Herbert Moyo/Hazel Ndebele — TOMORROW Africa celebrates 50 years since the formation of the African Union (AU), formerly the Organisation for African Unity (OAU), on May 25 1963 withsome countries, including Zimbabwe, reeling from political repression, struggling economies, poverty and instability.
It will also be a little more than a decade since the formation of AU, which seeks to promote "an integrated, prosperous and peaceful Africa, driven by its own citizens and representing a dynamic force in the global arena".
Consequently, the AU heads of states declared the year 2013 the "Year of Pan-Africanism and the African Renaissance".
According to the AU, the anniversary is expected to facilitate and celebrate African narratives of past, present and future that will energise the continent's population and use their constructive energy to accelerate a forward looking agenda.
Analysts say while the founders of the OAU, which included the 32 independent states and liberation movements that attended the founding summit in Addis Ababa in 1963, completed their mission of liberating the continent, as Namibia and South Africa became independent during the early 1990s, African leaders have largely failed to ensure democracy and prosperity in the region.
Although one-party states and long serving dictators have virtually vanished, the continent is still riddled with serious political problems, including military coups, civil wars, repressive governments, struggling economies, corruption, disease and poverty.
The majority of Africa's one billion population continue to live below the poverty datum line due to misrule, corruption and legacies of colonialism. Skewed global economic trade patterns and market upheavals also worsened the situation.
But is it all doom and gloom in Africa? No! The AU Commission chairperson Dr Dlamini-Zuma says despite all the problems the continent is moving towards a new era of hope and progress. "The new millennium, starting with the adoption of the New Partnership for Africa's Development and the transformation of the OAU into the AU, marked the start of a new era for the continent," she says.
Dlamini-Zuma says Africa has a bright future because it boast a growing youthful population and an expanding middle class, currently estimated at 355 million, which will spearhead development on the continent.
She says abundance of resources and embracing of the information and communications revolution will take Africa forward. While some analysts say Africa has still a long way to go, given prevalent political instability and conflict, Zuma insists there is progress on all fronts.
"Africa is also making progress on conflict resolution and expanding democracy, through its Peace and Security, Governance Architectures and the African Peer Review Mechanism," she says. "These positive trends took place in the context of the reawakening of discourse and action on African development and continental renewal and renaissance."
However, analysts say conflicts across Africa are still hindering progress. There has been over nine million refugees and internally displaced people due to endless conflicts.
Analysts say despite decades of conflict, death and tragedy, coverage of issues in Africa has often been ignored, oversimplified, or excessively focused on limited aspects. They say deeper analysis, background and context have often been lacking. However, there has been good news in recent years.
Economic growth in Sub-Saharan Africa is likely to exceed 5% on average in 2013-2015 as a result of high commodity prices worldwide and strong consumer spending on the continent, ensuring that the region remains among the fastest growing in the world, according to the World Bank's latest Africa's Pulse.
In 2012, about a quarter of African countries grew at 7% or higher and a number of states, notably Sierra Leone, Niger, Cote d'Ivoire, Liberia, Ethiopia, Burkina Faso and Rwanda, are among the fastest growing in the world.
The World Bank report forecasts that medium-term growth prospects remain strong and will be supported by a gradually improving world economy, consistently high commodity prices, and more investment in regional infrastructure, trade, and business growth.
"African countries will need to bring more electricity, nutritious food, jobs and opportunity to families and communities across the continent in order to better their lives, end extreme poverty, and promote shared prosperity," said the World Bank's Africa vice-president Makhtar Diop.
Africa's Pulse says that recent discoveries of oil, natural gas, copper, and other strategic minerals, and the expansion of several mines or the building of new ones in Mozambique, Niger, Sierra Leone, and Zambia, together with better political and economic governance, were sustaining solid economic growth across the continent. Research from the McKinsey Global Institute shows resources account for only about a third of the newfound growth.
"We believe its economy could double by 2020 to US$3 trillion, and we are getting a clear signal from our international clients that Africa is an increasingly important market for them," said Dennis Nally, PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) International chairman.
The African Development Bank projects consumer spending in Africa will jump from US$680 billion in 2008 to US$2,2trillion by 2030. The International Monetary Fund says Africa will have the world's fastest growing economy over the next five years and "seven of the world's 10 fastest-growing economies are African".
However, analysts say bad leadership, poor government policies and conflicts could halt or even reverse these gains. Looking forward, it is expected that by 2020, only four or five countries in the region will not be involved in mineral exploitation of some kind, such is Africa's abundance of natural resources.
University of Zimbabwe analyst, Professor Eldred Masunungure said while democratisation is gaining momentum in Africa, there is still a long way to go before democracy deeply and sustainably takes root. He also said the AU needs to show political will and action if it is to lead the political and economic developments taking place in Africa.