It’s fair to say – and hopefully not too condescending – that as a continent, Africa has had a rather tough time, especially considering the nefarious trans-Atlantic slave trade enacted by European slave traders from the 16th to the 19th century, and the comprehensive colonisation of almost all of Africa. After the independence struggles in the 20th century the previous tenants didn’t leave their countries in an ordered state. Post-colonial Africa has been characterised by instability with civil wars, countless military coups (sometimes enacted by Western powers), endemic corruption, economic stagnation, and genocide.
Post-colonial Africa has been less autonomous than the name suggests. The west has been highly involved, particularly economically. Under the neoliberal banner of the ‘Washington Consensus’, the largely American institutions of the IMF, and the World Bank have catastrophically implemented ‘Structural Adjustment Programmes’ (SAP) on numerous occasions. The conditions of the SAPs have to be followed in order for the developing countries to receive further loans. The policies implemented are free market measures on many different African countries. The endemic poverty and wealth inequality in Africa is testament to SAPs’ failure.
The Africa of today is a very different one to its largely unstable state of previous years. But there is still a lot of progress that needs to be made. Out of the bottom 44 countries in the UN’s Human Development Index ranking of 2012, 36 are African. And in the bottom 25 Afghanistan is the only exception. In 2005, 80.5 per cent of Sub-Saharan Africa was living on less than $2.50 a day measured at Purchasing Power Parity. There is a clear need for development.
Africa is a land extremely rich in resources; ideally it should endeavour to develop a largely ‘home-grown’ economy, where the principle agents are African and they can reap the benefits of the resources that are rightfully theirs. Unfortunately this won’t be the case as the unstoppable process of globalisation moves across the continent; a lot of the rewards from economic development will go abroad. Africa is sometimes called the last frontier of globalisation, but although it is already happening, it is nowhere near finished; there are still countless countries and corporations fixed on the plentiful raw resources who have yet to act.
Though globalisation does involve a large surrender of power to foreign economic actors, decisions can be made as to which actors are rewarded. Africa should look away from the West, and look east, where the pendulum of geopolitical power is steadily swinging to- particularly in the direction of China.
To a large extent, it already has; bilateral trade between the continent and China increased from $9bn in 2000 to over $160bn in 2011. Over one million Chinese nationals are estimated to be working in Africa. Essentially, China gets access to raw resources such as oil, cotton and timber in exchange for large structural projects and soft loans. So far these exchanges have worked very well, developing countries such as Angola, Sudan and Nigeria enjoy huge improvements in infrastructure. China, in return, gets a proportion of the resources necessary to maintaining its unprecedented levels of growth.
This arrangement is far more successful and mutually beneficial than anything the West has offered. The loans given out before ended up with the disastrous SAPs .
As well as the SAPs, huge amounts of aid has flowed into the continent, but has been largely ineffective; almost all of it has been short-term aid and has even helped created a culture of dependence in some countries. In contrast, China has offered and implemented tangible changes across the continent that will benefit the receiving countries in the short and long run. China’s agenda is hardly benevolent, but then neither is the West’s, Africa must look to the Asian giant, a lesser of two globalising evils.