By Matshona Dhliwayo
Not too long ago, the two words “Africa Rising” were on everyone’s lips. After a decade of sluggish growth, Africa was finally showing real potential to follow in the footsteps of Asia. The Financial Times predicted the continent would enjoy a long period of mid- to high single-digit economic growth. Income would rise, a middle class would emerge, and consumer spending would increase. Was the media wrong? Were tabloids exaggerating? Certainly not, for since 2001, six of the world’s ten fastest-growing countries had been in Africa.
However, almost a decade later, some are still asking themselves: “Is there hope for Africa? Can the continent experience sustainable growth to give the world’s oldest inhabited region a new narrative?”
I belong to the hopeful group, and so should every African leader. Below are ten reasons why African leaders should be optimistic about the future:
- Our resilience. Contrary to popular belief, adversity has benefited us greatly. Slavery, colonization, institutionalized racism, the AIDS epidemic, poverty, and famine were all meant to kill us, but have only made us stronger. Because we have gone through the worst, we are stronger mentally, emotionally, intellectually, and spiritually.
- Our natural resources. Since the beginning, Africa has been blessed with an enormous quantity of natural resources. The envy of other continents, many of its precious metals remain undiscovered or barely harnessed. Those who doubted the extent of Africa’s mineral wealth were shocked to learn the continent possessed 90% of the world’s chrome resources, 85% of its platinum, 70% of its tantaline, 68% of its cobalt, and 54% of its gold, just to mention a few. Assuredly, the ticket to our prosperity is beneath our very feet—underneath the ground we tread on every day.
- Our human resources. By 2050, it is estimated that Africa will have a larger and younger workforce than China or India. More people equals more talent, and more talent equals more growth. More children also means that more products have to be produced, such as food, clothing, and furniture. Likewise, more schools and homes have to be built, which economically benefits the education and construction industries. An increased population inevitably leads to a larger domestic market.
The final benefit of Africa’s larger population means foreign enemies will think twice about invading the continent. The greater a nation’s population, the greater its army; the greater its army, the greater its security.
- Our spirituality. Africa is a continent rich in spirituality. Wherever you go, the majority of people’s lives are governed to a small or large extent by a higher power. While religion has brought much good and bad to the world, spirituality has only brought good. And, by some estimates, Africa is the most spiritual place in the world. Even those who don’t subscribe to a particular religion believe in a higher power. The benefits? Even the science community has admitted that there are rewards. To the marvel of many, despite being poor, we are gracious, grateful, optimistic, humane, and fulfilled. What would kill others we endure with a smile, and our spirituality is responsible for it.
- Our rich culture and heritage. Many have tried to mock, undermine, and even destroy our heritage, but to no avail. It is indisputable that Africa has the richest culture—one that goes back to the beginning of civilization itself. It includes the way we respect life, and the way we honor the dead; the way we celebrate children and, at the same time, highly regard elders; the way we esteem knowledge and revere wisdom; the way we conduct ourselves in both private and in public; and the way we treat foreigners, as well as live amongst ourselves. Without our culture, there is no doubt that Africa would have fallen a long time ago. A nation or a people without a heritage will not last for long, no matter how great or prosperous, but a nation or a people with one will thrive, no matter how unexceptional or poor.
- Our history. When ancient kings conquered a people and took over their land, one of the things they would do is burn down their libraries in order to erase not only their history, but also their sense of self. We, of all people, have the grandest history—mathematics, science, literature, philosophy, and arts can all trace their beginnings to Africa. With this on our minds, we can meet the future with a smile, no matter how bleak or bright; our victory is certain, not only in our minds, but also in our hearts.
- Democracy is on the rise. Democracy has been steadily rising in Africa, as the masses have realized they cannot put their destinies in the hands of one party or ruler. To the chagrin of those with tyrannical ambitions, democracy has and will continue to bring freedom, equality, justice, and responsible government to the masses. When the citizens’ rights and interests are protected, a nation is sheltered.
- Higher literacy rate. In 1990, the adult literacy rate in all of Africa was 53%. By 2015, it was estimated to be at about 63%. Clearly, we are doing something right, and if we continue, it will only get better. A higher literacy rate means better education, a better economy, and better governance of the country, all of which improve the well-being of the people.
- Our climate. Since time immemorial, people have tended to migrate to warmer climates. Africa being the hottest continent on Earth makes it very attractive—you don’t have the same worries as those who live in cold climates. Science itself has proven that living in warmer weather is better for your health. Improved memory, more Vitamin D, and increased physical activity are just a few of the benefits. Warm weather is also better for our heart and lungs, and studies have shown that there are higher death rates in colder climates.
- Less civil wars. Indeed, peace continues to bring much good to the continent, including increased tourism, investments, and general well-being of its citizens. Due to our ethnic and religious diversity, however, from time to time, some countries experience civil strife. Economies are damaged, and fear ripples through communities. But, in recent years, civil wars have been on the decline; old enemies are mending fences as they realize they are better and stronger together than they are apart. Martin Luther King Jr. said it best: “We must learn to live together as brothers or we will perish together as fools.”
- Nature and wildlife. Africa has a large variety of natural wildlife, much of which can be found only on the continent. Straddling the equator, the land is home to many of the world’s most beloved flora and fascinating fauna. Despite all the negative publicity Africa has received, its nature and wildlife make it an irresistible tourist destination, a testament to the undeniable beauty and allure of the motherland.
- Improved energy access. Why has Africa been experiencing rapid growth during the last decade? Slowly but surely, our energy sectors are improving. There are still many problems, but we are better off than we were ten years ago. Factories operate more efficiently, leading to higher productivity and a higher GDP, thereby increasing the standard of living.
Improved energy access is also crucial for food security, affordable and reliable water, and environmental protection. People will cut down fewer trees if they have a dependable substitute source of energy.
- Improved educational institutions. As child enrollment rates have been steadily rising all across the continent, it has forced governments to invest more in education. However, although teachers are still underpaid, the quality of teaching has improved. If this trend continues, even the greatest skeptics among us must admit that we will inevitably return to our former glory, with groundbreaking improvements in the arts and sciences.
What are the benefits of this? Innovation in the arts and sciences not only betters the economy, but also brings prestige to a nation. The best example of this is the Renaissance: it brought untold glory to Italy, the honor and prestige of which the country is still enjoying today.
- Improved infrastructure. As capital has been pouring into the continent, slowly but surely, our infrastructure has been improving. Better roads and infrastructure have allowed companies to operate more efficiently, which has also means that more investments have come pouring in.
- Improved healthcare. Healthcare has improved dramatically over the past decade. More quality educational institutions have led to more knowledgeable doctors, and more knowledgeable doctors have led to better healthcare, all of which has contributed to increased life expectancy rates.
- Increased foreign investment. Most, if not all, of the above points lead directly or indirectly to increased foreign investment. Foreign investment means more jobs, more income, and more spending, all of which grow the economy.
In conclusion, African leaders have much to be optimistic about. Africa matters to the world; the world cannot do without us. We are the most habitable place on Earth, not experiencing the same natural disasters bedeviling other parts of the world; we also have the greatest capacity for maintaining balance in the biosphere, helping to avoid further depletion of the ozone layer. And, in a world full of strife, it is the very values passed down to us by our ancestors that hold the key to human survival on Earth.