That Africa has changed is not debatable. We have made strong and in some instances, irreversible progress. However, we must debate the quality and distribution of the benefits of Africa’s progress.
Africa is urbanizing and motorizing faster than any region in the world. African cities, from Accra to Nairobi are choked with traffic. The air is foul. Streets are consumed in garbage. Housing is short and squalid in African cities. Chaotic sprawl has become the defining characteristic of Africa’s urban development. National and municipal authorities are overwhelmed. Essential services such as water and sanitation are lacking. There is a severe shortage of public schools and health facilities.
African economies are charging ahead despite headwinds from low commodity prices and uncertain domestic policies. Public spending is on the rise and so is official corruption. A survey conducted by Transparency International in 2014 revealed that 58 percent of Africans felt corruption had got worse in their country in the past year. There are bright spots. In Botswana and Mauritius only one percent of the respondents said they was corruption in the public sector.
Regular cycles of elections have not yielded stellar governance. According to the Ibrahim Index of African Governance (IIAG), the average score for overall governance, which improved between 2000 and 2008, has stalled since 2011. Governance is defined here as the capacity of the state to: uphold rule of law; provide economic opportunity; protect human and civic rights; advance human development.
Africa’s progress on human development is slow but steady. More children, especially girls, are enrolled in public schools. However, the quality of learning remains deplorable because teachers are ill prepared and schools lack basic teaching and learning resources. Public spending on education remains low. Moreover, graduates at every level of education do not possess the skills needed for the work place. In East Africa, unemployment among youth without college education is about 80 percent and 1 in 2 college graduates cannot find work.
Maternal mortality rates fell by nearly 44 percent globally. However, sub Saharan Africa recorded the highest maternal mortality rate (546 deaths per 100,000 live births in 2015), accounting for about 66 percent of global maternal deaths. Similarly, while we have seen the most rapid decline in under five mortality between 1990 and 2014 the risk of a child dying before their first birthday was highest in Africa.
Africa holds about half of the world’s arable land. Our farmers are the least productive in the world and Africa spends $25 billion annually on food imports. It is estimated that nearly 1 in 5 Africans lacks adequate nutrition. But Africa’s agriculture remains a long tale of potential. According to the World Bank, Africa’s agriculture and agribusiness is a $1 trillion industry.
Has the rosy Africa Rising saga run its course? In the years ahead progress will neither be easy nor inevitable. Africans must rise, demand and lead durable and, inclusive prosperity if Africa is to take its rightful place among other civilizations.