The Challenges of Change in Africa
Speech by FW De Klerk to Institute of Economic Affairs, Accra, 27 August 2012
It is a great honour for me to be able to address you today.
Ghana has traditionally set the pace for change in Africa. Your country was the first sub-Saharan country to gain independence. You opened the way to the rest of the continent and espoused the ideal of African unity. Under the leadership of your late President, John Atta-Mills, Ghana once again assumed a leadership position at the forefront of a new wave of freedom and development in our continent.
The dominant reality of our time is change - and the key to survival during the coming years in the world, in Africa and in Ghana will be our ability to adapt to change.
The trouble is that change itself is changing :
During the past century - and particularly since World War II - there has been an exponential acceleration in the pace of change. The world has changed more during the past ten years than it did in the first hundred thousand years of our development as a species.
Today it is impossible for any single individual to keep track of the technological progress that we make in just one year. Change is accelerating!
The change that we are experiencing is also fundamental. It affects virtually every aspect of our lives.
Change is also unpredictable. The world in which we live today is dominated by factors that no-one imagined a mere twenty-five years ago:
If anyone in 1985 had predicted that within seven years the Soviet Union would have collapsed; Eastern Europe would be liberated and Germany would be reunited - all the greatest pundits of the era would have called that person mad. And all this happened virtually without the firing of a single shot.
Similarly, few people would have foreseen in 1985 that the spiralling conflict and racial impasse in South Africa would be resolved peacefully and that within ten years the country would become a non-racial constitutional democracy. And yet it happened.
We human-beings have three choices when we are confronted with change:
23 years ago, when I became President, South Africa was confronted with the urgent need to change.
The environment in which we found ourselves was disastrous. We were facing international isolation and a growing downward spiral of conflict and repression. Our ability to trade and attract foreign investment was severely limited by sanctions – and as a result our economy was in deep trouble.
We could have tried to resist change. Many within my party’s support base wanted to do just that. We could have remained in power for many years to come. We could have weathered sanctions and withdrawn into a grim fortress of national isolation. After all, this is the kind of option that many other embattled states have chosen.
However, the greatest risk that we can take is often refusing to take the risk of changing.
We could have allowed ourselves to be swept away by events. We could have made piecemeal concessions and sought short-term solutions. We could have shifted this way and that without any clear, long-term plan. If we had done so we would probably have been swept away - as so many other leaders caught up in the flood of change were. Just think of Louis XVI, Tsar Nicholas II, the Shah of Iran and Hosni Mubarak.
We chose instead to manage change and direct it toward a transformed and better future.
On 2 February 1990 I presented a new vision to the South African Parliament of a peaceful and democratic solution to our problems. I set goals that included
By 1994 - to the astonishment of the world - we had turned our vision into reality.
However, change is never easy and always involves risks.
We realised that the decisions that we took would unleash a chain of events with far-reaching and unpredictable consequences. It was rather like paddling a canoe into a long stretch of dangerous rapids. You may start the process and determine the initial direction. However, after that the canoe is seized by enormous and often uncontrollable forces. All that you can do is to maintain your balance, avoid the rocks and steer as best you can - and right the canoe if it capsizes.
We also realised that change never ends. There is no point at which you can say that you have ‘solved’ any problem in a rapidly changing environment. As soon as you have achieved your objectives, you must begin to address the next challenges that change will inevitably throw down.
This is very much the case in South Africa now. Our main challenges now will be to ensure that
Effective change management has worked for us. It has transformed the very negative environment of 1989 to the much more positive environment of 2012.
In the same way, Africa today is faced with the challenge of managing the enormous changes that confront the continent.
Change is about making choices. You can make the right choices and manage change or you can become a victim of change. Countries that are victims of change are exploited by others, overrun by corruption and the abuse of power, unstable and wasteful of their precious resources. They are tragic stories.
Ghana is no victim of change. Its recent history has been a beacon for the rest of Africa, particularly its record of holding transparent, democratic elections peacefully and in accordance with the law. But it takes hard work and sound leadership to make the right choices. The discovery of oil, for example, can be, and hopefully will be, a great blessing from which all the people of Ghana will benefit. But as the experience of so many countries demonstrates, to achieve that will not be easy.
Twelve years ago the World Bank declared that this could be the African century - but only if Africa was able to deal successfully with a number of challenges. Success would be “conditional on Africa’s ability - aided by its development partners - to overcome the development traps that kept it confined to a vicious cycle of underdevelopment, conflict, and untold human suffering for most of the 20th century.”
The World Bank proposed development strategies that would focus on:
More recently, Paul Collier - in his book “The Bottom Billion” - has identified the reasons why a billion people living in some 60 developing countries have failed to break free of the poverty trap. Other developing countries have made significantly more progress than Sub-Saharan Africa. Between 1980 and 2011 South Asia’s Human Development Index improved by 54% - twice as fast as Sub-Saharan Africa’s 27% improvement.
In addition to the challenges of improving governance and resolving conflict, Collier has also identified the resources trap as being a major impediment to development. In some states revenues from oil and minerals represent as much as 80% or 90% of all state income. This makes governments less dependent on taxes paid by citizens - and thus less accountable to them.
Oil and mineral revenues often increase the value of national currencies and make it cheaper to import food and manufactured products - often with a crippling effect on local farmers and industries. Oil and mineral wealth often create inter-regional tensions because the regions where the oil and minerals are produced seldom derive much benefit.
The effect on the environment can also be catastrophic. It is estimated that since oil production began in the Niger delta more than 50 times as much oil has been spilled as was spilt from the Exxon tanker Valdez in Alaska – one of the worst oil disasters in history.
Let us then assess Africa’s progress in terms of the criteria identified by the World Bank and Paul Collier:
However negative international stereotypes about Africa have finally begun to change – and for the best possible reason. Hard objective evidence proves that several African nations lead the world in economic growth, and the IMF forecasts that the remarkable growth in those countries will continue.
It is impossible to exaggerate the importance of changing those negative stereotypes. For years, they kept investors away. Africa was seen as a risk, not an opportunity. This new, more positive reputation has two distinct causes. One is this surprising economic record of outpacing Asia. But the other cause is the reputation which leading African countries have earned for political and institutional stability.
Ghana has played a major role in demonstrating that stability – in being a vibrant democracy which respects the rules. There has been a turbulent past here, as in much of Africa, but Ghana`s people, and Ghana`s leaders, have left that behind. Compared to some other African countries, Ghana has a smaller population, but a much larger reputation. Ghana is seen as a leader, and that reputation helps in everything you do. It goes without saying that this high reputation must keep being earned.
For several years, in my own country, I had the privilege of being a political leader, who fought hard campaigns, and faced the most difficult of issues. I now have the luxury, in Ghana, of watching an election, rather than being involved in it. But I do that as one who knows the importance, to the whole society, indeed to the African continent, of leaders and parties who set and respect the highest of standards. That is how reputations are built, and how they are maintained.
Let us look at the reality. Sub-Saharan Africa constitutes one of the largest areas of prime real estate in the world. There are about the same number of people in its 24 million square kilometers as there are in the 3.3 million square kilometers of India. The continent is endowed with enormous mineral resources in a commodity hungry world. The Chinese - and other nations - have been rushing into the continent to tie up long-term contracts for Africa’s iron, cobalt, coal, vanadium and oil. But only a fraction of Africa’s agricultural potential is, at present, being fully utilized.
The Food and Agricultural Organisation estimates that the land area for rain-fed crops could be increased by up to 700% per region - with a potential for the whole continent of 300 million hectares.
Africa’s agricultural potential is attracting enormous foreign interest. The British newspaper, the Observer, estimates that up to 50 million hectares of African farmland has been acquired by foreign investors or is in the process of being negotiated. This area is more than double the size of the United Kingdom.
All this is also changing international perceptions of Africa’s strategic importance.
For most of the period after World War II, Africa was of interest to the great powers primarily to the extent that its newly independent nations were viewed as areas of contestation between the United States and the Soviet Union. European countries took it almost for granted that they would be able to retain special relationships with Africa because of their former colonial ties.
With the ending of the Cold War, Africa subsided into the global strategic background. African nations were no longer able to play one super power against the other in their efforts to promote their national interests. President Thabo Mbeki was shocked in 2000 when leading members of the European Commission told him that “the EU did not have any strategic perspective relating to Africa, as it did with other areas of the world, such as East and Central Europe, the Middle East and the United States.”
A decade later and the continent of Africa is rapidly emerging from the periphery of global strategic interest:
In a world that will be increasingly hungry for natural resources and for food, increasing attention will inevitably be focused on Africa. It is not by any means certain that such attention will always be benign or be concerned with the best interests of Africa or its people. The emergence of international criminal cartels trafficking in drugs and people in this part of Africa is a concern, not only for Africa, but for the whole world.
This presents the continent with a special challenge: it must continue to meet the challenge of change to ensure that it will be able to protect its turf from outsiders, wherever they might come from.
Africa must change its attitude to governance:
Africa must change its attitude toward economic development:
Africa must change its attitude to human development:
I believe that Africa is capable of accepting these challenges - and that Ghana, once again, is showing the way.
Whatever happens, one truth remains. Global strategic attention will be increasingly focussed on the continent - because of its enormous mineral resources; because of its untapped agricultural potential in an increasingly hungry world; and because of the potential of its people.
Africa must show that it has the ability to manage the change that will confront it in the years and decades that lie ahead. If it does I am confident that this will indeed turn out to be the African century.