Summary of The Convergence of Nations: Why Africa’s Time is Now
Africa’s time is at last arriving – a result of political and economic changes around the globe, as well as across this sprawling, fascinating, exasperating continent. Its population is young, dynamic and increasingly well educated. A growing proportion of African citizens is returning from developed countries, eager to spur progress and prosperity at home. The result is enhanced self-confidence, more openness and democracy, and better economic performance. Whether in energy, agriculture, capital markets and mining, or in new forms of manufacturing, internet technology, pop music, fashion and mobile payments, Africa can offer the rest of the world important stories of achievements and success.
Jean-Claude Bastos de Morais, an Angolan-Swiss investor and entrepreneur, and a team of 31 authors from 15 nations have, under the aegis of the OMFIF Press, assembled a wide-ranging account of Africa’s kaleidoscopic reality. Many of the writers are young Africans with active, dynamic tales to tell of resourceful action in many fields, often in the face of adversity. In this most heterogeneous and fragmented of continents, there is no single narrative and no shortage of examples of poverty, disease, conflict, fraud and corruption; terrorism, extremism and the turbulent aftermath of the Arab Spring have all left their mark. The commodity price downturn and the slowdown in the Chinese economy – the expansion of which brought marked benefits to Africa in recent decades – have cast shadows over some of the larger resource rich economies like Nigeria, South Africa and Angola. Yet Africa is not the only part of the world facing problems. As Jacques de Larosière, a former managing director of the International Monetary Fund and one of the world’s foremost monetary technocrats, writes in an eloquent endorsement: ‘At a time when risks elsewhere have been growing – whether in China, Europe or Latin America – this book spells out how, for once, Africa could be a winner. Of course the precondition is that the continent tackles its problems of corruption, weak governance and misallocation of resources.’
Africa presents an overall message of hope, encouragement and ambition. The Convergence of Nations displays Africa in all its facets. It sets down new precepts for ‘African capitalism’: open to global investment, establishing its own economic practices based on best international ideas, and generating inclusive growth that genuinely benefits African societies. In a multipolar world reshaped by the fall of Soviet communism and the rise of emerging market economies, African countries have become sought after partners and beacons of growth. Against this backcloth of bustling globalisation, Africa can select from a variety of international business and development models, adapting them to its own setting. The leading global economy, the US, is in relative retreat against the advance of China; the old colonising powers of Europe are battling to limit their international weakness. All these countries, and a broad swathe of newly industrialising nations ranging from Brazil and India to Turkey and, are striving to build African investments and influence – competition that can only benefit the Africans.
The strength of Africa resides in its variety and abundance. This can apply to finance as much as to the population. Ethiopis Tafara, vice president and general counsel of the International Finance Corporation, the private sector financing arm of the World Bank, lauds African outdoor markets as ‘vivid reminders of the energy of commerce; open spaces filled with the bustle of people buying and selling their wares, and a grand variety of produce and goods of different sizes, shapes and colours.’ He says the task is to develop African capital markets in a similar way, ‘bringing diversity and vibrancy as well as sound commercial backing and regulatory practices.’ International money can of course be footloose: the book draws attention to an estimated $50bn in funds that illicitly leave Africa each year, swamping inflows of development aid or foreign remittances. Yet tapping global financial markets gives African countries a remarkable opportunity for overcoming their development lag. According to Jean-Claude Bastos de Morais, ‘The continent is in a position to leapfrog ahead by adapting new technologies faster and easier owing to lower barriers of entry, Africa occupies a pivotal position at the intersection of new routes of global capital.’
Another author, Peter Bruce, Editor-in-chief of South Africa’s Business Day and Financial Mail, asserts that Africa is fighting a uphill battle – but he remains optimistic. ‘For a continent hamstrung by war, pestilence, corruption, hunger and suboptimal leadership, Africa still manages to generate positive headlines. Africa has an aura and a magnetism that non-Africans find persuasively attractive,’ Bruce writes. ‘The slow discovery of success is intoxicating and infectious. Africans now measure themselves not against the West, but against each other.’ The key to attainment lies in embracing and harnessing international change – and standing firm against malfeasance and shady dealing. Kingsley Chiedu Moghalu, former deputy governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, pleads for ‘emancipation from a foreign aid culture, better frameworks for financial market innovation and foreign trade and investment, and a form of African “world view” about the continent’s place in the global political economy.’ With an eye particularly on the notorious scandals in his own country over large-scale diversion of oil funds and other government revenue, Moghalu – now a professor at Tufts University’s Fletcher School of Law in the US – declares, ‘The corruption that disfigures some African countries is a signal of weak governance that governments must fight with all means possible.’
Opening up to the rest of the world has generated more interest in regional trade blocs to allow African countries better access to each others’ as well as other continents’ markets. An ambitious trade agreement sealed in 2015, the Tripartite Free Trade Area – combining the Southern African Development Community, the East African Community, and the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa – aims to create a common market of more than 600m people and potentially 26 countries stretching from South Africa to Egypt. This looks like a latter-day emulation of explorer Cecil John Rhodes' dream of ‘Empire from Cape to Cairo’. However, according to Richard Dowden, director of the Royal African Society, African economies have to set their sights wider than merely strengthening regional trading ties. ‘A prime condition for African regional co-operation to succeed is, somewhat paradoxically, that it should not lie at the centre of Africa’s development strategy.’
In similar vein, Célestin Monga, managing director at the United Nations Industrial Development Organisation, recommends that African countries should focus on exports to other richer parts of the world – and building infrastructure such as industrial parks to speed up that process – rather than ‘wasting money to intensify links with other poor economies.’ The facts speak a brutally clear language, Monga believes: ‘Trade among African countries represents only about 5% of their overall trade, perhaps 10% if informal, unrecorded trade is added.’ His conclusion: ‘Burundi's market should not be Rwanda but the US; Cameroon's market should not be Nigeria but China; Tunisia’s market should not be Morocco but Europe.’
Lower commodity and energy prices bring challenges but also opportunities; after all, 38 of the 54 nations in the African Union are oil importers. ‘Low oil prices present a chance for subsidy reform. But central banks of oil exporting countries will have to balance supporting growth against maintaining stable inflation and investor confidence,’ says Kevin Chika Urama, head of Quantum Global Research Lab, leading a team of econometric analysts engaged with African institutions and governments. He adds: ‘Political will is needed for structural policies such as energy tax reforms and economic diversification.’ The need to widen the economic foundations of African economies beyond direct reliance on raw materials and commodities, driving forward industrialisation in niche sectors, particularly in value adding processing activities in oil and agriculture, is one of the prime tenets of the book. Another is to improve communications about Africa, underlining the improvements in African countries’ performance and practices over the past 20 years and overcoming stereotypes and clichés that can hamper trade and investment. According to communication specialist Sneha Shah, managing director of sub-Saharan Africa at Thomson Reuters, ‘At the heart of communication is trust and transparency. Organisations, individuals and governments can promote these characteristics across Africa, She urges a concerted effort ‘to reinforce the rule of law in the public and private sectors, improve the revenue generation capabilities of state and municipal authorities, and raise standards in many fields from public and legal services to journalism.’
The book outlines opportunities in many other fields, ranging from expanding renewable energy, modernising plantations and boosting private equity to regionalising stock exchanges and building much-needed communications hubs. It delves, too into the ravages of Ebola, the misdeeds of wildlife poachers, and unnecessary deaths of low-paid workers deprived of health services. ‘Africa can follow the industrialised world along a well trodden but risky path of dependence on depleting and polluting fossil fuels,’ expounds Jeremy Wakeford, an energy expert at Quantum Global Research Lab. ‘Or it can forge ahead with a rapid transition to green and inclusive growth, underpinned by newly emerging efficient and sustainable energy sources and technologies.’ As for the mineral sector, it has ‘great potential to spur development that can outlive the lifespan of individual projects,’ writes mining expert Hudson Mtegha of South Africa’s University of the Witwatersrand. ‘A key condition for success is government leadership combined with full participation by mining communities, including social and environmental monitoring.’
The Convergence of Nations extends to culture, the arts and creative industries, describing the styles of Accra and South African House music, the diverse faces of Kenyan fashion, and the flamboyance of Nigeria’s Nollywood films. ‘Using advances in technology, communications and design processes, Africa’s creators are working out the best ways of developing and selling brands across the global marketplace, as Malawian, Nigerian or Kenyan products – at the same time producing overall gains for Africa’s creative economy,’ explains Abena Annan, founder and creative director of Obaasema magazine in Ghana. ‘Return of US and Europe based African artistes is bound to generate a renewed impact on the creative scene.’ A big part of this stems from fast-growing cities which, British economist Gerard Lyons states, need ‘inspiration’ as well as ‘perspiration’, generating growth through investment, innovation and infrastructure spending. Yet without education and spending ‘soft infrastructure’ in health and other public services, and strategic campaigns to combat disease, inefficiency and waste, none of this will pay off.
Lise Birikundavyi, a Burundian venture capitalist, says, ‘Africa needs a combination of efforts to make its growth genuinely inclusive.’ She declares: ‘A child with Albert Einstein like brainpower may be born in a village near Lokossa in Benin, Muramvya in Burundi or Muhoroni in Kenya. Nobody will know until those village children have access to quality education and have the opportunity to learn from and contribute to global interchange.’
Young people are at the centre of Africa’s journey, but they are, Birikundavyi writes, ‘fed up with the stigma of Africa, the pity we evoke, the widespread perception that the continent lacks self-sufficiency and is dependent on handouts from the outside world.’ This negative image reflects only a fraction of what Africa is, she says. ‘Yet it impedes Africa from being as great as it once was and as wonderful as it could be.’ Birikundavyi carries a message of confidence: ‘With time, I have discovered a diversity that is bigger and richer than that seen on the European continent. It has bright minds constantly fighting for improvement, with innovation, boldness, courage and passion.’ Converting that spirit of hope into solid achievements that will make a real difference to a low-growth international economy is Africa’s task for the next generation – a mission that could change not just Africa but the world.