Is Africa rising the wrong way?

Musaazi Namiti

What you need to know:

  • Africa’s take-off stage appears to be eclipsed by conflict.    

At the beginning of June, the Cairo Review of Global Affairs asked me to write an essay about a “rising Africa”. I enumerated many positive things in my essay, but a fairly large part of the article dwelt at length on conflict on the continent. 

The conflict in Ethiopia was raging. But because the Tigray People’s Liberation Front had not routed government troops to reclaim Mekelle, the capital of Tigray, some independent observers thought it was a matter of time before the government got the upper hand in the conflict. It has not. 

This month, Ethiopia, which had been peaceful since 1991, when Meles Zenawi became Prime Minister until his death in 2012, declared a state of emergency as the TPLF fighters threatened to march on Addis Ababa, the capital.

Africans say that it is invidious to harp on conflict in Africa when only a few countries, out of 54 on the continent, are at war. But a closer look at the continent shows conflict is still an intractable problem.  

Even countries that are seemingly stable, such as Uganda and Rwanda, may one day — God forbid — be at war in part because of their current leaders’ apparent greed for power.

The narrative about a rising Africa tends to lose sight of the fact that no continent has ever advanced in the real sense when its countries are in perpetual conflict. Africa may have some of the fastest-growing economies, but it is hard to see how economic growth that paves the way for development can be sustained in a climate of conflict.

Africa’s take-off stage appears to be eclipsed by conflict. If you look at East Africa and the Horn of Africa, for example, you will struggle to see peace. The Democratic Republic of Congo, which is seeking membership in the East African Community, has seen conflict since 1997 and is home to the United Nations’ largest peacekeeping operation. 

In 2013, South Sudan, which got independence in 2011, erupted in violence when it was barely three years old. It remains a very unsafe place to live and to do business, as Ugandans know to their cost. 

Ethiopia’s neighbour to the east, Sudan, just had a coup, and Sudan’s neighbour to the west, Eritrea, is involved in Ethiopia’s conflict.  

Then there is Somalia, a den of extremists who sometimes export terrorism to countries in the region to devastating effect. Since 1991, when Siad Barre was ousted, Somalia has been a mess and shows no sign of becoming truly peaceful. 

Away from the Horn, the Central African Republic, Chad, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Guinea, Libya, Mali, Mauritania, Mozambique, Niger and Nigeria are not peaceful and stable in the true sense. 

For years, the “Africa rising” narrative has been bandied about with alacrity. But you just have put conflict aside and focus on other issues to realise that it does not count for much. 

A rising continent hosts a refugee summit, because of the refugee problems caused by its never-ending conflicts, and then makes financial pledges totalling $650,000 — and foreign countries that have nothing to do with the conflicts make pledges amounting to $127m. It happened in Uganda in June 2017. 

The African Union will pledge $100,000 and a private company, such as MTN, will pledge $280,000.

Then a visiting African leader will stand up and say that foreign interference is to blame for some of Africa’s problems and that African countries should take charge of their affairs. 

Well, they can begin by tackling conflict. It is in all five regions of Africa.

Mr Namiti is a journalist and former Al Jazeera digital editor in charge of the Africa desk
[email protected]    @kazbuk


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