Nigeria is projected by the US Department of Agriculture to be the first African nation with a trillion dollar economy by 2030. Boko Haram’s kidnapping and killing rampage across Nigeria has dominated the news over the last year, so this is welcome news. At the very least, this means Africa’s most populist country will be able to grow with the global economy and avoid greater economic hardship in the future. Unfortunately, Nigeria will continue to struggle with the same massive poverty and sharp economic disparity seen throughout Africa.
Furthermore, developed countries, including the United States, face increasing poverty and economic disparity as well. Where the economic growth and development of the African economies affords the continent the same chance to create a viable middle class, consumer economy that the West capitalized on throughout the Twentieth Century, the same government policies and business trends that are driving increasing disparity in the West will make it nearly impossible for that to happen in Africa.
Certainly, economic growth in Africa has and will continue to help develop the continent’s infrastructure to the benefit of the Peoples of Africa. Improved access to services like electricity, internet, phone service, and clean water will do wonders for even the most impoverished Africans. While the collapse of commodity prices in 2014 did not devastate Africa’s natural resource dependent economies as expected due to strong development in their manufacturing and services sectors, the “free trade” environment of the global economy that helped grow these sectors creates long-term problems for the African Peoples.
Unfortunately, we live in a lowest bidder world economy, because practices like free trade and outsourcing have undermined the ability of workers to negotiate for better compensation and working environments. The developed world now competes by lowering taxes and falling to regulate, which means the Third World, where demand is lacking, has far less leverage. Consequently, the developed world and the developing world must confront the over "liberalization" of international trade that has undercut the ability of governments to tax, regulate, and protect their national economies as well as their citizens.
Sadly, largely successful South Africa is plagued by violence against immigrants. The root cause appears to be an economy that favors immigrants who are able to start new businesses instead of South Africans who were impoverished and marginalized during the white-ruled Apartheid era. The current bout of violence is, however, being blamed on “tribal authorities,” who retained their power following Apartheid for the sake of stability and compromise. These nondemocratic components of South Africa’s democracy may share in the blame for provoking the violence, yet Western bias can easily convince us it is an inherent problem with African governance.
In Africa, there is great dysfunction; however, there is also misplaced blame when it comes to South Africa’s assimilation of traditional (tribal) leadership into their democratic national governments. Western Democracies are liberal democracies, which mean they place individual freedoms and rights above social and cultural rights. Failing to recognize not all democracies will function in the same way, or adopt the same characteristics, African governments are often criticized by Westerners for the wrong reasons.
The Judicial Branch of the US government and the British House of Lords serve as examples where nondemocratic authority is used to balance professional and cultural interests in the West. In the latter case, Britain’s upper house is increasingly symbolic in nature as the interests of the British People drift away from the influence of the monarchy. Like Judges, tribal leadership must be accepted at the local level before they can be part of the democratic national government, thus tribal leadership is not necessarily a problem. The judgment of these governments must, therefore, depend on how well they are serving the interests of their communities and Peoples, not their democratic qualifications.
African governments are often criticized by Westerners for their dysfunctional behavior, yet the same kind of dysfunction is increasingly seen in the West, e.g. the US government. The difference between Africa and the West is that the West has had a history of successful democratic governance and strong broad-base economic development. The West is, unfortunately, living off its successful legacy instead of building a brighter future for all citizens. On the other hand, Africa is trying to recreate what the West once did, but it cannot do so unless the West supports that vision through better policies. Consequently, the West needs to embrace the populist policies and practices that made it successful in the first place.
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