Africa as the ‘continent of the future’: this is the topic around which the debate between ‘afro-optimists’ and ‘afro-pessimists’ revolves. Nowadays, nobody can assume any more that the cradle of humankind has no future, or that it is a ‘lost’, or ‘hopeless’ continent as it was dubbed in the past.
The question, however, is now what kind of future Africa will have. Will it – or at least its most powerful representatives – be a global player among others or will it be increasingly regarded by the world’s existing powers and key players-to-be as a huge market for goods? Who will profit from its wealth, which in recent years proved to be even greater than was expected? The African peoples or a number of different, mainly external actors, including multi-nationals, foreign governments and, to a lesser extent, local élites?
Kingsley Chiedu Moghalu’s Emerging Africa is one of the latest contributions to this debate, and when it appeared it was met with enthusiasm by many reviewers, from all over the world. “Kingsley Moghalu writes with insight and authority”, said, for instance, Paul Collier, professor of Economics at Oxford University. On his part, India’s Shashi Taroor, a former deputy Secretary-general of the United Nations, called the book “a testament to the palpable optimism that encompasses Africa, while frankly addressing the myriad challenges that lie ahead for its economic transformation”. And Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, who at the time used to be Moghalu’s chief at the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN, where the author of Emerging Africa still holds the post of deputy governor), praised him by saying that he “offers a profound perspective on how African countries can achieve true prosperity”.
Indeed, the main virtue of the book is exactly that it manages to avoid the shallow rhetoric that surrounds the debate on such arguments: Moghalu is as skeptical of the hasty dismissal of Africa’s progress as he is of the celebration of a rebirth which, at the present moment, may be a good issue for magazine covers but not for the majority of those who live in the continent. The oft-quoted figure according to which seven out of the ten fastest-growing countries are actually African has in fact a hidden face: Africa accounts for a meagre 3% of global trade and its overall GDP is equal to that of a single US city, Chicago.
Even more significantly, the continent has not ended its dependence on innovation coming from abroad, as exemplified by the fact that the local élite is connected to the rest of the world through smartphones conceived in Western or Asian countries. So, if Moghalu cannot in any way be described as an afro-pessimist (after all, the aim of his book is to show “how the global economy’s ‘last frontier’ can prosper and matter”) he is not an ingenuous afro-optimist either: “If you believe that the end of poverty and underdevelopment in Africa is imminent and that the continent is on the verge of an immediate breakthrough as a major global economic player, he writes, Emerging Africa will rain on your parade”.
Moving from these assumptions, Moghalu inevitably has to take on himself a double task: detailing the theories and approaches Africa should reject in order to achieve a real development before showing the path it would have to take to reach its goal. The first part, is undoubtedly the one in which the CBN deputy governor succeeds: his main targets are globalization, whose limits are clearly highlighted, and foreign aid, described as a tempting but old-fashioned and, in the end, ineffective (or even counter-effective) tool. Unlike other scholars, however, he does not simply equate these phenomena with the West, pushing his continent towards its Asian or Latin American counter-parts. Asia, such as any other part of the world, in Moghalu’s view, can be a model for Africa in some aspects (for instance, it provides a good example of how one can leave aid behind) but, as a partner, it might prove to be just as selfish as the Old Continent was. No nation, and no firm, willingly gives help to any State without getting any long-term profit from it, the author assumes, criticizing the so called “technology transfer”.
There is only one way, according to the CBN deputy governor, to avoid the trap of continuing poverty and underdevelopment: that Africa becomes self-reliant. This requires, above all, a shift in mentality: Africa must develop its own worldview, its own idea of its place in the world and of the way to get there. It must, above all, put its specific interest above that of the international community itself. In Moghalu’s opinion, the continent already has the means to do that. But this is also where his book shows a relevant weakness.
Despite having had a remarkable international career (he was the founder and CEO of Geneva-based Sogato Strategies and he spent 17 years working for the United Nations in New York, Cambodia, Croatia, Tanzania and Switzerland), when coming to practical solutions and examples, Moghalu seems in fact to be too much dependent on the Nigerian experience. Not all countries in Africa share the background – from a social, economic and political point of view – of the author’s homeland and therefore not all his recommendations may be equally useful for all of them. Nevertheless, this is not to say that Emerging Africa does not deserve to be read: on the contrary, it may become a very important starting point for a debate, provided that other scholars, from other countries, follow the CBN deputy governor’s example, adding their own point of view to his thesis.
Kingsley Chiedu Moghalu, Emerging Africa, Penguin Book, 2014, pp. 403.