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Africa 2025-the lion chronicles.

What will Africa be like in 2025? The UNDP asked this question as part of a major research programme and came up with a number of likely scenarios--some positive, some negative. Which will outweigh the other depends largely on Africans themselves. Tom Nevin reports.

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"Africa does not have the divine right to succeed in her endeavours in the current age. Nor is there a supernatural force that can will us to fail. How events unfold over the next 20 years or so depends in large measure on what we Africans do."

With these words, South African President Thabo Mbeki opens Africa 2025, a groundbreaking study by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) that peers into the mists of what life in Africa could be like 21 years hence.

Quite simply, Mbeki is restating his contention of the past 10 years: that Africa holds its fate in its own hands. It cannot, nor should it, cling to the apron strings of the developed nations forever.

In preparing the study, the continent's researchers started by drawing up a situation report of the key trends that have come to define Africa.

"The first is the population boom currently being experienced," says analyst Ferial Haferjee. "Contributors believe this is not exceptional, but that 'Africa is catching up to its former proportion of the world's population'."

The boom, however, is also responsible for low economic growth and developmental stagnation--more so than Aids, environmental problems, corruption and bad governance. Record numbers of young people are presenting African governments with a hefty education bill, while the continent also has the highest earner-dependent ratio in the world.

"Urbanisation is another important trend," notes Haferjee. "In 1950 about 10% of populations across the continent lived in towns and cities. This figure has since tripled."

AFRICA A "RENT ECONOMY"

The study contends: "Africa on the whole is a rent economy", and this presents a vital challenge to the way in which most African economies are structured. Thus far there has been little foreign investment in sectors other than those that relate to commodity exports. "The process of accumulation in the continent has not yet truly begun," says Africa 2025. "Sub-Saharan Africa remains locked in a pattern of high indebtedness, is marginal to international trade and investment flows, and has a huge informal economy."

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"What will our fortunes be in 22 years?" asks survey editor Alioune Sall, in employing his lion metaphors to portray the possible realities.

"The lions are hungry" analogises an Africa confronting the doomsday scenario. "It is to be feared that Africa will increasingly teeter on the brink in the next 25 years. Several factors will contribute to the increasing fragility of regimes that cause the economy to stagnate," observes the report. Contributory factors are a steep drop in foreign aid, the stripping of the environment and conflict. "We cannot forget that Sub-Saharan Africa will have the highest proportion of young men aged 15 to 29. Worldwide, this is the age bracket most prone to violence," it cautions.

"The lions are trapped" portrays a scenario in which Africa remains marginalised in the global community and the Nepad projection of 7% annual growth "is far from having been achieved". This reality will see "Africans go on living or surviving. But their standard of living will not improve as significantly as on other continents."

The set of Millennium Development Goals--the United Nations plan to stimulate development by 2015--is not met in the trapped lions scenario--as "people are reluctant to contribute to government's coffers. They still see government as picking people's pockets, rather than providing expected services," the report conjectures.

"LOUD AND CLEAR" AFRICA NEEDED

The study finally contemplates "the lions come out of their den" and the "lions mark their territory", as renaissance scenarios, in which a generation of entrepreneurs comes to the fore, driving growth, and where strong leadership evolves. "There emerges a new generation of politicians that breaks away from the previous generations," it speculates. However, for these things to become a reality, a series of preconditions must be met, including the achievement of universal education and health, better infrastructure and a more equitable international architecture.

"African governments will probably have to make themselves heard, loud and clear, to obtain the new exemptions they need to protect their fledgling industries," says the study.

But pockets of hope prevail. Considering the entrenchment of multiparty democracies in various countries, some stability and stronger economies in various parts of the continent suggest that this final scenario could very well happen, says Sall.

The report is less confident about the New Economic Plan for Africa's Development (Nepad) in 23 years time. "Nepad certainly did not bring about all of the radical changes that its promoters expected. But it was the starting point for an 'African Renaissance'," say the contributors.

"TRAPPED LION" REVOLUTION

The most perilous of the four roadmaps is the trapped lion scenario in which populations lose faith in the governments and withhold taxes to the point of a ruinous revolution. An earlier UN report suggests that this possibility is a lot closer than we think.

A survey conducted jointly by the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) and UNDP: Development: Africa Spending Less on Basic Social Services reveals that only three countries in Africa are allocating more than 20% of budget funds for use on basic health care, education and nutrition--the goal set by the 1995 Social Summit in Copenhagen, the so-called 20-20 Initiative. Namibia spends about 30% of its national budget on basic social services, Mali 23% and Kenya 20%.

The rest of Africa's poorer nations are far below target, including Cameroon (8.0%), Cote d'Ivoire (9.0%), Tanzania (10%) and Benin (18%). Aside from development aid, "even the poorest nations should make some commitment to provide basic social services to their people," says UNICEF Director Carol Bellamy. "Realistically, however, this is not happening."

Bellamy concedes that most of the poorer nations of the world now are forced to spend more on debt servicing than on health and education. "This is the stranglehold that debt has on these countries and it virtually precludes 20-20 from having an impact." she says.

Another UN report says statistics from some 30 countries show that governments allocate on average only about 12-14% of their budgets to basic social services which is below what is needed to reach universal coverage of basic social demands.

In 1999, UNICEF reported that a broad understanding was reached that access to basic social services for all was vital for reducing poverty. "Yet millions of children are still being deprived of their right to education, health care and nutrition, reducing them to a life steeped in perpetual poverty," the report reveals.

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The theme was picked up UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan who has focused specifically on the deteriorating economic and social conditions in Africa. "Financing Africa's development is crucial to win the fight against poverty", he says. For the time being, most African governments can look forward to continued life between a rock and a hard place as official development assistance to, and investment in, Africa continues to decline. Over half of Africa's people live in absolute poverty, on less than one dollar a day. Halving poverty by 2015 will require a 7% growth in gross domestic product (GDP) per year for Africa as a whole until that date. "The overview of the present situation shows that internal resources of the continent would not be sufficient to reach this goal," Annan contends. If this is the case, then the spectre of the trapped lions looms large. But not everyone agrees.

MATURING AFRICA'S NEW ALIGNMENTS

Francis Kornegay, programme coordinator with the Centre for Africa's International Relations at Johannesburg's Wits University, has a new spin on the same theme and sees Africa's galloping population increase as no bad thing.

He notes that despite HIV/Aids, Africa's population is actually exploding while "protectionists Europe's is shrinking to a point where it will one day become Africa's demographic suburb. Ethiopia alone will soon have the tenth largest population in the world, estimated at 173m in 2050".

Noting that the emergence of a developed world phalanx may well exert pressure on the validity of a G8-led global economy, this is likely to accelerate as the possibilities of a new Afro-Asian alignment within a broader south-south co-operation sphere gains momentum. He regards the South African momentum toward free trade accords with India and China as "a fitting prospect". But even better, he says, "would be a revived impetus for Indian Ocean interregional co-operation with the prospect of an eventual SA-Brazil-India trade link."

Beside Afro-transatlantic and Afro-Asiatic axes, Kornegay sees a third geo-economic axis that Africa should look to: the Eur-African connection.

"Ultimately," he says, "Europe and Africa should perceive a mutual interest in forging an equitable relationship based on ending European agro protectionism. "After all," he says, "as European pension pressures rise, agricultural subsidies will become less sustainable."

Which of the lions will eventually roar loudest? Most prefer, and cautiously opt for, the "lions mark their territory". Because Africa, for all its problems, is actually on the ascendancy, has an abundance of natural resources and a new generation of skills and pragmatism on the point of taking over and making their mark.

RELATED ARTICLE: How the study tries to determine the future

"Africa 2025 does not claim to know what Africa will be like tomorrow," says Africa 2025's preface. "The objective is to explore possible futures for Sub-Saharan Africa. More than a thousand Africans, in 46 countries, women and men, Anglophone and Francophone, and from very different backgrounds, were involved in this exploration. They first determined the status quo in Africa at the dawn of the 21st century, and then they constructed four scenarios for the next 25 years. These scenarios were given metaphorical names: the lions are trapped; the lions are hungry; the lions come out of their den; and the lions mark their territory. In each case, there was a consideration of the conditions that had to be in place for the scenarios to become reality.

"At the time of the New Partnership for Africa's Development (Nepad) and the birth of the African Union, Africans--and in particular politicians, non-governmental organisations, entrepreneurs, opinion makers, and religious leaders--must choose their path and accept their responsibilities. The projected possible futures described by Africa 2025 will guide them, and will also assist people from other continents who would like to help Africa progress in the direction it chooses."

The study was conducted within the framework of the United Nations Development Programme's African Futures project, and initiated and edited by Alioune Sall, coordinator of the UNDP's African Futures programme.
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Title Annotation:Special Focus
Author:Nevin, Tom
Publication:African Business
Geographic Code:60AFR
Date:Feb 1, 2004
Words:1772
Previous Article:African economies rank high in global league.
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