Africa: Development Challenges 2013

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Photo: Daniel Hayduck/IRIN
A cargo vessel leaving port.

In 2013, Africa is likely to maintain its decade-old pace setting annual average economic growth rate of 5 percent or more, according to estimates from the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the Africa Development Bank.

The strong economic growth will likely extend beyond 2013 as Africa benefits from natural resource boom, strong internal demand by rapidly growing middle class, increased spending on basic infrastructure, robust foreign direct investments and sizeable Diaspora remittances. However, Africa faces major development challenges in 2013, some with game-changing implications. I briefly discuss these challenges.

1. Population-based democracy will remain a foremost challenge. Kenya and Zimbabwe face game-changing 2013 national elections.

Tensions remain high in Kenya as two leading presidential candidates indicted by the International Criminal Court for alleged complicity in the 2007 post election murderous violence remain strong in national opinion polls and as election officials delay decision regarding their eligibility to run.

Stakes are also high in Zimbabwe following two bitterly disputed elections in the last decade, crippling international sanctions and a tenuous unity government of the ruling party and the opposition. Anything short of free and fair elections in Zimbabwe would likely lead to intense and brutal struggle for power between supporters of President Mugabe and Prime Minister Tsvangari.

Instability in Kenya will negatively impact East Africa economy, one of the fastest growing hubs in the continent. Violence in Zimbabwe will destabilize the Southern African region, with millions of refugees potentially streaming into South Africa.

Additionally, democratic governments throughout Africa with the possible exception of Botswana will struggle in 2013 due to a combination of massive national social and income inequalities and soaring unemployment. In particular, power struggle among the elite, including within ruling political parties, will likely intensify during the next 12 months in Nigeria, South Africa, Ghana, Senegal, South Sudan, Uganda, Egypt and Tunisia.

2. Conflicts are likely to tear countries apart. The United Nations Security Council on December 20, 2012 authorized military intervention in Mali to reclaim northern territories seized last year by Islamists groups.

The multi-country war in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo dominated UN Security Council deliberations on Africa last year, and will likely continue until a decisive intervention by the international community.

Guinea Bissau may degenerate into civil war fuelled in large part by its alleged role as a major hub for international narcotics trafficking. The Boko Haram Islamist insurgency in Northern Nigeria will not go away until the central government either wins a decisive military victory or negotiates lasting peace.

The rebel insurgency in Central Africa Republic may spawn similar movements in other countries where central governments only have nominal control over large swaths of territory. In particular, the Somali government will continue to remain dependent on African Union troops.

3. Africa development friendly policies remain work in progress. Various reports by bilateral and multilateral agencies, the Transparency International and think tanks in Africa and the West indicate a continent yet to reach tipping point in regards to development friendly policies.

In particular, the Doing Business Report 2013 of the World Bank indicates ongoing challenges to development policies in Africa. Establishing stable policy regimes and implementing public sector reforms remain long term objectives in the continent. Many African countries do not have fiscal and operational independent judiciary.

Business and civil society friendly policies remain a premium.

Small and medium enterprises rarely benefit from fiscal, policy or logistics incentives from the public sector. Industrialization remains minuscule: the continent accounts for less than one percent of global manufacturing despite representing more than 10 percent of worldwide population.

4. Concern in Africa about unbalanced trade with China and the Gulf States will grow. Trade with China, almost exclusively on Africa's natural resources, grew from US$9 billion in 2000 to US$160 billion in 2011, according to the Africa Development Bank. Since 2009, China has become Africa's largest trading partner.

Trade with the Gulf States, focused significantly on access to food and arable land, increased from US$10 billion in 2002 to US$49 billion in 2011, according to the Standard Chartered Bank and Reuters. At the 2012 Africa-China summit in Beijing, China pledged US$20 billion in credits for the next three years, doubling past commitments.

However at the same summit, President Jacob Zuma of South Africa voiced concern about "unsustainable" long term trade ties with China. African leaders want China to import more goods and services from the continent. The focus of Gulf States on agriculture may soon run counter to growing concerns about unsustainable "land grabs" in Africa.

5. Tension with the West over governance reforms will continue. Imports between developing countries rose from 35 percent of all trade in 1995 to 55 percent in 2010.

Africa exports to South countries grew four fold, to US$114 billion, according to the Africa Development Bank. South countries now account for more than 10 percent of foreign direct investments in Africa.

Increasingly, African leaders have viable options regarding foreign economic investments and partnerships. Unsurprisingly, African and Western governments disagree more frequently and openly in regards to governance reforms as precondition for investment.

These disagreements will continue in 2013, especially as Western democracies turn inward to repair ailing domestic economies.

6. Non Communicable diseases, counterfeit medicines and access to portable water remain serious challenges. Africa's middle class have rising rates of hypertension, stroke, obesity, Diabetes, cancer and chronic respiratory diseases, so called diseases of affluence or lifestyle.

Africa health ministers in 2011 declared non communicable diseases "significant development challenge" due to associated high morbidity, mortality and economic burdens. With high rates of HIV, Tuberculosis, Malaria and other communicable health conditions, African health policy makers now contend with so-called double health burden: high rates of both communicable and non communicable diseases.

Africans will remain at risk of counterfeit medicines in 2013, with thousands facing death or serious illness. The World Health Organization recently indicated that 35 percent of Malaria medicine samples failed chemical analysis and packaging tests in Africa.

Very few African governments have enough technical, fiscal and logistics resources to combat the $46 billion-a-year global counterfeit medicine business.

Access to portable water remains a status symbol despite recent evidence that Africa sits on giant, easily accessible ground water reservoirs.

Remarkably, these giant reservoirs predominate in the dry, arid region of North Africa. More than 300 million Africans will have difficulties accessing portable water in 2013. Many more will lack access to basic sanitation.

7. Unemployed university graduates and unskilled youth threaten the stability of African countries. According to the 2012 African Economic Outlook, young Africans less than 30 years constitute 70 percent of the continent's population. At least 60 percent of the unemployed in Africa are young adults.

Seven of every ten youth in Africa live on less than US$2 a day. Nigeria, Ethiopia, Uganda and Zambia have 80 percent youth poverty levels.

Africa's army of educated and unskilled youth represents a huge unknown risk for the continent in 2013. Without warning, North Africa youth in 2011 rose against autocratic, militarized governments. No country in Africa is immune from potential youth-inspired political earthquakes in 2013.

None of the aforementioned challenges are insurmountable, at least over a longer time horizon. However, solutions will require policy cohesion and resilience, careful choice of priorities, prudent management of scarce responses and transparency in public sector operations. It would also require proactive, mutually beneficial engagement with external partners.

The best down payment for Africa development in 2013 and beyond is likely to be a laser focus on integrated policy and program attention to priorities of future leaders of the continent, African youth, who are increasingly outside the mainstream of political, economic and social life in the continent.

Professor Chinua Akukwe has written extensively on health and development issues in Africa, including four books. He is a Faculty Member of the Center for Global Health, George Washington University School of Public Health, Washington, DC.

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Africa is likely to maintain its economic growth rate of five percent or more, according to estimates from the World Bank writes Chinua Akukwe of the Center for Global Health. Read more »