book reveals her current worry: the risk that those assets will be wasted. “The demographic pot is boiling away”, “chaos is gaining ground”, “the challenges facing the continent today are colossal”, she writes.

2In the last ten years the spectacular economic growth rates of several African countries seem to have put the continent on the list of “emerging regions”: according to World Bank figures, Ivory Coast, Ethiopia, Ghana, Liberia, Niger and Zimbabwe all experienced over 5% growth at least once in the last two years. Capital investments are pouring in; debt is receding (most has been paid off or cancelled) and a “middle class” (by African standards) is emerging, not to mention the unchecked self-enrichment of a small caste.

3But all of this may be mere tromp l’œil. Current growth is fuelled primarily by sales of raw materials (whose prices have skyrocketed) and massive public works programmes, most of which are internationally funded. In fact, extracting raw materials does not create many new jobs, especially given that Africa itself has relatively little in the way of process industries, and the international funds are not always well used – when they are not simply squandered. With the exception of a few positive experiences, in Ethiopia and Rwanda, for example, the situation overall is one of “growth without development.”

4Meanwhile, Africa is experiencing rapid demographic growth: 2.5% annually for the continent as a whole and over 3% in several countries. Growth is concentrated in cities, but follows the “doubling” rule cited by Brunel: When a country’s population rises by a factor of x, its urban population increases 2x and its slum population 4x. In fact, a third of the population of sub-Saharan Africa live in cities but two-thirds of city-dwellers live in shantytowns. Massive migration from the countryside points to failed rural development policies. Farming was virtually left out of the “structural adjustment” programmes of the 1980s and 1990s and is still often neglected. In Nigeria, for example, “oil wealth has led to massive importation of foodstuffs” and the political authorities are no longer interested in promoting farming. A continent with massive land and productivity reserves is having difficulty feeding itself. Making the most of those assets by organizing food production, processing and sales is one key to ensuring Africa’s future.

5But African leaders will have to take active charge of that future. They cannot of course be held responsible for all the conflicts ravaging the continent and complicating implementation of effective development policies – or for climate change. But the list of their failings is long, and explains in large part the author’s pessimism. As Brunel concludes: “A rich Africa whose people are poor and excluded is not sustainable.”

Uploaded on on 02/07/2015
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