The Emergent Continent: Part 2 of 4
The Emergent Continent: Part 2 of 4
Changing the Story: The Cheetah Generation
The narrative of Africa described in part one of this series is changing in many ways, especially on two major interconnected planes with regard to the denial of innovation and the charity mentality: 1) the emergence of African economies at the state level; and 2) the growth in human capital, innovation, and entrepreneurship at the local level.
As a reflection of Africa’s global emergence in the Modern Era, China, India, Iran, Turkey, Korea, and Brazil have all demonstrated interest in establishing ties with African states as serious trading partners, sometimes explicitly pointing out the failure of Western countries to adequately do the same. In June, the BRICS countries welcomed plans for the creation of a free trade area that would merge three African economic communities into a single market with an estimated value of $1 trillion by 2013. Jonathan Glennie writes that real growth in Sub-Saharan Africa is expected to rise from 5% in 2010 to 5.7% in 2011.
Despite the challenges of having inherited harmful colonial legacies that discouraged and denied the growth of human capital and entrepreneurship, Africa has always had innovators; this is now more evident than ever to the rest of the world. All across the continent people of all stripes are making international headlines for innovations in all kinds of areas— social policy, emergency response, education, health, business, technology, and so on.
Marieme Jamme writes on Poverty Matters: “This new generation of makers, doers, inventors, venture capitalists, bloggers, policymakers – the ‘Cheetah Generation’ as the Ghanaian economist George Ayittey has called them – are the hungry grassroots who have been let down by their governments. All they want to do is reshape the continent.”
The Africa Gathering London conference this year centered on the topic “Social Media Revolutionizing Africa: How is new media changing Africa, giving voices to the voiceless, improving governance and transparency, and changing narratives?” Linda Raftree notes in her summary of the conference that “Social media gives African youth an uncensored worldwide platform, letting them feel included in shaping Africa’s image.” She says that policy cyber-forums like The Guardian’s Global Development site and Poverty Matters blog are attempting to dispel the myth of Africa as a black hole of poverty through informed discussion and debate.
The narrative of Africa as the Dark Continent is finally being dismantled, mostly by Africans themselves, and to an extent the “development” and “modernization” frameworks are being questioned even in the West. These themes of bringing African voices and actions to the foreground to transform the traditional narrative of the continent span from the local to the national, regional, and international.
At the UN Conference on Least Developed Countries in Istanbul earlier this year, the focal point was that LDCs do not need charity, they need more and smarter investment. The conference stressed the need for the international development community to change its approach, and for wealthy countries to transform the way they think about and treat LDCs. Not only do developed country subsidies and tariffs hurt LDC economies, but the charity mentality that spurs a perceived need to flood LDC economies with food aid has also been extremely harmful. The head of the World Bank agreed, and the Nepali Prime Minister said, “The voice and representation of LDCs should be ensured in all international forums.”
Echoing the UN Conference, Raftree reports that a recurring theme at the Africa Gathering conference was the sentiment that decisions on African development shouldn’t be made in developed countries for Africans; “Develop things with Africans, or support Africans to develop things themselves.” The title of a recent opinion piece by Nigerian author Kunle Oguneye put it this way: “Why are all these white folks deciding what Africa needs?”
The need for voice and representation is clear, and increasingly both social and traditional media have been making them more easily heard. Yet one comment at the Africa Gathering pointed out that NGOs have been stressing this, at least rhetorically, for years. So what is the solution? What will it take for international development policy in the West to catch up with the Africa of the 21st century?
The Guardian’s venues for discussing these issues are open to new ways of thinking, inviting contributors to broaden the discussion. Raftree writes in an aside: “I like the Guardian’s site very much as it is one of the few media sources that discusses and seems to really promote and engage in the ‘#smartaid/@smart_aid’ discussion.”
The next part of this series will explore how the Smart Aid camp has intervened to question the conventional wisdom on development and how it could revolutionize the way we think about “aid.” In doing so, it will demonstrate how Smart Aid’s approach is much more amenable to fostering entrepreneurship, investment, and growth.
 The Modern Era, though its point of definition is the 16th century and the changes that swept Europe at the time, is primarily a chronological reference to the period of time spanning the 16th century to the present.
 The Southern African Development Community, the East African Community, and the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa.