Headline conflicts in Africa hide the story of progress
As the curtain comes down on 2012, unfolding events in some of the African countries south of the Sahara may tempt observers to conclude that little has changed in the “Dark Continent” over the years.
The turbulent nature of politics in the run-up to the ruling African National Congress’s elective conference in South Africa in December, and the rampant corruption and violence bedevilling the continent’s largest economy, certainly highlights a nation struggling to overcome its past.
Ongoing security issues gripping the Democratic Republic of Congo, where the M23 rebel group allegedly backed by Rwanda and Uganda are threatening to push the country back into conflict, also reinforce the notion that war and instability are never far away.
Throw in the religious conflicts that continue to plague Nigeria, and the unbroken influence of Zimbabwe’s aging autocratic president Robert Mugabe, and the sense of déjà vu begins to take hold.
But these events are only part of Africa’s story in 2012, and are by no means the dominant themes.
The more accurate depiction of the region over the past year needs to acknowledge its continued economic growth rate in the face of a global recession that is bringing the world’s established powers to their knees.
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) says the continent’s GDP will grow by 5 per cent this year. Although this is down from an earlier prediction of 5.4 per cent, it is still much faster than every region other than China, which hovers above 7 per cent for the year.
In 2013 regional growth may nudge up to 5.7 per cent, although South Africa is the exception because of its reliance on Europe as a main trading partner. Its growth slumped to just above 2 per cent in 2012, and the outlook for next year remains difficult, but countries to its north are still likely to do well.
The business consultancy Ernst and Young says the main problem Africa faces in accelerating this investment rate is that it is wrongly perceived as a risky destination for investors’ money. “The facts tell a different story: one of reform, progress and growth,” the company insists.
When it comes to politics it has been a turbulent year in sub-Saharan Africa, where three presidents and a prime minister have died. And while no leader was given the Mo Ibriham Prize for achievement in African leadership this year, there were positive signs for democracy.
Macky Sall became Senegal’s new president on April 2nd after securing 65.8 per cent of votes in in a peaceful election to beat Abdoulaye Wade, who had been in power for 12 years.
Joyce Banda made history in April when she became Malawi’s first female leader. She was sworn in after the death of 78-year-old former president Bingu wa Mutharika and has begun implementing widespread reforms that bode well for the country’s future.
Even the continent’s most fractured country, Somalia, witnessed progress. Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, a university lecturer, was elected president on September 10th. He is involved in NGO work and is regarded as a political and civic activist.
In early December Ghana’s presidential election was declared free and fair by observers, although the vote was marred by delays and allegations of tampering.
On the health front there were a number of positive developments, but surely the best was the news that HIV infections in sub-Saharan Africa, the world’s most affected region, have dropped significantly.
An estimated 1.8 million people were infected there in 2011, compared with 2.4 million in 2001, according to the UN Aids 2012 Global Epidemic Report.