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The Future of Africa

I am delighted to be here today and for this chance to meet and speak to students, staff and friends of Exeter College.

Let me begin by thanking Andrew Hamilton, the Vice-Chancellor of the University, and, Frances Cairncross, Rector of Exeter college, for the warm welcome I have received.

It is, of course, a pleasure to be back at Oxford – a university which has produced such important scholarship on the United Nations and on Africa.

I also want to say how honoured I am to have been asked to launch the 700th anniversary celebrations of Exeter College.

I notice that this anniversary does not officially take place until 2014, so you have obviously decided to start early!

And rightly so. Such a long and distinguished history deserves a long celebration.

Exeter is not just one of the oldest colleges in the university but has a unique spirit, and a proud, outward-looking tradition.

You attract the brightest and the best to teach and study, which is why I look forward to the question and answer session with both excitement and trepidation.

Among your alumni is, my fellow countryman John Kufuor who, I am delighted to say, is here today.

I know the pride that he takes in having studied at Exeter College.

The college will take equal pride in his achievements as President of Ghana, for embedding democracy and advancing economic and social development.

John began his studies here in 1961. Not long before, I had begun my own studies at university in America.

What I remember most of that era was that African hopes for self-determination were brimming over.

It was a time of great expectations and excitement for young people like ourselves.

There was a widespread belief that freedom from our colonial rulers would bring progress and prosperity.

We expected the new African nations would forge their future together. That we would control our natural resources and join the community of nations as equal partners.

Sadly, as history has documented, many of our hopes were soon dashed.

Newly independent African states struggled to contain the impact of arbitrary borders that split ethnic groups and communities, and fuelled tensions.

In many countries, the unifying force of independence movements gave way to one-party states as African governments sought to centralize political and economic power.

The continent became a land of “big men” and the battle-ground for proxy wars of the Cold War.

Development stagnated, deadly conflicts raged, the rule of law and human rights were neglected.

Half a century ago, Africa stood at a cross-roads.

For many reasons, some which have their roots in Africa, others outside, Africa took the wrong path.

But today, a new wave of optimism has taken hold.

Africa is once again being seen as a continent of opportunity – the last emerging investment frontier.

We see this optimism in the number and diversity of businesses and countries flocking to invest in the continent.

It is an optimism based on strong economic growth which even the global financial crisis was only able to reverse briefly.

And increasingly, this growth is being used to diversify economies and invest in the bedrock of successful societies – in education, in health and vital infrastructure.

This is not the picture of Africa that is normally painted in the global media.

Too often we hear the stereotype of a broken continent, stricken by disease, war and poverty.

A stereotype, too, in which problems in one country infect opinions of the continent as a whole.

Curiously, the reverse is rarely true.

Very few people could name the country with the world’s most sustained and strongest economic growth over the last four decades.

The answer is Botswana, a stable and successful democracy ever since independence in 1964.

It underlines why we have to remember that Africa consists of 53 diverse nations – soon to be 54 with the result of the referendum in South Sudan.

But even taking into account that countries are progressing at different speeds, Africa’s fortunes have been turning around in the last decade.

Real GDP grew by nearly 5% annually between 2000 and 2008 – twice the level of the previous two decades.

According to the African Development Bank, 6 African countries are forecast to enjoy growth this year above seven per cent; 15 countries above five per cent; and 27 countries above three per cent.

Direct foreign investment has soared from $9 billion in 2000 to $52 billion in 2011.

This momentum is expected to continue and can be accelerated if we tackle remaining barriers to progress by investing in energy and infrastructure, and strengthening regional integration.

Improved regional integration is essential to increase trade within Africa, which stands at just 10% of total trade compared to 67% within the EU.

But even so, the IMF already believes the continent will have as many as seven of the ten fastest-growing economies in the world over the next decade.

Even higher growth rates are necessary to lift millions out of poverty and hunger and position Africa as an essential part of the global economic system.

Africa’s improved economic performance and prospects have, of course, become the subject of a growing amount of analysis by banks, policy makers and international organizations.

There is debate about the role and impact of painful macroeconomic reforms which were encouraged and, in some cases, forced on African countries by the Bretton Woods institutions.

It is now widely acknowledged that these structural adjustment programmes had terrible consequences socially and institutionally.

But the fiscal discipline they put in place helped to cushion African economies against external shocks, encouraged the growth of reserves and well-regulated banking sectors.

It is clear, too, that another major reason for increased investment and growth has been Africa’s natural resources and its attractiveness to emerging economies, particularly China.

With at least 10% of the world’s oil and gas reserves, 40% of its gold, and 80% of its chromium and platinum, Africa is well placed to continue to benefit from the wealth beneath its surface and the boom in commodity prices.

China’s burgeoning interest in Africa has also had other spillover effects.

Asian demand for African commodities improves the terms on which the continent trades.

This, in turn, encourages investors from elsewhere to look at Africa with different eyes.

But important as China’s influence has been, recent research has shown that Africa’s economic success is not simply tied to its natural resources, or to one country.

Profitable economic partnerships are also being developed with Brazil, Turkey, India, Malaysia, and countries in the Middle East.

World class African companies are also making inroads in these markets.

These South-South relationships are providing important opportunities for peer learning on appropriate development strategies to eradicate poverty and address inequality.

Last year’s report by McKinsey, aptly named “Lions on the Move”, found that just a third of Africa’s growth up to 2008 was due to its natural resources.

Other sectors such as telecoms, financial services, agribusiness, construction and infrastructure are also thriving, creating both income and jobs.

The report found that Africa’s strong growth owes as much, if not more, to increased stability including the end of conflicts; growing investment in human and physical infrastructure; progress in achieving the Millennium Development Goals and reducing the risks and costs of doing business.

Even more encouraging are changes in Africa’s demographics which can help to harness Africa’s potential over the coming decades, if sustained by good public policies.

These include a fast growing and young labour force, rapid urbanization and a burgeoning middle-class of consumers.

The diaspora is also playing a positive role, by transferring skills, bringing much needed innovation and entrepreneurship to the continent, and increasing financial flows from remittances.

Africa is also benefiting from the spread of mobile phones and ICT.

It is helping countries to “leapfrog” over unsustainable forms of production and consumption; and delivering social services in health, education, and weather information.

And perhaps most importantly, the continent has benefited from a new generation of African policy-makers who are managing economies better, paying attention to social development, and building the institutional capacities needed to increase regional trade and economic cooperation.

All these are positive factors for the future.

Even one of Africa’s biggest challenges – how to feed its citizens and tackle widespread hunger – can be seen to offer hope if the right policies and investments are put in place.

Currently, Africa is the only continent which does not grow enough food to feed its own people.

Its farmers have been locked out of the scientific and technological advances which have transformed crop yields across the world.

The result is that hundreds of millions of people go hungry every day. And it is a scandal which climate change is already making more severe.

But Africa also contains 60% of the world’s uncultivated arable land.

If we can promote a uniquely African green revolution – drawing on the experiences of Asia and Latin America – not only can we meet food shortages within the continent, but provide exports to improve food security across the world.

Ladies and gentlemen, you would be forgiven for thinking that I have become hopelessly optimistic since leaving the United Nations.

After all, we have seen false dawns in Africa before.

And I would not, in any way, wish to under-estimate the enormous challenges the continent still faces.

We have recently seen a reminder of the stubborn political obstacles that can get in the way of progress in the crisis in Cote d’Ivoire.

The refusal of incumbent president Laurent Gbagbo to concede defeat in an election that was independently monitored and certified to be fair, risks embroiling the country in a new civil war.

Africa – and indeed the world – cannot afford such a development.

Indeed, if there is one area, which above all, will determine the direction of Africa’s future, it is the quality of its governance and leadership.

Leadership not just within individual countries in Africa, but regionally, across the continent as a whole.

In contrast, lack of good governance and poor leadership is the single biggest obstacle to development.

It promotes corruption and increases the likelihood of inequality, instability and conflict.

I believe that Africa’s economic growth could double and make a profound impact on poverty eradication if it can get its politics right: if we can see best practice from within the continent spread across all of it.

Ladies and gentlemen, a continent at peace with itself requires more than the absence of war.

It requires that we embrace respect for human rights and the rule of law, and transparent, effective and accountable governance.

Important steps towards a more democratic and rules-based political culture have been made since the 1990’s.

We have seen more multi-party elections in Africa, greater adherence to democratic principles, and the growth of civil society.

And the AU’s Charter on Democracy and Africa Peer Review Mechanism – even though works in progress – are landmark instruments of good governance currently absent from many other developing regions in the world.

However, in many African countries, there remains a profound mismatch between the aspirations
of its people and the caliber and integrity of those leading them.

Let me briefly mention two areas where I believe political leadership and good governance will be decisive factors in charting Africa’s future:

First, protecting the integrity of elections, and second, addressing the root causes of conflict through institutional reform.

As you may know, no less than 17 African countries are holding elections this year.

Each one has the potential to exacerbate existing tensions within society, or of entrenching more democratic institutions and improved governance in these countries.

I have already mentioned the troubled election in Cote d’Ivoire.  If Gbagbo is allowed to prevail, elections as instruments of peaceful change in Africa will suffer a serious setback.

Leaders must understand that they enter elections to win or to lose – that peaceful transition of power is the cornerstone of sustainable democracy and durable peace.

The African Union and the international community must do more to protect the integrity of the electoral process. Otherwise election-related violence and conflict will erode much of the progress we have seen on the continent.

Elections must be backed by institutions and laws that uphold the rights of all citizens and create a pluralist society rather than defend ethnicity or special interests.

But let me deal with the claim, made by some commentators recently, that it is the power-sharing agreement in Kenya which I helped broker, which has given encouragement to those defeated in elections to cling onto power.

Unlike elections in Cote d’Ivoire and Zimbabwe, there was no clear winner in the 2007 elections in Kenya.

The scale of violence that ensued in Kenya was catastrophic. Hundreds were killed, injured and raped; thousands fled their homes and the country was burning.

The political settlement ended the terrible violence which flared up as a result of the disputed election itself.

The resulting national accord not only led to the first coalition government in Africa, but it also committed Kenyans and their leaders to undertake a profound agenda of institutional reform, to tackle impunity, and promote national reconciliation and cohesion.

One of the tangible results has been a new Constitution and a Bill of Rights which should be a source of pride for all Kenyans, and inspire forward-looking constitutional development across the region.

We now need to see real courage and commitment to ensure that the rest of the reform agenda is implemented.

It has not been an easy journey. But I hope, as most Kenyans do, that full implementation of the new Constitution will help to tackle the root causes of conflict and prevent such a crisis from erupting again.

It will also demonstrate that concerted action to address national identity and citizenship issues, to reform land tenure, to bring government closer to the people through devolution, and making sure that women have a strong voice in their societies, are key to building strong and cohesive societies.

Ladies and gentlemen, what Africa needs to do now is to keep building on the progress that has been achieved so far.

This requires a comprehensive strategy for the future – one that gives equal weight and attention to security, development, rule of law and human rights.

They cannot be separated. They all reinforce each other and they all depend on each other.

The international community must support African efforts to reform and provide the resources to help build government capacity and capability.

But good governance in Africa must be complemented by fair rules and good governance at the global level.

Africa can no longer be a by-stander as decisions are made about its future, whether it’s to do with the global trade regime, regulating international finance or tackling climate change.
And African countries should have fair representation on the decision-making bodies of inter-governmental organizations, such as the Security Council and the G20.

Finally, let me say a few words about the events in North Africa which I believe have broader lessons for authoritarian regimes everywhere.

These popular uprisings show that the democratic aspirations of people cannot be contained and that human rights are not a luxury, let alone a plot from outside.

Wherever people live, they want their voice to be heard, their rights respected, and to have a say in how they are governed.

They yearn for decent jobs, opportunity and a secure future for their children.

They believe that the rule of law must apply to everyone, no matter how powerful.

The demand for more inclusive, more accountable and more responsive Governments is, I believe, unstoppable.

It’s a voice coming from right across the population but most strongly from the younger generation.

It is this generation – their dynamism, their determination and ambitions – which is, I believe, the major reason for confidence in Africa.

It is also the generation which is all around us today.

It may be, of course, that the issues I raised today can seem a long way from your lives here in Oxford.

But remember that you are the first generation who can call yourselves citizens of the world.

Wherever you come from, whatever you are studying, you have to think beyond your borders.

It is how you respond to the inter-linked challenges in front of us that will decide the future direction of your world.

It is your world now.  It is a big responsibility.

You must have the courage to change it for the better.

I, for one, have confidence that you are up to the task.

Thank you.

The Future of Africa