Posted on Tuesday, 30 April 2013 16:52

The Addis Ababa doctrine

Patrick Smith

Marking half a century of history in Addis Ababa this month amid fireworks and international dignitaries, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma and Hailemariam Desalegn are nevertheless eager to press on with the next 50 years.


Together – Dlamini-Zuma chairs the African Union (AU) Commission and Ethiopia's Prime Minister Hailemariam chairs the AU Assembly – they are trying to steer the pantechnicon of a continental organisation towards practical results.

They speak of the AU as a catalyst for economic and social progress.

Despite Africa's most positive economic performance since the 1960s, Dlamini-Zuma and Hailemariam are not joining the investment banks and commentariat in trumpeting the opening of the last frontier markets.

Both Dlamini- Zuma and Hailemariam are pushing an industrial drive, but one without illusions after the false starts of the past

That phrase has a resonance dating back 200 years in the United States. The last thing Africa needs is another gold rush.

Dlamini-Zuma and Hailemariam explain in interviews in this edition of The Africa Report that with average growth rates across the continent forecast at 6 for the next three years, there is a solid platform upon which to build.

They add that thanks to the AU's emerging network of organisations – which are raising finance for infrastructure projects, trying to resolve conflicts and reviewing government performance – there is tangible progress translating into better access to housing and health and education services.

That much is clear from Africa's scorecard on the United Nations Millennium Development Goals, which shows a near halving of the mortality rates for children under five and mothers, and similar falls in malnutrition rates.

Africa is still trailing behind social development indices in Asia and Latin America, and its societies remain among the most unequal in the world – in terms both of opportunities and material goods.

This is true in the fast-growing cities as much as the countryside – although, with better schools and training, urban migration could fire up economic improvements.

The socio-economic changes demanded by Dlamini-Zuma and Hailemariam require political determination and practical policies.

They want a massive expansion in farm production.

As some of Africa got rich by exporting oil and minerals during the past decade, the continent became a net importer of agricultural products. It still has more uncultivated farmland than any other continent.

This makes high malnutrition rates even more of an obscenity.

Just 5 percent of the cereal imported by African countries comes from other countries on the continent. Changing that means backing farmers with fertiliser, higher-yielding seed and more efficient transport.

Unquestionably, African exports have risen steeply, but their composition – coffee, cocoa, tea, oil, gas, gold and diamonds, all largely unprocessed – has stayed the same. This is not the ticket to the future.

Both Dlamini-Zuma and Hailemariam are pushing an industrial drive, but one without illusions after the false starts of the past.

Hailemariam says Ethiopia, with its strategic state support for textiles and garments production, food processing and leather products, is borrowing heavily from East Asia's approach.

The opening of a Chinese-owned shoe-manufacturing cluster near Addis Ababa that could employ more than 100,000 people is a sign of what these policies could mean.

As the AU tries to accelerate its development agenda, its top officials are linking many of the region's conflicts to economic dislocation as much as political malfeasance.

For example, they are looking at the businesses and politicians that have profited from the recurring conflicts in the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Activists talk about profits from the smuggling of drugs, people and arms in the Sahel as a 'political resource'. Local barons entrench their power with profits from criminality.

So now the AU speaks of pre-empting conflict by tackling the economic basis of such crises.

More than growth charts and swelling foreign reserves, it will be the determination of the younger generation – the more than 60 percent of Africa's billion people – that is going to take these matters forward.

And despite the enormity of the challenges, expectations are justifiably running high at this 50-year mark●

Patrick Smith

Patrick Smith

Patrick Smith is Editor-in-Chief of The Africa Report. He has edited the political and economic insider newsletter Africa Confidential since 1992 and was associate producer on a documentary about the 2004 coup attempt in Equatorial Guinea commissioned by Britain's Channel 4 television.


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