NewsSouthern AfricaAfrica's trajectories: From fears over political uncertainty to dreams of economic recovery

Tue,20Feb2018

Posted on Tuesday, 23 January 2018 12:04

Africa's trajectories: From fears over political uncertainty to dreams of economic recovery

By Nicholas Norbrook

TAR2018 ImageThe arrival of 2018 brings with it hopes of improved economic performances together with political uncertainty. Here we look at Africa’s trajectories –  from the countries that are steadily rising to those  that are in free-fall and all those in between

Some economic breathing space is opening up for many African countries, with mineral exporters in particular emboldened by the return to cautious growth in commodity prices. Much of the recovery is coming from South Africa and Nigeria, as Africa’s two giant economies stumbled meekly out of recession in 2017. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) predicts that growth in sub-Saharan Africa will hit 3.4% next year, up from 2.6% in 2017.

But, as Africa strides into 2018, it is unclear that the political will to maintain a steady hand on the tiller is there, certainly in a South Africa that risks total state capture under the clique around the Gupta family, and a Nigeria that will increasingly see politicians man­oeuvring, ahead of elections in early 2019.

Some governments exercised self-control during the commodity boom and bust – Senegal and Ethiopia, for example – but 2018 will be a tough year for Africa’s unreformed oil exporters and would-be resource dynamos like Mozambique. Those countries are back in the IMF’s bad books and rolling out austerity programmes in the hope that all sides have learned from the damage caused by the structural adjustment programmes of earlier decades.

Examining trajectories

Alert and progressive leadership is needed more than ever, because the continent – in the words of the Mo Ibrahim Foundation – is at a tipping point. While the first decade of the century was characterised by a marked improvement in macroeconomic management and great social and political leaps forward, all buttressed by strong commodity price growth, the second decade has been a more mixed picture.

An innovation in this year’s Ibrahim Index of African Governance (IIAG), which has been creating a granular picture of the continent for more than a decade, is a categorisation of countries into six different ‘trajectories’. From accelerating improvement at the top through increasing deterioration at the bottom, it tracks progress over the past decade and the past five years, to give a sense of what direction a country is heading in. So, for example, Mauritius, which traditionally heads up the index because of its stellar performances in political, social and economic indices, finds itself now in the third tier. Mauritius is in the ‘warning signs’ group because of concerns over corruption and a lack of political leadership.

An innovation in this year’s Ibrahim Index of African Governance (IIAG), which has been creating a granular picture of the continent for more than a decade, is a categorisation of countries into six different ‘trajectories’. From accelerating improvement at the top through increasing deterioration at the bottom, it tracks progress over the past decade and the past five years, to give a sense of what direction a country is heading in. So, for example, Mauritius, which traditionally heads up the index because of its stellar performances in political, social and economic indices, finds itself now in the third tier. Mauritius is in the ‘warning signs’ group because of concerns over corruption and a lack of political leadership.

Eighteen countries, representing 56% of the continent’s population, are accelerating in their progress according to the IIAG. Nevertheless, at the continental level, progress appears to be slowing, says Nathalie Delapalme, executive director of research and policy at the Mo Ibrahim Foundation. “In education, for example, progress has almost come to a halt over the past five years,” says Delapalme. “And this is happening at just the wrong time, when 46% of the population of the continent is under 15 years of age.” To an extent, she argues that this is a case of demography outstripping supply. But it also raises questions of political will to face up to Africa’s greatest challenges.

Agriculture crucial

Another warning sign has been a degradation in Africa’s rural sector, says Delapalme. It is a critical sector for the continental’s development “and even its political balance”, she adds. Some noticeable exceptions include Côte d’Ivoire, which has been working hard to improve life for farmers. And, outside an honourable mention for the African Development Bank, none of Africa’s partners or leaders appear engaged on the question of agriculture.

Some poster boys of previous rankings also suffer when their trajectories are examined. Ghana, for example, is feted for its democratic leadership, but finds itself at the bottom of its class, with increasing deterioration. Botswana, another grade-A student in recent years, sits alongside it.

But drilling down into the details reveals two different stories. While Ghana is particularly down in a couple of indicators – notably around corruption – it is making progress elsewhere. Botswana, however, is doing slightly worse across the board, meaning that its problems are more entrenched. The end of Ian Khama’s regime next year may help provide a fresh framework for renewal.

And with the late 2017 events in Togo and Zimbabwe, the future looks ever more uncertain for sit-tight leaders who do not deliver on their promises of development. Eyes will be turning to Malabo, Yaoundé and Kampala to see if those events are one-offs or signs of something bigger. 

This article first appeared in the December/January 2018 print edition of The Africa Report magazine

 



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