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Africa Rising: Myth or Future Reality?

by: Tshegofatso Mphahlele - 26 May 2015


Africa Day 2015. Not a very good time to be celebrating African unity. The recent xenophobic attacks make it very difficult to envision what the founding fathers of the Organisation of African Unity had in mind on that Saturday morning in 1963. Is Africa really as united as we want it to be? On this Africa Day afternoon, I do not think so. The fact that African countries still depend largely on Western aid and that the empowerment of women isn’t going as well as it should illustrates this.

I was tasked with telling you what Africa Day means to me. To be honest, there’s still a lot of work to be done until I can say with complete satisfaction that Africa Day actually means something to me. The struggles of women (of the 10 poorest countries in the world where girls have little or no education, 8 of them are African countries) and children, the discrimination of sexual minorities (homosexuality is only legal in 21 of the 58 states), growing religion-based conflicts (Boko Haram and Al-Shabaab) make it difficult for me celebrate Africa as I would like.

That list goes on. It will be a very long time till it can be said, with conviction, that Africa Day is any good at unifying the peoples of Africa (and maybe the diaspora). Until then, a lot of people will continue to see Africa Day as just another work day. Unless of course it falls over the weekend.

There is a narrative which dominates the social media timelines of many young African thought leaders and creatives: the ‘Africa Rising’ conversation. Critical questions are being asked about this phrase. What is Africa Rising? Who benefits from the rise of Africa? How is the rise being measured? Is it sustainable for the future of Africa? These questions, which I will attempt to answer, are very important and will enable us to answer perhaps the most important question of all: Is the achievement of the ‘Africa Rising’ ideal possible within our lifetime?

Africa Rising Defined

To answer these questions, perhaps a definition of Africa Rising should be offered. Africa Rising, according to the definition offered by many intellectuals, is the rise of Africa as a global economic hub which is self sustaining and no longer relies on foreign aid. This is exemplified by figures which show that Sub-Saharan Africa is the world’s fastest improving economic and technological hub and home to the globe’s youngest population. The figures exist, perhaps even the proof but how is this true for the whole of Africa? Does the Average Joe who does not fit the intellectual or creative profile know this? No. Many believe that the Africa Rising narrative is still very elitist in its scope and takes place in very privileged spaces.


Who benefits from the concept? Historically, when aid would be given to Africa, very little (or in fact, none) would reach the man on the ground. By man on the ground, I mean farmers, the general populace and even sectors like healthcare or education. Most of the aid would be squandered by corrupt bureaucrats who would fund their lavish lifestyles while people starved to death. Ethiopia comes to mind. During the famine crisis of 1984-85, it is claimed that the funds allocated for victims of the famine went into buying weapons to overthrow the government. Of course we’re told now that Ethiopia is actually the one country in Africa that benefits the most from aid and that the people of that country are reaping the fruits of the aid. History also shows us that the main beneficiaries of aid in any country are, more often than not, huge multinational corporations. These corporations then proceed to pillage and plunder the very countries that are playing host to them and are responsible for a number of gross human rights violations. Read up on the Herero and Namaqua genocide, which is widely believed to be the first genocide of the 20th century. The German general Lothar von Trotha believed that the Herero and the Nama people should be “annihilated” so that the Germans could get access to land and diamonds.

It’s not all doom and gloom though…

Done right, Africa Rising could, meaningfully, translate as the betterment of African people, particularly the youth. If greater intra-African trade (especially between countries who have a large number of resources) took place, and governments invested in programmes to empower women and the youth. That is, if the sovereignty of African countries is jealously upheld, and the West is made to understand that to enter a country and offer aid does not mean that you impose your beliefs and policies upon it. If Africa is rising, Africa must open itself up to Africa. Africa should prioritise the empowerment of women and the youth. Africa should open itself up for the inclusion of all people. Then we can truly say that Africa is rising and the world had better watch out.


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