The chances are that you are all too aware of the African narrative, the one that portrays the continent as a hungry, backward continent inhabited by savages who would rather do nothing but wage war. If you are the type of person, who fortifies himself/herself with the ignorance of the ‘African Single Story’ a phenomenon which the incredible duo of Binyavanga Wainana and Ngozi Chimamanda have written and said much about, visions of a despondent form are the only Africa you know. Africa has its problems, ranging from poverty, disease, pestilence and civil strife. I would be hard-pressed, though, to believe that: tonnes of food aid, millions of dollars to despotic and corrupt regimes or celebrity gimmicks from Bono or Angelina Jolie will have a significant effect on improving the lot on those living in Africa. What are Africa’s problems? What are the solutions?
A few weeks ago, I befell upon an info-graphic of current ship moorings and ships on transit along the major continents of the world. It turns out that at any particular time more ships are loading at ports in Japan than are docked at the shores of the entire Africa continent. At any one time, there are more deep sea going ships moored at ports in Taiwan (115) than are moored at the entire India Ocean seabed on the Eastern seabed African continent (72)1. Whereas ships are clustered along the coasts of countries like Japan, China, South Korea, China, Singapore, and Malaysia, there are hardly any moored along the African coasts loading or unloading cargo from different parts or to different parts of the world.
International marine traffic data purveyor of two kinds of data; one the general level of wealth creation in a region, because once created wealth must find an outlet, and two, the general level of intra and interregional trade in a particular regional. It is thus not surprising that strong correlations can be drawn between international marine traffic and other economic indicators. For example, despite having quite a big land mass and 1 billion people to book, Africa contributes a measly 2.58% of the global GDP. The same 1 billion with a smaller land mass in India contributes 5.77 % to global GDP and in China, the same population contributes to a whopping 15.621 %. The data is not pretty either when you compare Africa to other regional blocks technically blocked together as developing nations. For example, developing Asian countries contribute 26.101 % of the global GDP. Africa’s largest economy, Nigeria, after rebased base year accounts to only 0.56 %, take out the massive oil industry and the country slides into a whole new level of economic doldrums. Now, compare that with Brazil’s share of global production that stands at 2.828 %. While the GDP in Africa has grown in real terms, Africa’s share of global GDP has declined. For example, 25 years ago, Kenya’s contribution to global GDP stood at 0.11% today it stands at 0.094%. From the preceding, it is safe to say that Africa does not produce enough, but that is not where the problem ends. Africa does not exchange enough of whatever little she produces.
A report by the UNCTAD, Economic Development in Africa Report 2013, alludes to the fact that ‘by most accounts, African countries have not made significant progress in boosting regional trade.’ Over the period from 2007 to 2011, the average share of intra-African exports in total merchandise exports in Africa was 11 percent compared with 50 percent in developing Asia, 21 percent in Latin America and the Caribbean, and 70 percent in Europe. Furthermore, available evidence indicates that the continent’s actual level of trade is also below potential, given its level of development and factor endowments.’ Africa’s share of global trade is a negligible 3%.
There is a whole range of reasons for this, but the most notable among them is that Africa remains the most fragmented continent in the world with 54 countries, with numerous border crossings. This is how Africa shoots itself in the foot; so many artificial impediments on intra-Africa trade make African trade an extremely arduous affair.
Africa does have the resources to solve most of the pernicious problems that have become synonymous with the African continent. Chronic hunger in Kenya would become a thing a thing of the past if corn grown in Malawi could get to Kenya, timely and cheaply. The panacea to hunger and famine lies not in the international humanitarian campaign, but in the abolition of the artificial impediments that place undue constraints in the movement of food across the continent, placing frictional supply and demand issues. Tanzania would increase her Gross Productivity if she reduced constraints on the migration of skilled labor from say Nigeria and Kenya, Kenya, in turn, would buy her yet to be exploited natural gas resources. It is not rocket science, foreign Aid perpetuates Africa’s dependence and poverty, free trade leads to sustainability and real growth.
Is it all doom and gloom for Mama Africa? We need a paradigmatic shift, one that radically shifts policy and planning from dependence on global benevolence towards one that is anchored on sustenance through intra and inter-regional mutual exchange. The African elite must stop hiding under the shade of ‘Afri-optimism’ and clamor for a freer and fluid continent, where goods, labor, and services move unbridled.