Partnerships linked to trade critical for Africa’s economic transformation

Good governance and strong democratic institutions

First among the critical building blocks of sustainable democracy is the ability to hold free and fair elections. Removing bad leaders and even banishing some by popular mass action is courageous and commendable, but Africa needs more democratically elected leaders who can be held to account through due processes. The second critical element is the development and nurturing of credible political parties that are willing to serve the people even as opposition in parliament. The third is the strengthening of the third arm of any democratic government – the judiciary – to promote the rule of law and accountability. The role of a free and responsible media as the public watchdog is paramount; after all, it is well know that the price of freedom is eternal vigilance. And finally, there is an urgent need to transform the economies of African countries into engines of growth through the creation of businesses that manufacture good quality and high value products and services for trade.

As part of the global community, Africa should also count on its friends and partners. Not through another era of aid dependent economic development, bad loans and the related structural adjustment programmes of the recent past, which seemed to perpetually lubricate the wheel of poverty and kept many African countries locked into loan servicing at the neglect of transformative socio-economic programmes. Africa’s development partners would do better by not endorsing and supporting those governments who merely fold their arms to assure the free outflow of African agricultural and natural resources while neglecting the critical and urgent task of creating and supporting the necessary business environment for job creation and poverty reduction. Like all adults, Africa wants, deserves and expects dialogue and understanding in addressing its new growth challenges. African leaders and development partners must find ways and means to actively and genuinely engage with the broad aspirations of our people for meaningful and inclusive economic development. There are plenty of lessons from the Arab Spring of 2011 for everyone. Clearly, the tools and means for social change have changed. It was largely fathers and mothers that led the independence movements in Africa. As shown by the Arab Spring, the youth of Africa are now leading the quest for broad–based sustainable economic development and we need more opportunities for job creation.

The world re-engaging with Africa – Australia looks leftward!

At a recent roundtable followed by a workshop held at The University of Sydney, the Australian government, represented by the Foreign Minister Mr Kevin Rudd, addressed an audience that included African ministers and other officials about Australia’s re-engagement with Africa. Key themes of the discussion included mining, higher education, and taping agriculture for food security. Australia has earned its rightful place on the global stage as a strong, diversified and industrialised economy. From its frontline role in the global fight against terror to its leadership in addressing regional challenges such as refugee crises and bilateral trade, Australia can become a strong African partner in the ongoing socio-economic transformation of the continent. Australia can look westward without losing its strategic focus on its neighbours: Asia and the South Pacific. However, this requires a new approach to doing business in Africa that is built on partnerships and not just aid in the traditional development assistance jargon. It requires a re-engagement with Africa based on mutual benefit and respect, bilateralism and multilateralism and not unilateralism. Indeed the 21st century Africa demands to be treated like an adult, not a teenager. Engaging with Africa, constructively in the long-term, can bring mutual benefits as Australia’s remarkable success in Asia during the past two decades has shown.

Learned academic journals and other repositories of knowledge abound with sentimentally old as well as new celebrated stories about Africa as the cradle of human civilisation, phonetics, biodiversity, etc. However, more recent socio-economic and geo-political articles about Africa are less flattering – filled with stories of food insecurity, malnutrition, HIV/AIDS, low human development index, widespread poverty, among others. In this era of globalisation and greater interdependence of nations, Tunisia and Egypt have shown that Africa in adulthood can offer more than the history of human origins, supply of raw materials and (new) agricultural land to the world. This is where the future engagement of Australia in Africa becomes critical for both continents.