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Looking ahead . . .
Vol. 16 - Women's Empowerment

Looking back . . .
Vol. 15 (May - November 2014)

By the Ezine Editors  This editorial introduces Volume 15. It attempts to set a foundation for the volume by examining what marginalization is and what some of historical factors are that have driven marginalization. The article switches focus to explore what kind of progress has been made to reduce experiences of marginalization, specifically by looking at issues of healthcare.
By Patrick Bond  Much has been said about the economic renaissance on the continent that is supposedly reducing the marginalization of millions of Africans. However, Patrick Bond argues that these economic factors are not a real cause to celebrate. A greater cause for celebration could lie with increasingly agitated populations mobilizing together.

Marginalization in Africa: Is the End in Sight?
by Ezine Editors

Marginalization in Africa: Is the End in Sight?

David Olive recently asked in the Toronto Star if a new economic dawn for Africa is capable of lifting millions of Africans out of poverty. There may be hope, reflected in an unprecedented economic boom, GDP growth from 5% to 10%, and a growing middle class. There has been rapid economic growth but this does not necessarily translate into developmental gains. In time, this recent economic resurgence may perhaps be viewed as a key moment setting Africa towards a better future. However, Olive suggests that economic growth is not enough and many African states have been incapable of responding to the needs of their people: “Frenzied activity has not been accompanied by social investment and governance reforms, providing improved schools and public-health initiatives, and the eradication of government and private-sector corruption. (Olive, 2013) The failure of states means that the majority of people across the continent remain marginalized and excluded from real social, economic, cultural and political progress. However, there has been some success and a certain amount of progress that could influence Africa’s future.

This editorial begins a volume of monthly articles that will interrogate the issue of marginalization and the levels of progress being made to reduce the inequities. It will question the origins and nature of marginalization. What drives it? What would progress look like? Is there any being made? This editorial will look at these questions through a healthcare lens. After this, six different writers will explore other factors and examine whether there has been progress in different contexts of marginalization across Africa. In June, the volume continues with a critique of the political and economic forces behind the much-heralded indications that Africa is rising. After that, there will be a state-focused article asking questions of progress in the politics of Kenya. The articles that follow will discuss: the cultural and economic struggles of, and progress made by, Nigerian women; how Ugandan teachers face up to economic and social realities; the problems of exclusion confronting people with Albinism in Zimbabwe; and finally, in November, to lead into our next volume on women’s empowerment, a feminist perspective on the marginalized mixed-race populations in Tanzania.

What is marginalization?

What do we mean by marginalization and the resulting social exclusion? The two are sometimes conflated. A fine distinction reads, “marginalization means… weakening of the ligatures between the individual and the society. Social exclusion is the utmost form of marginalization.” (Lämsä, 2012) Social exclusion is “…a complex and multi-dimensional process. It involves the lack, or denial, of resources, rights, goods and services, and the inability to participate in the normal relationships and activities, available to the majority of people in a society, whether in economic, social, cultural or political arenas. It affects both the quality of life of individuals and the equity and cohesion of society as a whole.” (Levitas, 2007) This definition implies that the state plays a pivotal role. States that do not possess strong social bonds with their domestic population as a whole witness a greater degree of marginalization and more social exclusion.

States have a responsibility to provide their people with some basic human rights. States fail when they do not provide for, or withdraw protection of, the human rights of their people. Increasing marginalization and social exclusion gradually erodes these rights. These processes can be played out through various circumstances: “ethnicity, race, religion, sexual orientation, caste, descent, gender, age, disability, HIV status, migrant status or where they live” and across several levels, including the individual, family and community. Staying at the state level, “discrimination occurs in public institutions, such as the legal system or education and health services.” (DFID policy paper 2005) Circumstances can be accentuated by those with power, to exacerbate the political, economic, social and cultural problems of suppressed groups.

What drives marginalization and social exclusion?  

In Africa, like anywhere, marginalization and social exclusion were not created in a vacuum. The extent to which they exist is a result of a combination of factors that are unique to each growing story of African statehood. A non-exhaustive list of factors includes: the cohesion of pre-colonial society, the depth of colonialist interference, the post-colonial interaction with a conglomerate of neo-colonial external actors implicated in African affairs since independence*, African leadership and policy choices. They have provided some of the conditions for the way of life of millions of people. How African governments have responded to these factors is instrumental in explaining the patterns of marginalization and social exclusion that exist today. 

Here, we look at colonial antecedents and the post-colonial legacy. Historical factors should not be viewed as old and static because they set the foundations for explaining the origins of marginalization and social exclusion. They are an important spark. While not deterministic, they acknowledge that the genesis of marginalization and social exclusion can be related to a country’s unique colonial experience. This helps provide some contrast to better understand why things go right when they do. Along with their response to other factors that set the conditions, the ability of states to respond to their unique colonial legacy is reflected in how they exhibit leadership, create policies and govern.

At the onset of independence, each colonial legacy was a question to be addressed by emerging African governments. On the whole, “[f]rom the 1870s onwards, the integration of labour, capital and commodity markets promoted by empire was very much skewed towards its ‘white’ settler societies. The economic benefits of empire for the so-called dependent colonies were much more meagre in comparison or did not exist at all…. We should remember that for much of the last century the form of globalisation the world experienced rested on a view of social relations governed by racial hierarchies.” (BBC, 2011) This is a disadvantageous starting position from which to build equitable societies. Colonialism was rooted in violence, and predicated on solidifying power, the exploitative control of others, and reaping material wealth for as long as possible.

In some cases, African ruling classes were able to manipulate and extend this power for their own benefit. The colonial mission, vision and values were antithetical to the formation of any meaningful relation with the general body politic for self-rule. It was rather in the interest of the state, as understood by the new African ruling classes, to appropriate some of the colonial imprints within the structures of the state to pursue predatory policies. The inherent inequities of these policies underpinned the transition to a political legacy of authoritarianism for new African governments. “In post-independence Africa, most states became authoritarian. Rather than distribute benefits in a universalistic manner, incumbents could now allocate them more narrowly, thereby retaining a greater portion for themselves.” (Bates 2008, p.47) This, “restructuring of African political institutions thus triggered a logic of exclusion, resulting in political privilege and economic inequality.” (Ibid p.51) Driven by the strengthening of incentives for political elites, the logic of exclusion is powerful and polarizing. As witnessed by the fact that the post-independence period has failed to see many equitable and equally binding social contracts being instilled between states and their people. Most Africans have had little to do with determining the legitimacy of state power. Disparate groups live within fabricated state lines, with little consideration of their needs. This divides the haves and have-nots across populations. It stunts the development of an equitable relationship between the state and its people because that tendency to intensify inequalities can become entrenched within societal structures and the lineages of the state over time. (Poku and Mdee, 2011).

Unchecked, marginalization and social exclusion grow as people and the state diverge. The state coerces groups to exist outside of their society from within. It is this relationship with the state that is dire and threatening to individual and community well-being. “Tensions simmer where people are excluded, marginalized and denied meaningful participation in the political and social life of their countries… Unrest flourishes where people are poor, jobless and without hope.” (UNSC, 2013) This aggravates opportunities for conflict. In some cases, it is unclear whether the colonial legacy has ever been fully resolved.

In other cases, however, African governments have been better able to overcome the colonial imprints specific to their situation. Governments that are able to resolve this question, by rejecting the central tenets of colonial dogma, are in a better position to be able to make the necessary structural changes that will have long lasting benefits for their people by favouring societal gains over predatory gains. It is the implementation of political, social and economic plans that, over time, strengthens social bonds in the population. Good leadership and more equitable policy choices are essential in trying to reduce experiences of marginalization and social exclusion. As a result, society becomes more cohesive and accessible to people.

In some places this is happening. In the case of Botswana, for example, a combination of various factors has contributed to post-independence success, among them, the fact that Botswana did not have a colonial experience that was as deeply felt as many other sub-Saharan African (SSA) countries. This is a condition more conducive for expressing strong leadership and generating inclusive policies. Policies were set forth that would increase personal freedoms, induce economic growth, open up trade opportunities, and reduce corruption. In other countries, such as Rwanda, Niger and Ghana, the depth and repercussions of colonial reach has varied markedly. Eventually though, in each case, the question of legacy is addressed enough to subsequently help governments adopt improved policies that have led to structural changes. According to one Index, these countries are variously seeing some improvements in areas like education, governance, personal freedoms, economy, entrepreneurial opportunities and health. There’s still much to do but this is encouraging. It shows what kind of progress can be made.

What does progress look like? Healthcare as an example 

The Index mentioned above also indicates, relative to the rest of the SSA region, the nine countries that rank highest in governance are the same ones that score highest in health ratings (Table 1). This suggests a degree of good governance is linked to better overall health outcomes in the population.

2013 Legatum Prosperity Index (Governance rank, Health rank)

Botswana (1st, 3rd)

Namibia (2, 9)

Rwanda (3, 2)

South Africa (4, 4)

Ghana (5, 1)

Malawi (6, 5)

Benin (7, 8)

Niger (8, 7)

Senegal (9, 6)

Individual health is important to everyone. It is a basic human right that beholdens a state to provide healthcare services to its population. The affordability and accessibility of healthcare services are more likely to be efficient, effective and to reach more people if countries’ policies on health are embedded within state structures that are increasingly cohesive and inclusive. The situations in the countries listed above are not perfect. Their citizens, however, are better off in terms of broad health outcomes than the people who live in countries that lag at the bottom of African governance ratings (e.g., Chad, DRC and Guinea). In these places and others, ‘Politik Kills’.

States with poor governance demonstrate a greater inability and unwillingness to respond to their peoples’ health needs. This contributes to rising inequalities or inequities+. Within the African context, the extent of negative health is an indictment of state failure. “Health is fundamentally a political question; it is a key signifier (more so than economic growth) of the state of the nation and of the provision of basic services… Poor health is therefore not simply a description of the condition of the continent; it is perhaps the starkest indicator of political failure.” (Poku and Mdee 2011, pp. 99-100). Inherently unequal power relationships mean that marginalized people have little ability to change dysfunctional state apparatuses. This, “combined with international influence on the role of the market and cost sharing in the delivery of services, has fundamentally prevented the development of robust and effective primary healthcare systems.” ( Ibid pp. 118-119). The gulf in health inequalities and inequities between states and their people is symptomatic of marginalization and social exclusion maturating. Given the power structures in several African states, the community well-being and public health of the population is an afterthought at best.

An interesting question arises. If an ideal outcome to aim for is universal health coverage, how can it be integrated within the social fabrics of countries that experience high levels of marginalization and social exclusion? In other words, “how can one ‘include’ people and groups into structured systems that have systematically ‘excluded’ them in the first place?” (Labonte, 2004) Health inequalities between the haves and the have-nots within many African societies are apparent as African health systems, in general, remain underfunded, overstretched, and understaffed. 

Encouragingly, several countries have committed more funds to healthcare in recent years, demonstrating some positive results. Despite this, “increased wealth does not necessarily lead to improved health, particularly for the poorest segments of society.” (African Development Bank 2013, p. 1) Inclusive and equitable policies can help translate that money into promoting healthier outcomes for the most marginalized people.  Misspending by governments also creates inequities of access leading to an increase in out-of-pocket spending on health services. The poorest segments of the population are most adversely affected by this, being encumbered with greater costs. This is amplified when resources in the country are skewed to the top. Not only are the poorest least served by the ‘public provision of curative services,’ (Castro-Leal 2000, p. 71) but private coverage remains unobtainable and the public spending that does occur will benefit the wealthier classes more. Public health dollars are not being spent effectively to address the needs of all of society, especially the poor. 

Nonetheless, there are successes. Certain progress is being made across health outcomes in SSA, as the following three examples illustrate: (1) Overall, life expectancy in Africa has increased from 38 years in 1950 to 56 years in 2012. (2) More and more HIV-positive people are receiving better antiretroviral drugs. (3) Significant funds focused on tackling the three biggest killers—HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis—have had an impact. However, progress is relative. It depends on where you are coming from and where you want to go. A patchwork of solutions does not always make a quilt of progress.

Structural progress is different from finding solutions to specific issues. For instance, more HIV-positive people receive better drugs, but Africa still accounts for 66% of the global burden for HIV/AIDS. (AfDB, 2013) In part, this is because prevention efforts have had little influence on affecting the spread of the epidemic.

Overall structural progress will help overcome societal inequities driving the HIV/AIDS endemic. This will mean improvements in areas such as women’s rights, access to sex education, increased provision of female/male birth control, and better access to drugs and treatment for the marginalized. There are strands of progress nationally. Some countries are experiencing compelling reductions in new HIV cases (e.g., Malawi, Botswana and Namibia). This suggests more inclusive health policies have been adopted, especially towards women and children.

Although life expectancy in Africa has increased, it is still the lowest in the world, and its rate of progress is the slowest among all regions. (AfDB, 2013) Africa also has the highest death rates. This suggests less progress has been made in tackling the burden of diseases that impoverish people in African countries. “The bulk of African countries’ disease burden is due to the traditional ‘developing country’ mix of communicable diseases, nutritional deficiencies, and maternal and perinatal conditions.” (Ibid p.7) This signifies that issues of public health, prevention, food security, and women’s rights have not been structurally addressed. The countries that have better addressed structural deficiencies on these issues have shown a greater ability to reduce infant mortality rates and extend the lives of their people (eg., Rwanda and Senegal). Despite significant funding on HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis, arguably it has not been as effective as it could be. Limiting focus on specific issues may detract from strengthening broader public health systems, leaving other health concerns to get overlooked. The presence of public health is negligible in several places. However, places like South Africa and Ghana have taken steps towards building better public health systems in their countries. With the right support, these could be important examples for the future.

Is lasting progress being made?

Ideally, socially-determined universal healthcare in Africa would be embedded within a well-staffed and coordinated network of health-sector partners. Together, they would provide holistic, integrated, effective and comprehensive public healthcare systems for families, individuals and communities. The benefits of this coverage would reach far beyond improving and maintaining individual health outcomes. Good health has been identified as a crucial factor in poverty alleviation and sustainable development outcomes. (eg., Anyanwu and Erhijakpor, 2007) This is because people in good health are more likely to be economically productive and remain participatory members of their communities and families. Children are more likely to go to school. People have a future to plan for. (Rispel, 2009) In some respects, “Universal Health Coverage is the hallmark of a government’s commitment to improve the wellbeing of all its citizens.” (WHO, 2012) However, even beginning down that road may not occur in parts of Africa much before 2060. (AfDB 2013, p.19)  A hundred years on from independence, what will healthcare systems in SSA look like?

Many states have significantly improved some health outcomes for their people. Across the continent there has been real progress in some places but not in others. Will the others strive to bring more equity to healthcare? “Africa’s healthcare systems are at a turning point. The reforms that governments undertake over the next decade will be crucial to cutting mortality rates and improving health outcomes in the continent.” (Economist Intelligence Unit 2011, p.1) There are opportunities on the horizon. “Priorities and goals of the post-2015 agenda will be driven by the recent global commitment to Universal Health Coverage (UHC).” (AfDB 2013 p. 18) Progress will continue as health systems continue to grow. However, sustained progress is needed considering the challenges ahead: climate change, civil conflict, high levels of societal disparities and booming population growth. Beyond 2015, nearly half a billion people in Africa will still be at the margins of society. 

Redressing entrenched societal imbalances presupposes important modifications in the way a state behaves towards its people. In some cases, long-term structural progress may only be accomplished with a transformation of the state into becoming a more equitable partner of the people. Healthcare would be central from that perspective. Affordable and accessible healthcare for all is a means of decreasing marginalization. Indeed, healthier people translate into more involved people. That is a far-off goal for many African countries, and some will be resistant to change. However, more governments are taking the initiative to improve policies that promote greater health outcomes for their people through which experiences of social exclusion and marginalization can be reduced.

References and notes

Olive, D., The Toronto Star, ‘A new economic dawn for Africa.’ December 31st, 2013

Lämsä, A-L., ‘Marginalization and Social Exclusion’, 2012. On-line presentation

Levitas R., et al., ‘The Multi-Dimensional Analysis of Social Exclusion’, 2007. Cited in Poverty and Social Exclusion UK

DFID, 2005, 'Reducing Poverty by Tackling Social Exclusion: A DFID Policy Paper', p. 3 http://www.gsdrc.org/go/topic-guides/social-exclusion/introduction

* Conglomerate of external actors means here: Other states, especially former colonial empires and Cold War actors; political and economic global institutions, including the UN, the World Bank and the IMF; trans- and multinational corporations; and the illicit private-financial sector.

BBC interview with Prof. Thompson, A., ‘Is Britain to blame for many of the world's problems?’ 2011

Bates, R. `When Things Fell Apart: State Failure in Late Century Africa’. 2008, pp.47 – 51

Poku, N. and Mdee, A., `Politics in Africa: A New Introduction`, 2011

Ban Ki-moon, UNSC debate on conflict prevention. 2013

Chao, M., 'Politik kills', La Radiolina, 2008, Because Music.

+ WHO, ‘Understanding and tackling social exclusion’, 2008. Cited here. What are health inequities or inequalities? Health inequities are avoidable inequalities in health between groups of people within countries and between countries. These inequities arise from inequalities within and between societies. Social and economic conditions and their effects on people’s lives determine their risk of illness and the actions taken to prevent them becoming ill or treat illness when it occurs. The World Health Organization (WHO). Social Determinants of Health: Key Concepts

Poku and Mdee, p. 99-119.

Labonte, R. ‘Social inclusion/exclusion: dancing the dialectic.’ Health Promotion International 19(1), 115-121, 2004. Cited here

Ndikumana, L. and Boyce, J., ‘Africa’s Odious Debts: How Foreign Loans and Capital Flight Bled a Continent.’ 2011, Chapter 4, pp 74-80. Cited here

African Development Bank, ‘Health in Africa over the next 50 years’ 2013 pp. 1-20

Castro-Leal et al., ‘Public spending on health care in Africa: do the poor benefit?’ 2000, p. 71

AfDB, ‘Health in Africa over the next 50 years’ 2013 p. 7

Anyanwu, J., and Erhijakpor, ‘Health Expenditures and Health Outcomes in Africa’ 2007, p. 3

Rispel, L., et al. ‘Can social inclusion policies reduce health inequalities in sub-Saharan Africa? – A rapid policy appraisal.’ J Health Popul Nutr. Aug 2009; 27(4): 492–504

WHO definition ‘What is universal health coverage’ October 2012, is used here.

AfDB, ‘Health in Africa over the next 50 years’ 2013 p.19

Economist Intelligence Unit, ‘The future of healthcare in Africa’, Foreword, 2011

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The Afro-pessimistic ‘Rising’ and Afro-optimistic Uprising
by Patrick Bond

The Afro-pessimistic ‘Rising’ and Afro-optimistic Uprising

In Maputo in late May, yet another ‘Africa Rising’ conference was the talk of the town, as Christine Lagarde (2014) and her International Monetary Fund staff repeated the mantra of ‘governance, transparency and sound economic frameworks.’ Getting these factors right, she claims, is responsible for Sub-Saharan Africa’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth by 4.7 % in 2013, with anticipated rates increasing to 5.3 in 2014 and 5.4 in 2015.

At another fancy hotel nearby, I sat in a conference of ruling political party officials, of which several – our host the Frente de Libertação de Moçambique (Frelimo), plus the African National Congress (ANC), the South West People’s Organisation (Swapo) of Namibia and the Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (Zanu-PF) – have long traditions of what they forthrightly call anti-imperialist politics. 

The politicians’ frank discussion about the IMF revealed how few really believed the Africa Rising hype. They recognised that the rhetoric it generates reproduces the kinds of banal, export-led, primary product-dependent and extractive economic orientations we have seen in this region for so long (e.g. Perry 2012, Robertson 2013). Even though they themselves now benefit, as comprador allies of foreign capital, these party officials sense that this is what is responsible for southern Africa’s world leadership in social inequality, ecological destruction, corporate corruption and social unrest. Swapo Politburu member Kazenambo Kazenambo, for example, had no hesitation in terming the current situation ‘neocolonialism’.

But no one had a plan to reverse matters, and worse, there is a new dimension that sometimes brings false hope: South-South exploitation. An unexpected threat – the addition of Brazil, Russia, India and China, with South Africa (BRICS) increasing its own regional dominance – is on the horizon. This in turn requires a much richer sense of Africa ‘uprising’ than we have had since the early 1980s (Bond 2006), and it is a future in which both resistance to extraction and national protest can fuse in a genuine bottom-up Afro-optimism that we seek in our conclusion.

What’s being celebrated?

Let us first consider three arguments that are used to celebrate ‘Africa Rising’, and indeed form the essence of the ‘Africa Rising’ meme: the claim of a massive new middle class, the explosive increases in cellular telephony capacity, and the GDP and per capita GDP increases in sub-Saharan Africa. 

According to African Development Bank (AfDB) chief economist Mthuli Ncube, ‘one in three Africans is middle class,’ and as a result, Africa is ready for ‘take-off‘. Yet, that ‘middle class’ is defined as those who spend between $2 (sic) and $20 per day. Higher prices of most consumer durables in Africa frustrate the fifth of the continent who are in the $2-$4 per day, while the range from $4-$20 per day amounts to 13 %, with only 5% spending more than $20 per day (Smith 2011). Ncube’s definition of a 313 million-strong ‘middle’ is, simply, farcical (Enaudeau 2013).

Secondly, mobile use doubled between 2012 and 2013. Africans are far better off with cell phones, and the opportunities they present, than without them. However, there are profound weaknesses: the role of multinational capital in absorbing profits and dividends; the lack of genuine competition (collusion is notorious even in the largest economy, South Africa); relatively high prices for cell phone handsets and services; and limited technological linkages to internet service. Researchers Enrico Calandro, Alison Gillwald, Mpho Moyo and Christoph Stork (2010) have remarked on a host of ICT deficiencies. Across nearly all of Africa, cell phone penetration rates ‘remain below the 40 percent critical mass believed to trigger the network effects associated with economic growth… The Africa-wide broadband penetration rate is below 2 percent; internet connection costs are prohibitively high; digital literacy and the affordability of access devices like personal computers is expected to remain a challenge.’  

As for the third argument of the ‘Africa Rising’ meme, GDP and per capita GDP increases in sub-Saharan Africa since around 1995, after fifteen years of decline, may seem impressive at first glance (Figure 1). However, they do not tell the full story. 

But while GDP has risen, the concurrent looting of Africa’s natural resources resulted in a dramatic decline in the continent’s mineral and petroleum wealth. The category ‘Adjusted Net Savings’ incorporates such resource-stripping. The last dozen years witnessed a dramatic decline in Africa’s broadest measure of wealth, including ‘natural capital’ in the form of non-renewable minerals and petroleum. In Africa, non-renewable resources are dug out of the soil by multinational corporations which repatriate the profits or transfer-price the revenues to their advantage. As a result, the permanent debit against genuine national savings – i.e. a decline in a country’s natural capital stock, its ‘family silver’ – far exceeds the momentary credit to GDP. 

By how much? It’s impossible to say with any degree of accuracy. It is substantial and getting worse. Since the commodity boom began in the early 2000s, according to the 2011 World Bank report The Changing Wealth of Nations, Africa has suffered negative ‘genuine savings’: the continent is steadily growing poorer. Figure 2, from that book, shows that once non-renewable resources are removed from Gross National Income (GNI), along with other small adjustments, the fall in Adjusted Net Savings is sharp, to negative 6% of national income by 2008. This is mainly because of non-renewable resource decay in the context of resource-cursed neo-colonial politics.

Actually, The Changing Wealth of Nations is rather conservative in calculating non-renewable resource depletion, leaving out several important minerals (including diamonds and uranium), and also neglecting the tax fraud and transfer pricing associated with transnational capital. These problems are documented by Khadija Sharife (2011) in Tax Us If You Can and by Leonce Ndikumana and James Boyce (2011, 2012a, 2012b). Sarah Bracking and Sharife (2014) recently showed how $2.83 billion in mis-invoicing by DeBeers was condoned by an asleep-at-the-wheel South African diamond valuation office. Dick Forslund (2014) demonstrated massive under-recovery of stated revenues by the world’s three largest platinum companies. These are just a few examples that rebut the Africa Rising mantra. 

Other economic trends

At the same time its economy is allegedly booming, Africa is deindustrialising. According to ActionAid economist Rick Rowden (2013), ‘despite some improvements in a few countries, the bulk of African countries are either stagnating or moving backwards when it comes to industrialization.’ As Table 1 shows, the proportion of GDP made up of manufacturing – a typical sign of maturing economic activity – has been shrinking in Africa, from a peak of 15.3% in 1990 to 10.5% in 2008. Indeed from 1990-2010, manufacturing value added (MVA) fell in 23 African countries and was weak in 27 others (Unctad 2011). Of even greater concern, Rowden (2013) reports, ‘Africa is also losing ground in labour-intensive manufacturing. Its share of low-technology manufacturing activities in MVA Added fell from 23 percent in 2000 to 20 percent in 2008.’ At the same time, Africa’s total imports and exports were falling in relative terms, from 6.5% to 4.9% of world volumes from 1980 to 2008. 
                        Table 1: 
Manufacturing shrinkage and mining growth, 1970-2008 (Source: UNCTAD, 2011)


% share of GDP







Developing economies








Mining & utilities







African developing economies








Mining & utilities







The internal driver of growth in Africa during the 2000s, far outstripping manufacturing and even commodity exports, was ‘private consumption.’ One side effect, given African deindustrialisation of even basic consumer-durable industries, was the rise of import bills. These bills were covered thanks to a dramatic rise in private bank credit as a percentage of GDP: from 14.3 in 2002 to 19.0 by 2008. But the period from 1980 to 2004 was also replete with bank failures and credit contraction across structurally-adjusted Africa. According to John Karikari (2010), ‘excluding the top 15 countries, the ratio of private sector bank credit to GDP declined by about 50 percent, on average, from 17.2 percent to 8.7 during this period.’

Financial markets in Africa are again deepening, which is important, but largely as a result of foreign inflows that are reaching dangerous levels, as even Lagarde (2014) remarked in Maputo. At what cost do foreigners enter our stock and bond markets? According to Joseph Stiglitz and Hamid Rashid (2013), ‘By February 2013 ten African economies had collectively raised $8.1 billion from their maiden sovereign-bond issues, with an average maturity of 11.2 years and an average coupon rate of 6.2 percent. These countries’ existing foreign debt, by contrast, carried an average interest rate of 1.6 percent with an average maturity of 28.7 years.’ Stiglitz and Rashid warn that when ‘shortsighted financial markets’ combine ‘with shortsighted governments’, this could lay ‘the groundwork for the world’s next debt crisis’ in countries which they term Africa’s ‘subprime borrowers.’ The debt is exacerbated by easy sovereign credit oriented to extractive infrastructure provided by China. Trade with China rose from around 5 to 20% of Africa’s total from 1994-2012. 

Another factor in Africa’s decline is elite disinvestment, which continues to outpace aid and investment (Mbeki 2012). There was an estimated $1.4 trillion in capital flight from the continent – both sub-Saharan and North ends – from 1970-2010, according to research by Ndikumana and Boyce (2012a, 2012b). Moreover, since the global economic crisis replaced once-flush US and European public budgets with bank bailouts and an austerity mentality, Africa has suffered stagnant overseas development aid – already around 60% ‘phantom’ anyhow (ActionAid 2006) – to most African countries (except 14 ‘fragile states’) (Elliott 2012).

In sum, is ‘Africa Rising’? No, Africa is not rising for the millions of Africans who remain marginalized and excluded across the continent. Only the corporations which loot Africa and a very few comprador elites are prospering, and at great risk to both long-term and short-term prosperity, thanks to the extreme distortions they introduce. As Jumoke Balogun (2013) put it at the Compare Afrique website, ‘Considering that Africa is the poorest and most underdeveloped continent on the globe, these numbers provide a startling account of the current state of play: the few who have, have everything, and the majority who don’t, have nothing. This is not to suggest that Africans who have amassed great personal wealth are culpable for the alarming disparity, but this is what uneven development looks like. This is where Africa is. This is what many deem worthy of celebration.’

The editor of Pambazuka News, Ama Biney (2013), has also debunked ‘Africa Rising’ rhetorics: ‘For whom does it rise? It rises for neoliberal and neo-colonial African governments selling off large tracts of land to outsiders for food or bio-fuel jatropha while their people go hungry and landless… It rises for a small African middle class whilst the 99 percent remain in the rural areas as farmers, unable to get subsidies like their European counterparts whose governments intervene on their behalf.’

Africa Uprising

Within the ‘Africa Rising’ narrative, we might regard the African elites pessimistically as a 1% with parasitical tendencies. Nevertheless, there are grounds for optimism, thanks to various 99% uprisings in Africa that emerged parallel to movements like Occupy and Southern European, Turkish and Brazilian mobilisations since 2011. 

Recognising a major upswing in protests across the continent in one of their Africa socio-economic indicator reports, even the AfDB et al (2013) and Agence France Press acknowledged, ‘Protests in sub-Saharan Africa were mostly over economic concerns. More than half of public protests were to demand salary increases or to complain against the increasing cost of living.’ These were not isolated, for ‘nearly all African countries faced increased protests’ in 2011.

Protest counting methodologies differ across the continent. For example, South African police minister Nathi Mthethwa (2013) recorded 1882 violent protests in the year 2012-13, with thousands more non-violent protests. The year before, that count was 1,091; over prior years the peak had been 1,185 in 1998 and the trough was 562 in 2004 (Bond and Mottiar 2013), but the distinct trend line has been rising.

In 2013, more sophisticated cartographic representations and correlations to media databases became available, even if the Africa protest records found in northern press reports are a small fraction of what was happening on the ground. Political scientist John Beieler mapped major protest events for the first eight months of the year, as shown in Figure 4, including on a month-by-month basis (e.g. April). Again, the undercounting is a serious problem, but the diversity of protest sites in Africa is revealing nevertheless. The increase in frequency of protests in Africa (and the world over) since 1979 can be viewed here.

Another way to assess the potential for African uprisings is to consult the World Economic Forum’s annual Global Competitiveness Report. To the delight of Afro-optimists from below, that document’s 2013 edition shows that the continent’s labour activists are easily the world’s most militant, even if not yet most effective. In one questionnaire given to representative samples of corporate managers, the topic of ‘Cooperation in labour-employer relations’ is quantified on a scale of 1 to 7, from ‘generally confrontational’ to ‘generally cooperative.’ The mean for the worlds’ working classes was 4.3, i.e. with a bias towards quiescence. Table 2 shows partial results from the poll of 148 countries, and of 20 of the 39 African countries surveyed. In total, twenty-eight were higher than the world’s mean level of militancy. South Africa was the most militant working class, for the second year in a row. 

This degree of anger must, at some stage, result in a more effective uprising than has been accomplished anywhere to date, and South Africa may be most ripe, with a trade union movement exposing a clear divide between those more firmly committed to class struggle (the largest single union, the 340,000-strong metalworkers) and those still suffering an attitude of ‘class snuggle’. 

                                                  Table 2: Africa’s relative working-class militancy – partial ranking

Global Ranking          -          Country          -          Militancy Score

top 5 pliable working classes shown, followed by 20 African countries, rated 1-7

1           Switzerland           6.0

54           Mali                     4.5

2           Singapore               6.0

91           Morocco             4.1

3           Denmark                5.8

93           Uganda               4.1

4           Norway                   5.8

95           Malawi               4.1

5           Netherlands          5.7

100         Nigeria               4.1

28         Gambia, The         5.0

141         Chad                   3.3

32         Rwanda                 4.9

142         Mauritania        3.3

36         Côte d’Ivoire        4.8

143         Burundi             3.2

38          Mauritius             4.8

145         Angola                3.1

45          Seychelles            4.6

148         South Africa      2.6

At the height of North Africa’s uprising in 2011, the IMF’s (2011) then managing director, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, was asked by a journalist, ‘Do you have any fears that there is perhaps a far left movement coming through these revolutions that want more, perhaps, closed economies? I mean, there have been a lot of pictures of Guevara there.’ His answer: ‘Good question. Good question. There’s always this risk, but I’m not sure it will materialize.’ Strauss-Kahn interpreted these protests properly: as an attack on the ‘Africa Rising’ meme of extractivist, export-oriented neoliberalism, although he concluded in an Afro-pessimistic way: ‘We’re in a globalized world, so there is no domestic solution.’

But it is precisely because we’re in a globalized world that there are so many extraordinary opportunities to link activists whose local campaigns against extractivism are readily joined by allies (Ekine 2011). 
Let the majority rise

A few days before Lagarde’s Mozambique trip, a rice ‘land-grab’ by Chinese investors north of Maputo which led to substantial displacement was the subject of peasant protests. This followed similar protests by Tete Province victims of the Brazilian firm Vale – itself now the main target of unified BRICS activists – and of India’s Jindal, as well as of the Japanese-Brazilian ProSAVANA project in Nampula Province. 

As the União Nacional de Camponeses (2014) peasant movement put it in a May Day declaration, ‘the marginalization and total exclusion of peasants from the definition and prioritization of national development policies, particularly those with an agrarian focus; the systematic violations of peasants’ land rights by mining, hydrocarbons and agribusiness megaprojects and other private and public investments; the successive attempts by certain sectors of government and others of increasing profitability and privatization of land, represent to us peasants a national emergency, for which we are called to position ourselves and toughen our resistance and struggle agenda. In 1975 the country knew Independence and Peace, but today communities are once again immersed in a setting of oppression by companies and by Government.’

Can such protests and sentiments coagulate and move from local to national to continental to global scales in the coming years? If so, what would they be potentially articulating as an antidote to the dominant narrative? Biney (2013) has the last word: ‘If Africa is to rise, surely it must rise for the greatest majority of its people – particularly the unemployed youth in many African countries; those living with disabilities ostracised and stigmatised by cultural taboos and attitudes; albino individuals who also face similar stigmatisation; women; the poor; those in need of ARV drugs to prolong the quality of their lives as they live with HIV/AIDS as well as LBGTI individuals persecuted in many African countries?... If Africa is to rise, it must heed Thomas Sankara and “dare to invent the future” based on a new egalitarian economic system that centres people before profits and in which ordinary people critically control the production of what they produce and how they produce it.’

Patrick Bond directs the University of KwaZulu-Natal Centre for Civil Society. His recent books are South Africa - The Present as History (co-authored with John Saul) and Elite Transition (3rd edition). 


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