Africa was, in many measures, being wasted – its natural resources were plundered willy-nilly, and its human capital remained largely untapped for national development and improvement of economic well being. Africa remained, for the most part, a mere source of industrial raw materials and cheap (but resourceful and talented) economic refugees to the industrialised world. Natural resources like timber, cocoa, coffee, petroleum, gold, diamond, and skilled human resources like medical doctors, nurses, engineers, teachers poured out of Africa across the oceans in search of better life. The centuries of misaligned economic engagement with the rest of the world and bad leadership, had at best, left Africa reeling with greater poverty and in many instances, worsening economic and human wellbeing.
Teenage Africa is born – South Africa and Ghana lead the way
The 1990s brought rays of hope in countries like South Africa and Ghana. In South Africa, apartheid was finally dismantled and democracy was born through free and fair elections under the exemplary, visionary and wise leadership of Nelson Mandela. Ghana, on the other hand, typified the rare case of a genuine military interregnum that was conceived and executed in the national interest. JJ Rawlings took over power and purged the nation of its past and incumbent corrupt leaders and went further to lay the foundation for sustainable democratic principles and peaceful socio-political change through the ballot box. The successful abandonment of the gun and bullet for the ballot box and pen as vehicle for peaceful social and democratic change marked a turning point in the history of the small west African country. As if it was following its legacy as the first country in sub–Saharan Africa to free itself from colonial rule, Ghana had shown that it is possible to chart a new course towards sustainable economic development built on democratic principles and practice.
Today, South Africa and Ghana symbolise the rather too few countries in Africa where fair and free elections have become the norm as the people’s instrument to effect democratic change in leadership and thus the platform for socio–economic development and nation building. It is therefore not surprising that both countries have continued to enjoy greater political stability, inclusive economic growth and measurable progress in meeting the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) than most other countries on the continent.
The models used to achieve positive socio-political change in South Africa and Ghana are strikingly different but appear to be progressively yielding similar good results. There was and still is the African National Congress (ANC) – championing and leading the course of a democratic South Africa as the economic powerhouse of Africa, but closely kept in check by an increasingly confident, assertive and credible opposition led by the Democratic Alliance (DA). The political party which JJ Rawlings (former military coup leader) later led to win democratic elections in Ghana was subsequently defeated by the opposition in a free and fair election. The handover of power was smooth and peaceful. These stories of South Africa and Ghana are in many ways the hallmarks of a teenage Africa – energetic, resourceful, and full of lofty ambitions.
Adult Africa born in Arab Spring
The new Africa of today – in adulthood – is emerging through the will and actions of grassroots citizenry, led by the ordinary mother, daughter, son and father. This ‘adult’ Africa has surprised itself and its friends around the world, especially those locked in a wrong view of Africa that was supposedly resistant to universal principles of democracy, equality, and freedom. The birthday to adulthood was unannounced but turned out to be rather big and positively infectious across the continent and beyond into west Asia. Without arms deals, covert operations, diplomatic shuttles, closed economic deals, new political manifestos or ideologies imposed from elsewhere, ordinary Africans have finally reclaimed their continent, thereby saying NO to dictatorship, misrule and reckless corruption. The Arab Spring of 2011 has in many ways renewed Africa and engendered hope across the continent and among its people.
Through the singular action of one of its ordinary citizens that ignited and rallied a nation, Tunisia showed the signs of Africa in adulthood, followed closely by Egypt. Like South Africa and Ghana in the period of teenage Africa, Tunisia and Egypt have shown the rest of continent and the world at large that the tenets of democracy, freedom, justice, human dignity and desire for good economic wellbeing are universal and not synonymous with any particular nation, region, culture, creed or people. It is also colour-blind. Together, these countries have shown that without foreign intervention Africans have the desire and ability to champion, nurture and promote democratic principles and inclusive economic development. We distaste misrule. There is no doubt in my mind that there is no immediate guarantee of long term success after ‘Spring’. However, it is also clear that the foundations have no doubt been laid and the building blocks will have to be put in place through the strengthening of democratic institutions, rule of law and pursuit of sustainable trickle-down economic development.