The rise of the African continent

Wednesday 1 May 2013

SOMETHING is happening in nearby Africa that the Middle East region, currently at a crossroads, needs to take note of it. A combination of improved political and economic conditions is painting a new image and sowing the seeds of hope for a better future in the African continent.

Indeed, the Economist magazine published a survey about the continent back in March that showed Africa in a light that is at odds with the typical Western media images depicting Africa’s incessant wars, famine and dictatorship.

It was termed the fastest growing continent economically thanks to direct foreign investment that rose from $ 15 billion in 2002 to $ 37 billion in 2006 and an estimated $ 46 billion last year.

To add value, such performance trickled down somehow to the people in the form of improved indicators of human development. Indeed, some diseases such as malaria showed a remarkable decline, while out of every four people, mainly in sub-Saharan Africa, three of them own cell phones.

More important is development on the political front. By the time the Cold War ended in 1989, there were only three countries out of a total of 53 in the continent that could be termed democratic. Now, the figure has risen to 25 countries, and only four countries out of a total of 55 members of the African Union (AU) do not allow for a multi-party system.

To commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Organization of African Unity, some 35 African political parties met in Khartoum, Sudan, earlier this week to establish the Council of African Political Parties, which is designed to help fast-track the integration of the continent, thus helping provide a political umbrella for improved economic performance in the continent.

It is interesting to note that officials at the Khartoum meeting invited the two leading parties with the biggest parliamentary presence in their countries. That is a step in the right direction, as it implies recognition of a multi-party system and that the monopoly of those in government today may not be there forever, thus allowing opposition parties to be part of the new set-up.

The move seems to make use of the rich experience that the continent has undergone over the past five decades since independence, where it got rid of the hegemony of the father figures that led their people to independence.

Independence was followed by an autocratic one-party system, which was built more or less on a tribal basis and provided a conducive environment for corruption, dictatorship and political instability that have plagued the continent for most of its history following freedom from the yoke of colonialism.

It is interesting that Sudan has taken the lead in establishing this new political forum as if it wants to assure itself and others that it still clings to African identity following the separation of South Sudan two years ago that took with it the major part of its African population.
Moreover, Sudan feels more grateful to Africa, which stood clearly by its side in its fight against the International Criminal Court (ICC) that had indicted President Omar Bashir back in 2009 following violence in the Darfur region.
However, we are still a long way from concluding that Africa is on its path to achieving political stability through mature institutions and established ground rules.

Still, every country has its own political experience. While some such as Senegal are producing a more mature experience and commitment to democratic institutions, others are still struggling to find their way.

Sudan itself is a case in point. It has spent its history as an independent state shifting between parliamentary and military regimes, with the latter taking the bulk of the rule. Though Sudan broke one of the sanctioned principles in a continent of respected, inherited colonial borders, it opted to accept the right of South Sudan for self-determination, which eventually led to its separation.

What’s worse is that this move did not bring it peace as the ensuing violence in various parts of the country has shown. Ironically, the ruling National Congress Party in Sudan that took the initiative of establishing the African Political Parties Forum is itself accused of monopolizing power.

It is hoped that Sudan’s own experience and that of the continent provides lessons to be followed and to pay the price in terms of conceding some of the power to other groups so as to achieve much needed stability.


Categories: Africa

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