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Africa: An economic contradiction

Although a few countries in Africa have economies comparable with some on other continents, the majority of Africa’s states have very fragile economies with the majority of their populations extremely poor.

Opinion by Eric Bloch

All in all, Africa is undoubtedly the poorest of the world’s continents.

Yet most of Africa’s countries have substantial potential wealth, vested in varied resources which could be the foundation of extremely strong economies.

Admittedly, some countries have utilised their diverse economic resources, including Nigeria and several of the countries in North Africa; Angola and Mozambique, who have been accessing fields of oil and natural gas; Egypt, that has partially accessed both its agricultural opportunities in general and cotton in particular, as well as its substantive tourism drawcards.

South Africa, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Zambia and Angola, endowed with many of the world’s valuable minerals over and above a number of other significant sources of national wealth, have also done so.

All the same, even those who have sought to exploit the potential available to them have generally done so to a far lesser extent than is readily possible.

In consequence, millions of Africans live on minimal incomes, suffering considerable stresses of poverty and extreme hardships, endangering their health and that of their descendants. It is an incomprehensible contradiction that Africa should have such great latent wealth, but endlessly fails.

There are numerous factors causing failure by so many African countries to realise their potential and needs or action to transform their debilitated economies. Probably first and foremost are the characteristics of the continent’s politicians.

With a few notable exceptions (as was exceptionally the case in the post-1994 era of Nelson Mandela’s presidency of South Africa), most of Africa’s politicians have little or no real interest in the needs and desires of the populations they govern.

Their interests are focused on endless retention of authority and power, desiring to rule and govern for life.

Thus they devote their endeavours on enhancing their grasp on power, having contemptuous disregard for the real needs of the people. Most of them are concerned with enriching themselves, instead of the countries they control and are supposed to lead.

In their avarice for wealth, many of Africa’s leaders pursue this by any means fair or foul. They unceasingly raid the national coffers, no matter how limited these may be, thereby rendering those treasuries incapable of funding their economies.

They do so by resorting to expenditure inflation on international travels, on ministerial salaries and allowances, on luxurious properties, innumerable motor vehicles, and much else.

To a very extensive degree they resort to corrupt, unlawful practices, conscious that more often than not, their elevated positions of authority enable them to circumvent actions of law against them for their misdeeds.

A disastrous consequence of the unending and varied corrupt practices of the political elite, who make themselves immune from accountability and punishment, is that a majority of the grievously impoverished population end up also resorting to corrupt and illegal practices for survival.

Notwithstanding, African people are inherently honest, even when they are suffering and their children are crying and dying of hunger. They can only behold the immense wealth of their national leaders and the corrupt practices of those leaders, who are supposed to lead by example.

Desperate to minimise the hardships their families and dependants suffer, some of the people abandon their concepts of honesty and instead emulate the leaders. By so doing, they further decimate the economies.

The inadequacy of economic development in Africa is lack of developmental capital, which is essential. The minuscule economies cannot provide the start-up capital required, and yet a majority of the needy countries effectively discourage foreign investment.

The political leaders have fixations against according non-nationals the opportunity of investing in the economic opportunities of their countries, notwithstanding that attaining foreign investment is effective partnership.

For the foreign investor provides capital, technological inputs and access to markets, while the country is not only providing access to resources and the economic opportunities, but benefits from infrastructure development, creation of employment, taxation revenues and eradication or minimisation of poverty.

Almost all of Africa needs to learn that partnership means reciprocal collaboration and benefit. Also necessary is to recognise that foreign investment is hardly ever forthcoming unless investors believe that their investments will be secure in a stable, democratic, political environment with rule of law and order, sound economic policies, as well as physical security for all.

Governments must ensure that all essential infrastructural facilities exist to an extent necessary to service the entirety of the economy and the needs of all the population and that such facilities are properly maintained and fully operative.

They should also be enhanced timeously to meet growing needs of the economy and the people.

This applies to all essential utilities and services, including energy, water supplies, telecommunications, roads, rail and air services.

The reticence of most politicians to facilitate privatisation of loss-making state enterprises is an immense retardent to economic development and stability.

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