Today is Africa Day, commemorating the founding of the Organisation for African Unity on 25 May 1963.
It invokes the hope ignited by a wave of decolonization that freed successive African nations half a century ago. But also the despair as successive liberation movements-turned-political parties succumbed to the temptations of power. Today we must renew our vision for Africa. The Africa I see is a prosperous, peaceful, united continent whose democratic nations thrive on individual freedoms, constitutionalism and the rule of law. Economic growth is rapid and inclusive enabled by free trade and willing collaboration, integrated infrastructure and shared knowledge.
The fact is that while this vision for Africa is eminently achievable, there is an element of urgency that is new. We can no longer defer this dream. Today, Africa stands at a critical juncture, facing one stark reality: over the next generation, Africa’s population is set to double to over two billion people. The majority of these people will be young, urbanised, and connected by smart phones. Under the wrong conditions, they constitute a ticking time bomb of unemployed, disaffected youth with the means to wreak major destruction. Under the right conditions, they are a “demographic dividend” that can drive Africa’s rapid development and realise the continent’s immense potential.
Our actions in the next decade will determine whether this population boom becomes Africa’s nemesis or her saving grace. Our urgent project is to lay the foundations for rapid economic growth that can create the jobs and the conditions that channel this youthful energy to positive outcomes. Clearly, the old order – economies crippled by Big Man, patronage politics, cut off geographically and culturally from the rest of the world – is just not going to cut it. Africa needs economic growth and job creation on a vast scale and only a new political order can bring that about.
The fact is, Africa’s future hinges entirely on its politics. Democracy and development are indivisible. Africa needs to move beyond the stifling, traditional thinking of the old order of liberation leader, more tribal chief than president. Our population is young – the median age is just 19,5 years old. We need a wave of new, young leadership that “gets” democracy. We need leaders in their 30s, 40s and 50s with their modern education and their modern thinking, based on global realities. It is quite frankly unacceptable that Africa is still being led by, or rather, held hostage by, leaders who are well into old age, many in their 70s, 80s and even 90s.
And more than anything, the project of these new, young leaders must be one of building trust: people must trust leaders; they must trust each other; and the world must trust Africa. Leaders can only win the trust of citizens if they lead by personal example; proving their commitment to the common good through accountability and transparency. They can only get citizens to trust each other by ensuring that the rule of law prevails and is enforced. And the global community will only have trust in the continent if leaders take an open, internationalist approach with stable, pro-business policies. The Africa I see is one in which all countries are willing members of the International Criminal Court and leaders are deeply committed to human rights and the rule of law.
This new generation of African leader must accept that economic growth must be private-sector-led, and that the state’s role is to create the right conditions: ensure a stable macro-economy; build strong institutions; grow a solid skills base; create free trade areas; build integrated infrastructure that connects African countries to each other and the world; promote entrepreneurship; attract scarce skills and tourists; give people a stake in the economy by promoting ownership. State-owned enterprises must stand on their own two feet, or be privatised.
And African leaders must understand the critical need to prioritise. With so many competing claims on scarce funds and skills, it is crucial to pick focus areas of high potential. By this, I mean supporting city-led, youth-led and sector-led growth. Leaders must devolve more funding and decision-making power to cities, since their high population densities return the “biggest bang for the buck” allowing nations to maximise the benefits from infrastructural and social spending. Policies must focus strongly on young people, growing their skills, and opening opportunity for them through apprenticeships, internships and flexible labour markets. Girls must have as much chance of success as boys. They must have every opportunity to complete their schooling, and should not miss school during menstruation for lack of sanitary products. We must condemn acts of violence against woman and ensure their safety and dignity in a world where poverty is becoming more female.
Similarly, leaders must ruthlessly prioritise amongst economic sectors directing resources to those with the highest potential to create jobs: tourism, agriculture, agro-processing, mining and manufacturing. Tourism can be greatly boosted through visa reform alone, and by promoting niches such as sports, business and wildlife tourism. Agriculture and agro-processing requires investment in technology and land reform that focuses on ownership, skills transfer and land productivity. Mining policies must be stable, recognising the long-term risks inherent in mining investments. Labour policies must promote cooperation between business and labour, and must promote Africa’s competitiveness.
Economic success is infinitely possible, once we get the politics right. This is my mission as leader of the Democratic Alliance. Tomorrow I will be attending the treason trial of my Zambian counterpart, Hakainde Hichilema, leader of Zambia’s largest opposition party, who has been detained and faces trumped up criminal charges brought against him by a government intent on reversing the gains of democracy in Zambia. Though Zambia’s government deserves praise for opting to remain a member of the International Criminal Court, its stifling of opposition cannot go unchallenged.
Similarly the DA stands behind the Sahwari people of Western Sahara in their bid for self-determination. We fully support the UN Security Council resolution on the mandate to ensure that a referendum is held to determine the will of the people. The DA believes in the fundamental rights and freedoms of every person. We condemn all acts of violence on the Sahwari people, along with any attempts to curb free speech and restrict a free press in the Western Sahara.
There are a handful of countries that are already making great progress in Africa: Rwanda, Ethiopia, Kenya, Mauritius but I believe the tipping point will come when South Africa breaks free of its liberation movement politics. Only then will our economy be able to modernise; grow rapidly; and integrate into the rest of Africa. And so, on Africa Day, we must reflect on the great urgency of our own project here in South Africa, to build a free, prosperous society united by the values of constitutionalism, inclusive economic growth and accountable, capable leadership. Because without doubt, where South Africa leads, Africa will follow.