African business, politics and lifestyle
West must change approach to Africa
Tom Cargill, Assistant Head of the Africa Programme at Chatham House, writes on the West’s relationship with Africa:
French President Nicholas Sarkozy put it best this week, when he spoke of the increasing important of Africa in Global Affairs: “Africa’s formidable demographics and its considerable resources make it the main reservoir for world economic growth in the decades to come.”
This is indeed the principal finding of our new Chatham House Report ‘Our Common Strategic Interests: Africa’s role in the post G8 World’. Yet so far there is very little evidence that Western policy makers, publics, or most importantly, businesses, are waking up to the opportunities that are slowly draining away from them with each passing day.
For the past ten years, fundamental change has been taking place across large parts of Africa. Growth rates and stability have increased. Political, regulatory and security reform have deepened. Increasing investment from China, but also Brazil, India, Turkey, South Korea, Argentina and other ambitious emerging powers has acted for the most part as an accelerant.
Even the global financial crisis has in some ways hastened this process, for while in the short and medium term it had a devastating impact on millions across Africa, it has also revealed the true ebb of power from East to West, and encouraged the new economic actors of the G20 to chase access to the 40 percent of the world’s mineral resources, and 1 billion consumers gathered in Africa. Almost as important is the 25 percent of UN General Assembly votes that are represented by the continent’s 53 countries.
Meanwhile, many Western countries seem trapped in a humanitarian conception of Africa.
Popular media coverage and policy judgement is overwhelmed with a perception that Africa is simply a problem continent with little strategic value, except as a space where largess is shown and good things done to make up in some small way for the messy reality of international diplomacy.
This is not only delusional and self indulgent, but damaging. For emerging power interest is showing that Africa is not a space distinct from the rest of the world. Many of their investments are valuable and welcome, but others are as exploitative and damaging as anything under colonialism.
Without a Western strategic and business engagement – bringing with it a focus on sustainability, regulation and transparency, the progress of the past 10 years is unlikely to be sustained. For the truth is that China’s development policy is first and foremost about China’s development, not Africa’s, and as yet the governments of many emerging powers are not focusing enough on ensuring their investments in Africa are sustainable, and therefore equitable.
African leaders have never faced so much choice, but they need to show more foresight as well, for it is only by combining the energy of the emerging East, with the regulation of the West, that Africa’s, and the world’s interests will be served. That needs Western strategic engagement, but more fundamentally it requires more effective leadership from within Africa itself. Post financial crisis, the opportunities for Africa and the world economy, but also the risks, have never been higher.