文I 钟伟云 中共中央对外联络部七局局长 摄影I 李贺
Why We Are Optimistic of Africa’s Development Prospect?
By Zhong Weiyun from International Department, Central Committee of CPC; translated by Qinduo
It's 54 years ago, on May 25, 1963, leadersof the 31 independent African countries gathered in Addis Ababa, the capital ofEthiopia, and decided to establish the Organization of African Unity. On thatday the heads of African states signed collectively the Charter of OAU. Thebirth of OAU embodies the hopes and expectation of the Africans as well asthose progressive and peace-loving people in the rest of the world. When we arecelebrating the historic moment today by reviewing the recent histories ofAfrica, we have every reason to be optimistic of the future of the continent.
A Development Course with Twists and Turns
Indeed, Africa as a whole remains the leastdeveloped continent in the world. There's a large gap, either in the level ofindustrialization or the living standard, between Africa and Asia, or LatinAmerica, not to mention the Europe and America.
African countries understood well theimportance of national development in particular economic growth at the verybeginning of their independence. Realizing that there wouldn't be fullpolitical independence without economic independence, the first generation ofAfrican leaders attached great importance to economic construction. KwameNkrumah, the founding president of Ghana repeatedly pointed out, if there's noeconomic independence, political independence would be meaningless.
However, half a century later after gainingtheir independence, the national construction of African countries are not thatsmooth but with many twists and turns. Politically, African countries sufferedmany setbacks in the efforts to explore roads of nation-building based on theirown national conditions. Some countries underwent frequent change of regimes,leading to decades of political turmoil. Economically, after enjoying a shortperiod of rapid growth at the beginning of independence, the continent enteredinto a period of either long term stagnation or low growth. Data show that, theaverage economic growth of sub-Saharan Africa between 1965 and 1980 stands at4%, which more or less equals the rate of the world during the same period. Butsince 1980s, African economies' growth began to fall. The average economicgrowth rate of sub-Saharan Africa was below zero in the entire 1980s. Thefigure would be negative, if put in per capita income terms. It then changedfor a little better in the 1990s. The first half of the 1990s saw sub-SaharanAfrica expanded at 1.5% annually, still below the population growth during thesame period. It may well be said the 1980s and 1990s are the "lost twodecades" for Africa.
What went wrong with African economy? Or inanother word, what contributed to the enormous economic hardship in Africa?There were multiple factors. But the main element was from outside, as thedeveloped countries in the West tried to sabotage the efforts by Africancountries to independently explore their own roads of economic development.With the purpose to keep Africa under control, those countries took advantageof the temporary economic difficulties in African countries to impose varioustypes of "economic structural adjustment programs" on Africancountries. The "structural adjustment programs", by nature, arenew-liberal in ideological term, namely, economic liberalization andprivatization. Of course, the fluctuation of commodity prices was also one ofthe external factors contributing to the economic hardship in Africa.
Domestically, African countries failed tomake full use of the benign international environment in the 1960s and 1970sdue to mistakes in economic management. For example, some countries overlookedthe issue of fiscal sustainability by spending too much on social welfare,resulting in fiscal deficits or even debt crisis. In the 1980s, many Africancountries, unable to resist the pressure from Western countries andinternational financial institutions, hastily put into implementation the"structural adjustment programs", handing the economic decision powerinto the hands of the Western countries and the international financialinstitutions under their control.
Since the beginning of the new century,however, the situation in Africa has improved to a great extent. On one hand,there's growing political stability, as the number of unconstitutional regimechanges are on the decline. Civil wars are dying down. To change governmentthrough elections gradually becomes the norm. Stability, as the preconditionfor economic development, is prevailing in Africa.
On the other hand, Africa’s internationalenvironment is also improving. Realizing the failure of the "structuraladjustment programs", Western countries and international financialinstitutions loosened their control of Africa and allowed them, to a certaindegree, to explore independently their own development model.
Thanks to multiple positive factors, a newround of economic growth in Africa has been unleashed. African economy hasexpanded at 5% annually since the year 2000. Many countries have recorded ahigh growth of 7% or above. Africa has become the second economic growth"pole" after East Asia. There're many success stories in Africa, which used to be known as aland of failure. Ethiopia and Rwanda are two such examples. These two countriesare creating miracles as they experience booming social and economicdevelopment.
Ethiopia, a landlocked country in the hornof Africa, and boasting of a civilization of 3,000 years long, was poor andweak due to long feudal rule and civil wars. The famine in the 1980s left theworld an unforgettable memory. To many people, Ethiopia was the symbol ofpoverty and hardship. When the Ethiopian People's Revolutionary DemocraticFront, or EPRDF, came to power in 1991, the per capita GDP of the country wasless than 100 US dollars. Poverty was like air, permeating every corner of thecountry.
After a journey of 10 years' arduousexploration, EPRDF finally put the country's economy on the right track. Since2003, Ethiopia has recorded an economic growth of more than 10% annually inaverage, one of the fastest-growing economies in the world. Its per capita GDPjumped to over 700 US dollars in 2015 from the previous 100 US dollars, despitethe population has expanded from 50 million to 90 million during the period.
This author spent four years in Ethiopiafrom 1993 to 1997 and returned to the country for many times later. I can saywith confidence that I personally witnessed the abject poverty was well as thecountry’s rapid development. Today's Ethiopia remains a relatively poor countryand the living standard of its people can't be described as high. But thechanges in more than ten years are "stunning". Even in capital citiesof those remote regional states, you'll see busy ongoing construction of eitherindustrial parks or city works. Ethiopia used to be a country of pure import ofgarment and shoes. Now it has successfully changed into an exporter of garmentand shoes. The shoes and clothes Chinese tourists purchase during their visitto Europe or America are likely manufactured in Ethiopia.
Another success story is about Rwanda.Compared to Ethiopia, Rwanda is a much smaller country. It is one of theAfrican countries with the highest population density: a population of 11million in an area of 26,000 square kilometers. Since its independence in 1960,Rwanda, which was once peaceful and isolated from the outside world, becamerestless. Thanks to political forces both from outside and within, the conflictbetween Hutu and Tutsi gradually evolved into profound animosity toward eachother. The hatred was finally unleashed in the form of genocide in 1994, whichresulted in the killing of one million people, about one eighth of the totalpopulation. When the world awakened to the mass slaughter, no one would haveimagined that the country will be able to rise from the ashes.
However, under the leadership of PresidentPaul Kagame and the ruling Rwandan Patriotic Front, Rwanda has grown into athriving economy from a failed country in a short period of 20 years. Rwanda'seconomy has been expanding at more than 5%, sometimes as high as 11%, duringthe past decade. When people visit the country today, nowhere will they see anysign of the massacre. In the capital of Kigali, high rises in the city centerstand against the red-roofed suburban villas. The streets are clean and tidy.People live in quiet and peace. The Rwandan government aims high: to turnRwanda into Africa's center of IT industry, the Silicon Valley of Africa.
The Africa Century
There are more success stories in Africabeside Ethiopia and Rwanda. Countries like Tanzania, Kenya, Mozambique, Ghana,Cote d'Ivoire and so on, though their economies are not growing as fast asthose of Ethiopia and Rwanda, have maintained continuous medium-to-high rate ofgrowth. Tanzanian economy, as a matter of fact, has been expanding at 6% to7%for a decade. It's true that not all economies in Africa have recorded fastdevelopment and many of them are still struggling in the darkness.
The stories of Rwanda and Ethiopiademonstrate that, even the least developed economies in Africa can find theirown comparative advantage and make big strides on the road ofindustrialization. Maybe, the era of industrialization in Africa is arriving.
From the point of transfer of globalindustries, it seems that it's time for Africa to achieve itsindustrialization. The industrialization process, originated from Europe andthe US, is a process of expanding from the center to the periphery. It is alsoa process of profit-seeking capitals. In order to gain profit, enterprises willalways seek to invest in regions with cost advantage, thus leading to transferof industries. During the 50s, 60s and70s of the last century, East Asian countries were the destination ofindustrial transfer from Western countries. In the 1980s, China became toundertake industrial transfer from the newly industrialized countries in East Asiaas well as developed countries in the West, receiving a tremendous amount ofinvestment.
Currently, the newly industrialized nationsare again transferring their industries to other developing countries likeVietnam, Indonesia, Bangladesh, and India, and thus promoting these countries’industrialization. It’s safe to say thatthe destination of next round’s transfer of industries will be Africa. Prof.Justin Yifu Lin, former chief economist of World Bank and professor of PekingUniversity noted that, the comparative advantage enjoyed by countries in Southand Southeast Asia to develop labor-intensive manufacturing can’t last forlong, a better choice for investors would be Africa. The examples of Ethiopiaand Rwanda reveal that more and more companies are shifting their attention toAfrica, as the continent’s comparative advantage are emerging on thelandscape.
In conclusion, the conditions are ripe forAfrica to start their industrialization process. Now it’s Africa turn.
First of all, African countries areenjoying a political stability unseen since their independence. Investors,either domestic or foreign, don’t need to worry about their investment securityany more. Secondly, Africa has an abundance of low-cost labor force, known asthe so-called “population bonus”. Thirdly, there’s plenty of raw material forindustrialization from oil, mineral and agricultural resources. Fourthly, there’san expanding middle class with a relatively strong consumption power. Lastly,though not perfect, the infrastructure in African countries is getting betterand better.
We have every reason to believe that thetime of industrialization in Africa is not far from us. While today we seeconsumer goods made in China or countries in East and South Asia are being soldto consumers in Europe and America, 10 or 20 years later, similar productsmanufactured in African countries could be consumed by people around the worldincluding China.
Industrialization is however only oneaspect of the African economic prospect. Undoubtedly, the industrializationprocess will stimulate the development of other industries, the property andservice industry in particular. What’s also promising is, as the businessenvironment improves in African countries, the entrepreneurship is beingnourished and comes into shape. The cultivation of entrepreneurship isespecially prominent in countries like Ethiopia, Rwanda, Tanzania, andMozambique. In Ethiopia, we are seeingthat small to medium-sized enterprises in tourism, wholesale and retailsectors, catering businesses are springing up like mushrooms. These businesseswill grow together with the industrialization process in a mutually reinforcingand complementary manner.
For sure, not all African countries willgrow at a similar pace in the process of industrialization. Some countries willdevelop faster, others will be slower. Why is there such a gap? Except fordifferences in national conditions, the key point is whether there’s a strongleadership. This author asked people from Ethiopia and Rwanda again and againthis one question: why do their countries achieve such a prominent development?Their answers are almost identical: strong leadership! Such a leadershipembodies a long vision and clear thinking, and the ability and courage to makedream come true. Such a leadership is based on a powerful and well-organizedruling party, which helps mobilize and organize the masses and turn the will ofthe leadership into action of the people.
Based on the above analysis, we do havereasons to be confident about Africa’s development prospect.