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A future made in Africa? The choice is ours.

Is the glass half full or half empty after 50 years of the African freedom and unity project? Well that depends on whether you are an optimist or a pessimist. For the optimists decolonisation has happened, the African Union has been formed, with perhaps up to half a billion pounds spent on establishing norms and common institutions, and now many African economies are surging as better governance delivers results, gradually improving the lives of ordinary Africans.

For the pessimists this is too little, too late. Africans are being congratulated for merely achieving the basics. Take a country like Nigeria, with its natural and human resources, and the level of its civil service; Nigeria at independence was expected to easily outperform a list of 'emerging' countries such as South Korea and Malaysia. It should easily be a trillion dollar economy.

Today it lags behind those countries in infrastructure development, industrialisation, and the human development index. Too many opportunities have been missed in Nigeria, the result of mismanagement, corruption, dictatorship and conflict. As in many African countries, in Nigeria there have been disagreements aplenty over how scarce resources are managed and distributed, over the political and economic marginalisation of ethnic, religious and regional groups, and over the forms of government to mediate the differences. Ultimately the inability to manage the various conflicts led to great conflagrations that have arrested development It has also brought in external powers, who in a divided house, have walked off with the spoils, while brothers and cousins level the earth in their hatred for each other.

Have we learnt much over those 50 years about how to manage our conflicts? This is especially important as expectations are high again for African countries. Take Nigeria again. In 2011, the leading accountancy firm PwC looked forward to 2050 and what would be the top 20 economies based on Purchasing Power Parity, and assuming that countries maintained consistent growth rates, and there were no huge conflicts or environmental and natural upheavals. The results were simply startling. The world will change dramatically.

But for me, most exciting is the idea of an expected $4.5trn Nigerian economy, bigger than industrialised countries such as Italy, Canada, and South Korea. There are two challenges here. How can Nigeria maintain this projection? Will its internal conflicts (Boko Haram, Niger Delta) once again arrest its development? Will its power and other infrastructure improve so that it can become the powerhouse that PwC believes it can be? Will the skills, education and expertise of its workforce be able to sustain such a sophisticated economy? Will its people be able to use its resources to create products to sell to others? Will its politicians be able to rise to the levels of competence and transparency needed to run a serious economy? Will it be able to spread this prosperity in a wider ECOWAS common market? Finally, will it be able to manage its explosive population growth and environmental damage, so that ordinary Nigerians truly enjoy the benefits of their increased prosperity?

Most African countries face the same potential and challenges as Nigeria. Take Kenya and Ethiopia, at the centre of a surging East African community, or South Africa at the centre of a powerful SADC region. Will we have a utopia of made-in-Africa products sustaining an elimination of absolute poverty, a huge middle class, and a massive consumer market? Or an overpopulated, environmentally damaged, and conflict-ridden dystopia, inhabited by the poor and the illiterate?
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Title Annotation:BACK TO THE FUTURE
Author:Wambu, Onyekachi
Publication:New African
Article Type:Essay
Geographic Code:60AFR
Date:May 1, 2013
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