The challenges facing Africa’s political growth and socio-economic development are daunting. Yet over the past few years, there has been increasing evidence showing that Africa’s tide of despair is turning. With eyes set on a vision of an Africa free from poverty, free from conflict and fully integrated into the global economy, governments, businesses, development organisations, international groups, coalitions, partnerships and individuals throughout the continent have made significant strides in working towards an African renaissance.

Africa’s path to development will however be a long and arduous journey. Speaking about the New Economic Partnership for Africa (Nepad) Ross Herbert, Head of Nepad’s Governance project, commented that one of the partnership’s greatest challenges is that, even if Nepad and Africa as a whole were to do everything right, “we may still find ourselves far behind because the world is simply progressing at a much faster pace”.

But the efforts made in this past year alone bear evidence that Africa is taking its greatest strides yet towards socio-economic and political transformation.

Economic good times

The IMF recently reported that the economies of the sub-Saharan African region are experiencing the best period of sustained growth in Africa since independence. The economy in this region grew by 5.7% in 2005 and is projected to rise to 6.8% in 2008. In the past 10 years, 15 African countries have had sustained positive growth rates of 4% or more. According to the IMF report, the strong economic growth as well as the “substantial progress being made in reducing poverty rates reflects a potent combination of a favourable external environment, sound policy implementation and the rising openness of sub-Saharan African economies”.

The United Nations World Investment Report announced in October that foreign direct investment (FDI) into Africa has doubled in the past two years bringing it to a record total of US $36 billion (approximately R250 billion). This growth can be attributed to the search for primary resources and by a generally improved business climate, says the report.

In 2005, the developed nations dropped $40 billion of debt (13.5% of total developing world debt) owed by 18 of the world’s most impoverished nations. But debt relief and economic growth will mean nothing without an improvement in African governance.

Embracing democracy

Africa’s international profile for peaceful elections, democracy and good governance is slowly becoming more positive.

Two-thirds of sub-Saharan countries have had democratic elections in the past 5 years, with 21 democratic elections being held this year alone. There has also been a considerable decrease in the number of wars on the continent.

In September, Sierra Leone held its presidential elections. Internationally the country is still largely remembered for its 11-year long civil war that ended in 2002 in which tens of thousands were killed, millions were displaced and at least 10 000 child soldiers were created. It was predicted that the 2007 elections would incite another blood bath. Yet, contrary to these expectations, Ernest Bai Koroma was sworn in as Sierra Leone’s president in a free, fair and peaceful election.

“Sierra Leone’s turnaround is a grand affirmation of the future of the continent,” says Washington Post journalist John Prendergast. “This country and other nations such as Liberia, South Africa, Mozambique and Burundi are beginning to tell a story of Africa that is radically different from the ‘conventional wisdom’. They are defying both history and outsiders’ low expectations for the continent.”

Getting connected

The radical transformation of telecommunications in Africa is underway.

Africa has been rated fourth in broadband penetration, ahead of Latin America and Asia Pacific, among six continents that were sampled by the Economist Intelligence Unit in 2007.

Companies in the public and private sector – such as Eassy, Seacom and the Nepad Broadband Infrastructure Network – are embarking on what will be the biggest ICT project undertaken in Africa. The project will bring much needed, affordable, high-quality, broadband internet connectivity to Africa.

In addition, the NEPAD e-Schools Initiative aims to equip schools in Africa with ICT equipment in the form of computers, phones, fax machines, copiers, etc. and provide internet connectivity. So far, the initiative’s demonstration project has linked 96 schools in 16 countries to the internet via a satellite network.

This incomplete list of progress achieved by the continent shows that though we may still have a long way to go, the Africa of the future will be a far cry from the Africa of the past. And Africans themselves are starting to believe it. A Gallup Poll of 2005 that found that Africans were the most optimistic people in the world. The rest of the world is slowly starting to see that Africa is finally, hopefully, on the right track.

Africa’s progress – Fast Facts

  • The Ghana Stock Exchange regularly tops the list of the world’s highest-performing stock markets.
  • Botswana, with its A+ credit rating, boasts one of the highest per capita government savings rates in the world, topped only by Singapore and a handful of other fiscally prudent nations.
  • Africa leads world tourism growth. In 2006, Africa achieved twice the rate of global growth in the tourism sector.
  • The Mo Ibrahim Foundation has launched the biggest cash prize in the world in which US$5 million is given to a former African head of state that has shown remarkable leadership during his tenure. Former Mozambican President Joaquim Chissano was recently announced as the first winner of the prize.

Lindy Mtongana BJourn, is a journalist at SA Good News.