Africa is at a crossroads: how can it gradually advance from the status of a subject during the colonial period to that of an actor in current and future globalisation?
Africa is regarded as a single continent, whereas emphasis should be laid on the plurality of its situations by speaking of “the Africas.” That is why I propose here to put into perspective the situations of the two African regions of the West and the Centre. These two Africas have in common French colonial rule and the existence of strong political and economic relations with France.
Africa is at a crossroads: how can it gradually advance from the status of a subject during the colonial period to that of an actor in current and future globalisation?
Africa is regarded as a single continent, whereas emphasis should be laid on the plurality of its situations by speaking of “the Africas.” That is why I propose here to put into perspective the situations of the two African regions of the West and the Centre. These two Africas have in common French colonial rule and the existence of strong political and economic relations with France. Consequently, the West and the Centre have a common political history resulting from the history of French colonial rule. These two regions of Africa have different economic assets and resources which they can develop within globalisation depending on their local skills. The Africa of the Centre has oil from which it derives maximum revenues, but this Africa needs to diversify its economic activities. The oil must be properly managed because it is not “eternal.” The Africa of the West has real potential in the agricultural sphere despite advancing desertification combined with human activities that often endanger the environment.
Nothing is inevitable in the Centre and the West of Africa. To achieve what they want, the Africas are obliged to seek good political and economic governance within their respective territories, providing guarantees to attract foreign capital. In addition to governance, the African territories of these two subregions, too often balkanised, must adopt an economic model that promotes training and organisation of human capital by optimising the educational system, through the many institutional groups of the countries of the European Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and those of the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS). Acquiring high quality infrastructures is another challenge for these countries, together with establishing an economic model which can develop regional integration at the institutional level.
Africa has many natural assets which are still not being exploited in an optimal way. The Africas can attract attention by joint implementation of their resources and their organisation into regional geographical areas and can become attractive enough to bring in flows of direct investments and technical cooperation from the countries of the North, but particularly from the South, like Brazil, India, South Africa and China.
The Africas must play their part in creating their own economic modernity by gradually becoming actors within it.
Black Africa in globalisation must be regarded differently historically and from the current standpoint. This is not an attempt to excuse the Africas, but to ensure a reading leading to a better understanding of what these countries need to do in an environment bound by constraints. We do not propose here to peddle truths that we cannot prove, because we neither have such proof nor are we preaching cheap sermons. Nevertheless, although it is not a matter of steering a course between Afro-pessimism and Afro-realism, we should note that when the African countries can no longer change globalisation as an established situation, they are forced to take up the challenge of changing themselves.
Globalisation is creating a rift between winners and losers. Owing to the historical conditions of slavery, colonialism, neo-colonialism and dependence on debt, the African countries for a long time had the status of subjects of other countries; but they can now create for themselves a new status as actors in globalisation. The African countries are living through both their Middle Ages and their contemporary situation and they must make choices on the different stages of the scenario devised by Walt Whitman Rostow regarding the growth of development.1
In globalisation, the African countries, in contrast to the rich countries, are forced to deal simultaneously with the competing demands of safeguarding the environment, the fight against poverty, governance, democratisation and regional integration. These are accompanied by another major challenge: demography; unlike other continents, black Africa is experiencing a belated demographic transition, the effect of which is to increase the population, with the expected consequences affecting subsistence and employment. We can add to that the HIV/AIDS effect, but it is possible that the tri-therapies and scientific discoveries in the long term will mean this will not prove an obstacle to population increase.
In this context of constraints, the African countries must make intelligent use of the globalisation factor. Rather than seeking, at any cost, an increased productivity that they will almost certainly never achieve, they must turn their backs on the industrial practices of the period between 1960 and 1970 recommended by the World Bank and the donor countries which prioritised the use of machines over men, on the pretext that labour was scarce or expensive. The systematic quest for productivity must be secondary to the objective of having abundant labour trained in small-scale, productive agricultural and trade activities.
Globalisation puts a premium on the trade and commerce paradigm, forcing the African countries to open their borders to foreign products. If they are unable to compete with Western products, the African countries are limited to competing with each other in the restricted sphere of exotic commodities. Furthermore, the opening up of African borders to the developed countries leads to the loss of tax revenues and export income. A change of attitude is needed and Africa needs to set out on the long road to developing issues around land management (consistent arbitration between town and country to avoid over-urbanisation), the use and division of policy in the space, depending on a clear definition of the activities, of the level of revenues and the investment sectors.
Africa is often presented as a continent where there are many hurdles to be overcome. Political coordination is an important factor in unlocking the doors of balkanisation inherited from colonialism and in achieving spaces of regional integration which alone can allow Africa to become a sensible actor in globalisation. There is not just one Africa, but several Africas that can be grouped together at the institutional and economic levels. That is the case of West Africa with the West African Economic and Monetary Union (WAEMU) and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and Central Africa with the Economic and Monetary Community of Central Africa (CEMAC) and the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS). These bodies exist but are not properly used by the political authorities. We need to see the creation of a genuine culture of grouping and assembly in Africa that goes beyond “family solidarity.” The elite, the political leaders and civil society must reconsider their approaches. This is a major constraint and a long road to development for the African countries. It is a challenge that the globalisation process has put in the path of the African countries.
Africa is one of the world’s continents with the lowest per capita number of university graduates. However, human capital plays a very important part in economic growth and ultimately in development. Since African independence, the problems of education have not been included in strategic thinking. Understandably, most of the newly independent countries have followed the French model.
From the 1980s, all the educational systems in black Francophone Africa experienced difficulties related to the structural adjustment plans that required a drop in education spending. These budget constraints were accompanied by structural problems, characterised by the inability of the political leaders to organise the educational system on the ground. We could add to that the disconnection between the training given and the requirements of the embryonic productive system, true for both West and Central Africa. Education-related structural and strategic inconsistencies are not helping to ensure the emergence of a qualified labour force capable of supporting development.
Observation of the facts leads us to think that, whatever they may say in their speeches, the African authorities are not making education a priority. However, according to the economic theories of human capital and the reality of the economic situations of the countries that have been thrust into globalisation, we can see that the winners are the countries that have managed to systematically prioritise the relationship between human capital and economic growth. Human capital is therefore a key factor in economic success in globalisation, no matter what country or what place it occupies. Consequently, the countries or the group of countries concerned must devote budgets and appropriate strategies to it.
Black Francophone Africa is brimming with educated individuals who have studied in every sphere. These people represent human capital, but we are forced to acknowledge that this human capital is incapable of promoting the conditions of takeoff, industrialisation and development of black Francophone Africa.
Human capital is an economic concept found in old economic theory, such as that of Adam Smith and John Stuart Mill, as well as in modern theory, often taking a neoclassical approach, like that of the school of endogenous growth. As far as modern neoclassical theory is concerned, human capital is at the root of the formidable growth of the United States and, currently, that of China. Human capital, linked with research and development, forms the basis of the innovation that led to the explosion of the information society and the new communications technologies in which we live and which came from the United States.
Black Francophone Africa is benefiting from the inputs of American, European and now Asian human capital. These benefits take many forms (Internet, Facebook, Twitter, etc.) as a set of practical modalities made possible by the use of the new information and communication technologies (NITC).
Thanks to the new information and communication technologies, black Francophone Africa is now in a position to bypass the constraints of the stages of development of growth analysed by the American economist Walt Rostow.
Nevertheless, there is still a problem. How can traditional society make the connection with basically commercial mass consumption, whose products come from the advance towards maturity, i.e. from the industrial cycle? Black Francophone Africa is not capable of organising human capital in the whole chain of a production cycle like that of uranium mining or oil mining and yet there is too much being said about the benefits of human capital for the economic development of black Francophone Africa.
This kind of talk needs to stop and we need to get back to basics. The basics are to establish, in every African country, massive reprogramming of the educational resources and the essential requirements for growth and development. But no individual country of black Francophone Africa has the theoretical, financial and intellectual means for this enormous task. Consequently, a regional approach needs to be adopted within CEMAC and WAEMU.
To successfully carry out this huge task of mobilisation, conducting a census of educational resources and boosting human capital as a factor in development, each country in each subregional zone must decide to devote a percentage of its financial resources to be levied either from oil production and raw materials or from the general budget.
Human capital is indispensable to growth and development. Before reaching regional level, there must be surveys conducted in the countries of black Francophone Africa of their productive human and intellectual resources within the country, including the diaspora.
There are precise modalities to be followed. Political will is necessary but unfortunately, the Francophone African countries are more concerned with political sparring and petty politicking than with social policies, i.e. those that aim to fix the objectives, achievements and financial resources in terms of the construction of infrastructures like hospitals, and increasing resources to put an end to poverty, the lack of water and electricity that are the rule in all the Francophone African countries.
Because they are too prone to giving priority to party politics, reported and underscored outside Africa as we know, the African countries and their intellectuals risk becoming limited to only recurrent minor action as far as development is concerned.
The initial education of the elite in Francophone Africa is essentially based on the human sciences, a necessary training, but manifestly inadequate with respect to technological and scientific development. The education of new human capital in black Francophone Africa must lay the emphasis on technology and its new capacities, as is happening today, for example, in China with the “flying bus” which enables a number of vehicles to pass to make traffic on the highways run fluidly. Ideas in black Francophone Africa also need to run more fluidly and make human technological and scientific capital the focal issue of the future for the development of black Francophone Africa.
Globalisation often emphasises the role played by the multinationals of the major industrialised nations, such as Renault, Mercedes, General Foods or Nestlé. These companies export goods and services and are established throughout the world and, through their subsidiaries, in Francophone Africa of the Centre and the West. Most of these companies have been operating for a hundred years or more, with the obvious exception of companies like Microsoft or Google, recent creations specialising in the new information and communication technologies. Africa should not set up in competition with multinational firms because it has neither the financial resources nor the industrial learning curves or indeed the technology which could allow African companies to compete with Western firms. Africa needs to choose the path of modesty and create Small and Medium Enterprises (SME) in the various countries of the ECOWAS-CEMAC zone. These SMEs must rely on the creation of products that meet the needs of the African people. This is true of the spheres of agriculture, construction and services (telecommunications, Internet), but also transport. These SMEs must be given incentives by the authorities through tax credit policies, and low taxation of profits and subsidies.
The authorities must create ministries whose remit is to organise and develop African entrepreneurship. Without engaging in the problem of the Schumpeter-style role of the entrepreneur,2 SMEs must be at the cutting edge of burgeoning industry in Africa.
African artisans and traders offer a breeding-ground for potentially capable entrepreneurs. The real problem facing these entrepreneurs is of systematic organisation of capital in supply, stock management and the generation of accounting documents (balance sheet, operating account and business plan).
The authorities must put in place carefully devised policies that allow African potential to be developed. ECOWAS and CEEAC must become credible stakeholders in development in Africa which is a young and up-and-coming market, but whose low level of established SMEs is delaying the economic take-off. The official line is that dependency needs to be avoided and the economy must be diversified. But what is also required is that the African authorities must match what they say with concrete action.
Africa must develop agri-business to achieve food security and reduce its level of imports. This means that the authorities need to react and make decisions that can be translated into concrete actions on the ground to process local products.
Local banks, subsidiaries of Western banks, must play their part through funding, seasonal loans and on the basis of financial and economic studies and proposals presented by the various emerging SMEs. The authorities, in conjunction with the private banking sector, must create banks for the use of the SMEs. To provide these banks with funds, the authorities can levy a given percentage of between two and 5% on revenues from the export of agricultural materials, minerals and oil. This part of the levy would be drawn from what the authorities receive from production share that they establish when the contracts are signed with foreign companies.
Through the two great African monetary unions, WAEMU and CEMAC, the CFA franc zone is one of the major links connecting the two Africas, of the Centre and of the West.
However, for some time persistent rumours have been suggesting the possible devaluation of the CFA franc. These rumours are based on the difficulties currently being experienced in the eurozone whose currency, the euro, is in fixed parity with the CFA franc (1 € = 655.59 francs CFA). These rumours, which may be counter-productive for the operation of the CFA franc zone economies, are often supported by a number of economists who believe that the CFA franc is not contributing to the development of the member countries. After devaluation, the process of transformation of the CFA franc zone would have to be accelerated with the creation of a single African currency.
Such admonitions against the CFA franc are mainly backed by ideological arguments more than economic ones, even though while devaluation is certainly a political act, it is more especially economic. The first devaluation of the CFA franc after its creation took place in 1994 to absorb the impact of the economic and financial imbalances that occurred in the African countries of the franc zone which had not been able to carry out the real adjustments that their economies required.
In the 1980s, most of the member countries of the franc zone were not able to develop the crucial export revenues required to reduce their budget spending. In the franc zone, the public deficits increased and the countries had to contract foreign debt. Reference is often made to the BEAC (Bank of the Central African States) operating account balance which, according to some economists, would reveal the dependency of the countries of the franc zone on the French Treasury. The reality is that without this monetary cover, the member countries of the franc zone which increased their deficits between 1992 and 1994, the date of the devaluation, would not have been able to guarantee cover in foreign currency of their foreign transactions (imports, debt servicing and financial repayments).
The conditions of devaluation in 1994 in the franc zone were clear. Most of the member countries were faced with an economic recession, balance of payments deficits and foreign currency assets for external cover rates for their currency that did not reach the minimum standard of 20%. It was therefore necessary in 1994 to devalue the CFA franc to prepare the African economies to get back on the road to growth, the ultimate objective in helping to achieve the reduction of budget deficits.
Why are there such persistent rumours of devaluation at present and how would such a devaluation be of advantage to the CFA franc given that all the economic indicators give it the green light (sustained growth, budget surplus, external cover rates around 100%, a very comfortable level of foreign reserves covering more than five months of imports, according to information from the African Central Bank)? The rumours of possible devaluation may be counter-productive and trigger pessimistic forecasts from economic stakeholders of business and households. Businesses would delay their investment plans and therefore the possibilities of creating employment in the franc zone; households would live in constant fear of consumer price rises. Devaluation is not an economic, monetary and financial operation without collateral effects. If there is devaluation there could be difficult consequences for the populations and businesses of the franc zone.
A stop must be put to the rumours to avoid the pessimistic forecasts in the franc zone. On the other hand, some African economists who believe that devaluation is necessary should note, before the creation of a new African currency is considered, that it is the same single currency that would be legal coin in the CEMAC zone (Central Africa) and in the WAEMU zone (West Africa). And they should respond to the question of how to resolve the problems of real divergences between the economies of the West and the Centre whose levels of regional integration need to be built up and reinforced.
The relations between the euro and the CFA franc are acceptable and should make it possible to stop the rumours circulating around euro and CFA franc parity. In the meantime, it is up to the member States of the eurozone to launch a quick attack on public deficits and to revive their growth.
The economies of the West and Centre of Africa have natural resources and human capital that they can organise and the potential for growth, which are equal to those of other countries of the rest of the world. It is up to Africans to shoulder their responsibilities by creating a synthesis between traditional society and the newly modern society, by establishing good political, economic and social governance and by taking a good look at what others are doing. It is up to Africans to imitate foreign experiences, while keeping their own specific characteristics, if they hope to survive in a context of globalisation which is often criticised from an economic standpoint. The African presence in globalisation can only be achieved through short and medium-term economies. It remains for the Africas of the West and Centre to make use of their traditions and their cultural heritage to create attractive conditions for tourism, and the environment, in order to arouse the curiosity and interest of the world’s other peoples.
The Africas of the West and Centre must get to work and train young managers to promote industrial and tourist activity. For that, regional integration needs to be not simply an empty aspiration and still less merely an object of debate during bilateral or multilateral African conferences in the African Union. There is a need to go further and allow Africans to emerge from their subject status of the days of slavery and colonialism, to become practical and not theoretical actors in globalisation by observing other countries and adopting their working methods. In that regard, the African Union initiative suggesting the creation of regional universities to help the African countries to survive in globalisation with respect to human capital, is to be welcomed.
1 Walt Whitman Rostow (1916-2003) was an American political economist and theorist who formulated a theory of development and conditions for growth, expressed in The Stages of Economic Growth (1960). He set forth the theory of the five major stages of the development of the industrial societies, in particular that of the shift from “traditional society” to the stage of “take-off” when massive investment in industry led to a major sustainable change in the pace of growth.
2 The Austrian economist Joseph Aloïs Schumpeter (1883-1950) highlighted the determining role of innovation and the entrepreneur embodying it in the development of the economic system.
The COP21 international conference shows that Africa’s management of its natural resources is fundamental to the understanding of the impacts of climate change, the energy transition and...
The institutional construction of Francophonie was forged around the French language with the majority of the Francophone African countries which became independent in the 1960s as its members,...
Launched in 2000 by President Bill Clinton, adopted the same year by the American Congress, the law known as the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) aims to support trade and the economy of...
The African Standby Force (ASF) is a structure to pool and integrate the military capacities of the Member States of the African Union, to enable the fifty-four Member States to defend themselves...
The African Union is fifty years old and its fiftieth anniversary is being celebrated as part of the Pan-African renaissance.
After its countries became independent, sub-Saharan Africa was gripped by a multitude of crises and conflicts — political, military and ethnic in nature, primarily between States and therefore...
Although the concept of an emerging State in politics is more or less absent from debates, at the economic level it is the subject of many studies and often vague definitions. The concept of...
3 bonnes raisons de s'abonner
Share this page with your friends. spread the word
Informez vos ami(e)s automatiquement sur un article ou sur une publication.