In our Big Question—what's the worst that could happen?—the politician Kah Walla argues that it would be the failure of a rapidly changing continent to fulfil its enormous potential...
From INTELLIGENT LIFE magazine, September/October 2012
The birthplace of humankind is today one of its greatest repositories of human talent and natural resources. With over a billion people, half of whom are under 20, Africa is home to the world’s future workers. It has 25% of the world’s arable land, and 57% of the coltan; it mines roughly half of the world’s diamonds and will produce 15% of global energy by 2015. Enormous potential, for the continent and for the world.
Yet, over the last five decades, Africa has consistently been the world’s poorest performer in human development. Select any statistic from access to potable water to maternal mortality, and Africa is likely to be at the wrong end of the list. This is the despair of Africans and many others.
Yet evidence that this continent is fighting hard to transform its potential into success is abundant. Governance, which is the non-negotiable foundation to this process, is going in the right direction. Botswana, Ghana, South Africa, Namibia, Zambia, Tanzania, Senegal, Mauritius and Cape Verde have all turned the corner to becoming stable democracies. If they are imperfect, I defy anyone to point out a perfect one.
According to The Economist, six of the world’s ten fastest-growing economies from 2001 to 2010 were African. From 2011 to 2015, the figure will be seven out of ten. The Millennium Development Goals prescribed a two-thirds decline in the rate of infant mortality, and 12 countries in Africa surpassed it.
Senegal, Rwanda and South Africa are among the world’s top performers in gender parity in elected positions. Kenyan techies, some of the most innovative in the world, are building apps for mobile phones that bring health care and banking to people in the remotest areas. This is encouraging, but it is still far from a continent-wide, irreversible trend. There is still no critical mass of African countries achieving good enough governance to ensure sustainable development and economic prosperity.
Africa’s ecological footprint is one of the world’s smallest, its population dividend is outstanding, and its poor development performance, to date, is actually an opportunity. This continent stands an excellent chance of creating governments with equal numbers of men and women, building schools that are eco-friendly and teaching respect for the environment as a core subject. African architects can design smart cities that use technology to ensure access to water, housing and health care; cities that can grow truly green economies and create new categories of employment.
Will we be able to take advantage of this unique position to provide the world with a new model of society? First must come the African minds that decide to lead themselves and the rest of the world to a new plateau in human development. The worst that could happen is that Africa does not fulfil its potential.
What do you think is the worst that could happen? Have your say by voting in our online poll. Read Robert Guest on famine, Edward Carr on war, Irving Wardle on cultural erosion, Clive Stafford Smith on fear and Ann Wroe on our imagination.
Kah Walla is the leader of the Cameroon People's Party. She ran for president in last year's elections
Picture: Death, from Dürer's woodcut "The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse", 1498 (Scala)