Taking the intellectual leadership on Africa

Taking the intellectual leadership on Africa

We, at African Business, have intimately followed, reported and commented on the often stormy story of the continent for the last 45 years.

We have seen the continent go from the euphoria of independence and the unleashing of a million dreams to the chaos of military coups and corrupt, ineffective leadership that characterised the lost decades between the 1970s to the 1990s. We have reported on how the continent has pulled itself back from the brink of hopelessness – and over the last decade, how the spirit of Africa has prevailed and overcome.

Just as we shared the despair of a continent adrift and abused both by outside forces as well as the more insidious ‘enemies within’, we now share the joy of an Africa resurgent with growth figures that are becoming the envy of the world. We reported, in our January issue, Africa’s Time, how the continent is expected to become the prime generator of global growth over this century.

This is a new Africa and it needs a new philosophical and intellectual underpinning to ensure that the momentum is not lost and the gains are not frittered away. It is also clear that Africa can no longer continue to borrow concepts and ideas from outside. These have not served the continent well. Africa must rely on its own intellectual strengths – of which it has plenty and forge its own models of development in the light of the changed and changing global circumstances.

It is with pleasure, therefore, that I can report that the African intellectual is alive and well. Last month, I participated in an intense session, the Adhoc Expert Group Meeting on Developmental States in Africa, organised by the Governance and Public Administration Division (GPAD) of the UN Economic Commission of Africa (UNECA) at its HQ in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

Said Adejumobi, the director of GPAD, has been an indefatigable champion of the African voice in the policy space concerning the continent. Among his various activities, he has written several very thoughtful pieces for this publication. While welcoming research and analysis from outside institutions and individuals, he want Africans to take ownership of the intellectual discourse on the continent away from outside think-tanks and locate it, as it should be located, in the heart of the continent itself. He now has important allies.

In this opening address at the meeting, he said: “This meeting is coming on the heels of notable changes in both the African Union and the ECA. In both institutions, there is a new leadership. In ECA, Dr Carlos Lopes as Executive Secretary and at the AU Commission, Dr (Mrs) Nkosazana Zuma as Chairperson of AUC. For both of them, the new emphasis is on social and economic transformation of the African continent. Indeed, both of them and the AfDB are now talking about a new vision – Vision 2065 – a 50-year plan to transform Africa. Africa cannot be transformed without building developmental states.”

The idea model?

The function of our group at the meeting was to discuss, debate and dissect the concept of ‘developmental states’ as the model for Africa’s rapid economic, social and political transformation.

There was a great deal of argument about the definition of what constituted a developmental state, but guided by a lead paper prepared by the Liberian politician and academic, George K Kieh, there was general agreement that a developmental state was one in which policies were primarily directed at rapid economic growth. The most outstanding examples include Singapore, China and Korea. Neither Singapore nor China are democracies, but India and Brazil, South Africa among others, are democratic developmental states.

Can you achieve the kind of rapid economic growth these countries exhibit, and which require strong state intervention and long term planning, in the cut and thrust of limited administrations that democracies offer? Are the two mutually exclusive or is there a golden middle? During this year, African Business will return to this subject and ponder the pros and cons of a developmental state model versus neo-liberal democratic models and other paths towards an economic utopia.

For now, suffice it to say, that the level of scholarship and the robustness of the arguments presented by some of the finest thinkers in Africa on issues that are crucial to the future of our continent, is a clear demonstration that Africa is now ready to take up the intellectual leadership that has hitherto been the province of foreigners.


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Written by African Business Magazine

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