Magazine article African Business

Only the People Can Transform Societies

Magazine article African Business

Only the People Can Transform Societies

Article excerpt

During the decade and a half of the fat years, African countries should have been preparing for the lean years that inevitably follow. How many did so?

There is a Swahili proverb which says: Jua la asubuhi hailidumu siku nzima (The morning sun does not last the whole day--darkness is coming). The European equivalent is: Make hay while the sun shines--winter is coming. Both proverbs urge us to use the fat times to prepare for the lean times.

For the last 15 years, many countries in Africa enjoyed the fat times--average annual growth of 5%, with some champions regularly hitting 7-9%. As a result of high commodity prices, positive internal dynamics, record foreign investments and remittances from the diaspora, there was plenty of money sloshing around in Africa.

But the good times seem to be over. Angola, Zambia, Kenya, Nigeria and Zimbabwe have joined Ghana and Mozambique in negotiating for additional support from the Bretton Woods institutions. More countries are following by the week.

Aid from development partners is declining rapidly as countries divert funding to settled refugees within their borders. Denmark, for example, will divert a full one third of its aid budget (some $600m) to this.

The lean times are here

There were those who warned that the morning sun would not last the whole day and that we should prepare for the night while the going was good, but they were often dismissed as pessimistic spoilsports.

The Economic Commission for Africa and think-tanks like the African Center for Economic Transformation warned us that while the Africa Rising narrative was welcome, the growth was hollow. It needed to be given substance by a structural transformation of the economy.

They told us to use the momentum of growth to sling-shoot into the next phase of economic transformation. …

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