First, the good. Ghana has one of the fastest growing stock markets in the world. Cote d’Ivoire seems to have extricated itself from its crise electorale last year and is seeing a steady growth rate, while Senegal managed to peacefully navigate through its own tempestuous elections. Nigeria has taken steps to modernize the oil and gas industry, recently removing a politically popular but economically damaging petrol subsidy. Vast amounts of oil have been found in the Great Lakes region, while natural gas discoveries off the Mozambican coast have optimistically been labeled as the “next North Sea.” If governance can improve, these newly resource-rich countries have a chance to avoid “Dutch disease.” For some, the future is very bright. Unfortunately, the change in fortunes is not spread evenly.
Corruption is rife across the continent. Equatorial Guinea and Mali have seen military coups in the past few months, while Sudan and South Sudan seem to be on the brink of full-scale war (which the northern Sudanese will surely win). The polarizing Kony2012 campaign shed light on the complexities of central African politics, with an ungovernable region the size of France encompassing parts of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Uganda, Sudan and Central African Republic. The United States is looking to increase its military footprint on the continent and sent Delta operators to Uganda, but there are fears that Ugandan president Yoweri Museveni has capitalized on Joseph Kony’s unpopularity to further entrench himself in power. The DRC is not altogether different, with Joseph Kabila winning a fixed election last year and the incorporation of former rebels into the army. ICC-indicted warlord Bosco Ntaganda wields considerable power in the lawless and mineral-rich North Kivu province.
Despite its political anxieties, Africa has seen huge growth in a numerous industries. Because of its lack of infrastructure, many countries have skipped the “wired” step and have moved straight into wireless. While Internet use has barely penetrated rural areas, mobile phones have become the norm. While recently in Dakar, I was able to purchase a telephone with ample credit for less than $20. This accessibility has allowed for mobile banking to skyrocket and the ease of remittances, often a considerable portion of GDP, to increase.
Concurrently, Africa’s working-age population looks to explode in the next 10 years. Theoretically, this would make many African states more attractive for multinational manufacturers. Whether this will manifest remains to be seen.
For the United States, efforts on the continent should be twofold. First, the resources in Africa offer a chance for the U.S. to comfortably extricate itself from the Middle East. Second, scores of al-Qaeda fighters left Iraq starting in 2007 and relocated to the Horn and southern Yemen. This threat coincides with AFRICOM’s increased presence on the continent.
As Africa’s economic relevance grows, so too will the importance of political freedom and good governance. As more Africans gain access to an improved quality of life, their demand for accountable leaders and functioning government will increase concurrently.