Africa rising and SA not?

The following is published by the Friedrich Naumann Foundation, following presentations given to it in Brussels by John Endres of Good Governance Africa and Frans Cronje of the SA Institute of Race Relations:

In 2000, the British Economist published a report on Africa entitled “The hopeless continent”. Africa had gone through two waves of liberation. Firstly by ousting the colonial powers and secondly by removing the liberators from colonial rule, which had become dictators in many African countries. However, things did still not look good. HIV/AIDS, poverty, armed conflict, failing states, lack of rule of law and good governance were hampering the economic, political and social development of most African countries, with very few exceptions.

Only 13 years later, things look different on the African continent. This year’s special of the economist was entitled “Africa rising”.

Dr John Endres, CEO of Good Governance Africa, shed light on developments in the field of good governance since decolonization in an event organised by the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom on November 27th in Brussels. He showed how indicators measuring good governance suggest that though African countries rank relatively low in international comparison, the continent is on the right track. While a vast majority of countries rank as “poor governance” according to the World Bank Worldwide Governance Indicators, approximately half of the continent shows at least an improvement in the field of good governance between 1996 and 2002.

In many African countries improvements in good governance are accompanied by economic growth. Indeed, out of the 10 fastest growing economies between 2001 and 2010, 6 were African. While poverty and its consequences are declining, experts raise the question if growth in Africa is only an illusion. An illusion based on commodity-driven exports of economies with low industrialization, where there is no trickle-down effect that would allow the population to benefit from. John Endres pointed out that “while commodities and agriculture still represent the majority of African exports, out of the 12 fastest-growing African economies between 2000 and 2010, eight did not rely on natural resources.” However, increases in growth and trade are not equal to “development”, thus more efforts have to be directed to improve good governance and the efficiency of governments in Africa.

While 10 years ago South Africa was showcased as a model of democratic and economic development, there are signs that the dream of the rainbow nation is being jeopardized by slower economic growth and political tensions. Dr Frans Cronje, CEO Designate of the South African Institute of Race Relations, showed that the other African countries are clearly catching up with South Africa. Increased welfare expenditure, skyrocketing unemployment rates and limited growth put increased pressure on the government, due to steadily increasing expectations of the population. South African citizens are increasingly critical of their government: abstention in the 2009 elections was at 40% and violent demonstrations against the government are increasing. Frans Cronje explained how in this context the political map of South Africa is rapidly evolving, making it is more and more difficult to assess its politics. New populist parties have emerged on the political scene and the African National Congress is losing support.

Ten years ago South Africa was seen as the undisputed economic and political leader on the continent and Africa seen as hopeless continent. Frans Cronje concluded that today Africa might be on the right track, while South Africa is on the slippery slope towards economic stagnation and challenges to its democratic system.

– Julie Cantalou