Africa's dilemma in the face of imminent global shocks

Tuesday May 21 2019


By Raymond Mugisha

The future is no longer is as predictable as it used to be. Weather and climate change trends pose huge challenges. Principles of democracy are being put to test in the very nations that birthed and emphasized the same principles over the years.

Even academic concepts such as the law of demand and supply are being stretched in the face of increasing reliance on software driven production and supply channels.

The need to employ a futuristic approach to managing all human occupations needs no emphasis in view of such uncertainty. Globally, the future promises to be laden with disconcerting surprises.

The World Economic Forum produces an annual global risks report which is a good log of evolving trends in the shocks that prevail in our times. Their 2018 edition highlights developments that should interest Africa.

Among other global threats, it highlights that political commitment to globalization has since weakened in the wake of the global financial crisis and this threatens global trade as a result of bilateral trade wars that can easily cascade. Today, there are deeper protectionist tendencies all over the world. The global trade system is threatened.

Africa being the poorest continent must quickly devise means to address the danger arising from this and The African Continental Free Trade Area initiative being pursued currently is an excellent step in the right direction. Unfortunately though, there appears to be lack of appreciation of the urgency required to consolidate this initiative. By mid-May 2019, out of 55 countries, 3 had not signed the relevant agreement at all whereas only 20 countries had proceeded to ratify it after signing.


Nigeria, the largest economy on the continent, is among the 3 countries that had not signed it, along with Eritrea and Benin. Protectionism is rife on the continent, the prevailing poverty and trailing position of the continent on the global wealth scale notwithstanding.

African countries seem not to realize that their dismal economies have nothing to benefit from continuing to play in isolation, or that indeed even the biggest amongst them are endangered. Our isolated economies are too weak to wield any favorable influence for themselves on the international stage and will continue to be taken advantage of, in a global market space that is turning into a jungle.

Equally important is the revelation that the world faces danger of simultaneous failure of breadbaskets facilitated by disruptors such as extreme weather, political instability or crop diseases.

All these disrupting factors are prominent for Africa. For example, the continent is almost entirely unprepared for extreme weather events. According to FAO, only an average 7% of arable land in Africa was under irrigation by 2015, with the scale for Sub-Saharan Africa tipping to an even a smaller 4%.

The rest of the continent’s farming activity runs on rain fed agriculture. Civil strife is also a common occurrence, and in many instances political conflicts have matured into prolonged wars as have been seen in Somalia, South Sudan, the Lake Chad Basin, DRC and Central African Republic, the Horn of Africa and Mali. Such conflicts can cripple food production. In foresight, continental leaders have taken steps to strengthen the food production chain, although again the intended measures to attain this have not been implemented.

In 2003, African countries agreed under the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme to allocate at least 10 percent of public budgets to agriculture in order to achieve 6% growth in the sector. By 2010,seven years later, Sub-Saharan Africa was allocating only 3% of total expenditures on agriculture on average, and the entire continent was doing slightly better at 3.9%. With the highest population growth rate in the world and the related food need, this is a dire situation for Africa.

It is unfortunate that even when obvious dangers have been identified and solutions devised, the continent procrastinates along the solutions paths. We are positioning our descendants for peril.

Prominent also among other global dangers is the increasing tendency towards war without rules manifesting especially in form of cyber-attacks, even between super powers. The growing disregard for conventional war, with agreed norms and protocols, should concern Africa because it is an indicator of potential reckless attacks by super powers of weaker nations in future, even in form of physical aggression. Africa in the current state, of isolated countries, is too weak to protect itself from such trends. Perhaps the continent should be considering unity beyond trade as well.

The writer is a Chartered Risk Analyst and risk management consultant