Some trends for Africa in 2018

NAI’s director Iina Soiri identifies ten trends and observations. Photo: Mats Hellmark

The political parties based on former freedom movements are losing ground, commodity prices still decide the economy, and agriculture faces climate challenges. Nordic Africa Institute’s director, Iina Soiri, looks into African trends for the year 2018.

With the help of the Institute’s researchers, Soiri has identified ten trends and observations for the upcoming year:​

1. The vulnerable agriculture
”African agricultural economies have come a long way in breaking their dependence on rain, but climate change creates new challenges”, she says.
Even minor weather changes may cause major damage and lead to widespread poverty. Early warning systems, as for example in Ethiopia, make farmers better prepared for droughts. Long-term investments in hydropower are also contributing to a positive development.

2. Continued commodity-based economy
“Declining world market prices for commodities affect African economies severely, for instance Namibia is dependent on uranium exports, Zambia on copper exports and Angola on oil exports”, Soiri says.
The term “Africa Rising” was used extensively during the period 2005-15. At that time, the rate of Africa’s economic growth doubled the global average.
“The explanation lay largely in China’s then explosive growth, which is now on decline. African economies are still suffering from weak industrialization and are heavily dependent on world commodity prices.”

3. The dominance of the informal sector
“Although development economists and foreign aid experts focus largely on the formal sector and on attracting multinational companies to invest in Africa, the majority of Africa’s working population is still active in the informal sector, as self-employed, jacks-of-all trades, or do-it-yourself-experts. That is where most jobs are created.”

4. The middle class hype
“There is a lot of talk about Africa’s growing middle class. But it is misleading, or even potentially dangerous, to see it as an instant recipe for democratic and social development.”
Researchers have not been able to show that there is a strong causal connection between a growing African middle class and development of democracy, fair income distribution or extensive social security networks.

5. Failure of the neoliberal model
“The neoliberal model has dominated foreign involvement in Africa after the Cold War. But it has not succeeded in meeting the challenges”, Soiri says.
Neoliberalism advocates administrative, technical and external solutions to problems that are political and local. It also relies heavily on external experts and models.
“As an alternative, there is a progressive, popular model with solutions that take into account local circumstances. It relies, for example, on inclusive negotiations and dialogue.”

6. African Union (AU) and African regional communities
“The AU and the regional economic communities have managed to find African solutions to African problems, both in economic cooperation and in peacebuilding, but they have limited possibilities.”
The challenges are, among other things, that the AU and the RECs (regional economic communities) suffer from lack of resources and capacity. Geopolitical interests and tradeoffs also play a vital part, especially since the superpowers wish to dictate the conditions, based on their own geopolitical interests.

7. Death of the ideologies
“Many African countries are dependent on foreign aid. The World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and other donors and investors get the power to control the countries’ economies”, Soiri says.
The powerful donor institutions require the countries to develop a multi-party system and a pluralist society, but at the same time demand that they adhere to a primarily neoliberal economic policy. The effect is a levelling of the parties’ ideologies. Politics tend to be more about loyalty over ethnicity, clan and religion, than about political issues or class interests.

8. The migration paradox
“Migration is often seen in the rich countries of Europe, and elsewhere, as a problem which can be addressed by investing in poverty reduction, job creation and education. However, research suggests that improved living conditions in fact increases migration. At least in the short term.”
Efforts to reduce the vulnerable predicament of migrants and to open up for more legal and safe ways of coming to their countries, could instead be a more humane – and cost-efficient – immigration policy.

9. The dilemma of the freedom movements
“The political parties that were formed out of the freedom movements in southern Africa have been in power since independence. But in South Africa, the ANC actually risks losing the next elections in 2019. They have lost their position as the nation’s liberator and a regime shift would send strong signals to other countries.”
Young people today lack direct links to the struggle for freedom and are assessing parties and governments on basis of what they are delivering today. Support will be needed to develop democratic institutions that ensure functioning judicial communities, regardless of government.

10. Development assistance as a complement
“Development assistance should be based on the policies of individual countries. For example, if the country has a strategic focus on energy supply, this is where financial assistance will make best use. Humanitarian aid is of course another issue”, Soiri concludes.

Texts: Mats Hellmark