Thursday's release of the 2011 Africa Progress Report had a little something to please African optimists and a lot more for disgruntled individuals who are increasingly demanding greater democracy, transparency and good governance—none of which surprises my own extended family.
As an African-American married to an African woman who has a large family, I know that my relatives dislike the following saying when it is applied to the continent: “Give a man a fish and he is full for a day; teach him how to fish and he will have food for life.”
Africans know how to fish, farm, make goods and provide services. In too many countries, however, a lack of good governance hinders entrepreneurs, businesses, average citizens and economic progress.
Businesses try to succeed while dealing with, among other things, bureaucratic red tape, government price-fixing, and, too often, inadequate public provision of electricity and water, or roads, ports and railways needing repair. Not to mention individuals lookout for a “dash,” which is a little, or a big, monetary contribution to make a deal, bid, contract or purchase move swiftly.
But the news coming out of Africa has some pluses. The 2011 Progress Report shows that “African economies have experienced comparatively swift and broad recoveries from the global financial and economic crises, leading to an anticipated continental growth of 5.5 percent in 2011 and 5.8 percent in 2012.”
Of course, there are weaknesses and strengths. Most African economies rely on the sale of unprocessed primary agricultural and mineral commodities, increasingly to voracious China. Most economies also have underdeveloped industrial and manufacturing sectors in areas outside of minerals and energy, and there is little cross-border trading on the continent.
So who benefits, beyond the leaders’ immediate families? Two groups that spend money in country as well as for foreign imports: an expanding African urban consumer population and a growing middle class.
Clearly the present overall economic growth is unbalanced, creates few new jobs for most citizens and raises national per capita income levels slowly. But these stumbling blocks make my family members, from three sub-Saharan African countries, eager to push for greater democracy as a way to throw their rascals out before they try the Egyptian alternative.