Africa's compelling progress toward peace and prosperity

New statistics confirm that Africans have the capacity to lift themselves out of poverty and stop seemingly endless conflict.

A sign seen at one World Cup game in South Africa bellowed “Viva Africa United!!” The sentiment transcends a single fan’s fevered moment of brotherhood. It speaks of a very real and powerful force for collective effort in Africa today that promises to change the continent for the better.

Indeed, this sign, glimpsed for just a moment on the world’s TV screens, sends out a message that we should all begin to see Africa differently and to offer more support for the journeys toward peace and prosperity many Africans are undertaking.

Other than Ghana, African teams did not do well in the first African World Cup. Despite this, African interest in the World Cup was among the most passionate – and least parochial.

It is indeed a united Africa.

This apparent willingness to support one’s neighbors correlates to compelling data coming out of Africa that suggests vast improvements in many areas of life for ordinary Africans.

In the past four years of the Global Peace Index, run by the Institute of Economics and Peace, Africa emerges as the most progressive region in terms of peacefulness. This is not the say it is the most peaceful; it isn’t. But, from a low base, the region is moving toward peace at a much faster pace than any other region as the number and intensity of conflicts decrease, military expenditure is reduced, and access to small arms is lessened.

Africa’s progress underscores the profound link between peace and prosperity. Indeed, a the continent’s peacefulness increases, its GDP growth is now the highest since the 1960s, when many African nations achieved independence. In another hopeful sign, child mortality has been dropping by 2 percent per year for the past decade.

The cross-border support noted among Africans for African teams in the World Cup indicates the presence of significant parallel factors we have identified in relation to peacefulness in societies, such as good relations with neighbors and acceptance of the rights of others.

Consulting firm McKinsey recently produced a report that showed that Africa returned a compound annual economic growth rate of 4.9 percent between 2000 and 2008. Sub-Saharan Africa, often seen as stuck in a dark age of poverty and misery, saw average GDP growth of 4.8 percent between 2004 and 2008.

During the global meltdown in 2008, Africa grew by 2 percent and is on the rise still.

And, as noted in a recent Businessweek column, the per capita GDP of Africa’s strongest economies (such as Morocco, South Africa, and Tunisia) is actually higher than the BRIC nations – Brazil, Russia, India, and China.

This is not to say that all is rosy on the African continent. Massive problems still exist. Famines occur in many areas, women are treated appallingly in some areas, and the scourge of HIV/AIDS is ever-present. Moreover, the above statistics can be undermined by, for instance, major inequalities in access for many Africans to economic opportunity, by poor governance, and by uneven distribution of the benefits of development.

But such problems need not define the continent and, in terms of offering aid and economic assistance, an emphasis on the positives should be encouraged – for it is here that solutions and future directions will be found.

The facts confirm that Africans have the capacity to lift themselves out of poverty and to stop seemingly endless conflict. In 2006, a Gallup International survey that Africans, ahead of those from any other continent, were the most optimistic people. These are the tools of success and of peace.

To provide support for these initiatives, governments and non-government organisations must incorporate peace building in all assistance programs to Africa, while governments, private funders, and universities should increase funding for peace studies within an African context.

Governments must, at a minimum, meet the agreed levels of overseas development assistance for Africa, and they should improve their national accounting practices so they can quantify the effects and economic impacts of peace.

The multinational private sector, meanwhile, should develop better, more sustainable relationships with African governments they are working with to improve peacefulness in key markets.

Finally, both governments and the private sector in rich countries should work together to reduce or abolish agricultural subsidies to allow free and fair trade opportunities for the African economies.

In doing this, donors in rich countries can feel confident that they are building programs on the basis of the facts in Africa and are best serving the needs of the majority of Africans. As such, long after the vuvuzelas have mercifully fallen silent, a trumpet may still be heard for those in Africa who are together driving peace and prosperity, united in their willingness to grow social, political, and economic security in their continent.

Steve Killelea is founder and chair of the Institute for Economics and Peace, which released its annual survey of world peace, the Global Peace Index, on June 8.


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