Saturday, December 04, 2010

Africa: Another Africa is Emerging

Photo Credit: Eva Siegel, Harvard Kennedy School Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs

By Paola Valeri*

IDN-InDepth NewsAnalyisis

MADRID (IDN) - Africa could be self-sufficient and in a position to feed itself within a span of one generation. This is what Professor Calestous Juma, from Harvard Kennedy School in the United States, told the leaders of the East African Community (EAC) in an informal meeting in Arusha, Tanzania, on December 2, 2010. The theme was African food security and climate change,

In fact, a new study titled 'The New Harvest: Agricultural Innovation in Africa', autored by Juma, and funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, illustrates how policies that for decades have promoted export of raw materials and import of food, could be turned around in a way that proves beneficial for Africa in particular and the world at large. At present, 70 percent of employment in Africa is linked to agriculture.

Investing in technology and knowledge is therefore the best way to modernize the continent's economy, ensure food security to millions of people and also to fight climate change, desertification and greenhouse effect, according to Mohamed Béavogui, director of western and Central Africa Division of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD).

Brazil, a country of more than 190 millions of people, managed to achieve food security within a period of five years, and Africa could undergo a similar transformation if agriculture is backed by technology, appropriate infrastructure and know-how.

A model of what could be attained aided by the right kind of policies is offered by the programs on HIV/Aids in Africa, where the investments that have proved to be more effective are those focussing more on the support to civil society and education, and less on treatments.

Media tend to use in their coverage of Africa stereotype images that reflect only one segment of reality on the continent and thus lead to false information. A case in point is that South Asia accounts for the largest number of underweight children -- 46 percent of all underweight children. But if we think of an underweight child, the image that comes to our mind is that of an African child.

Global and local policies have favoured Africa's dependence and financial assistance has proved to be a fuel for corruption rather than for economic growth.

Establishing a direct link between media's projection of Africa and public or global policies in and for the continent is possibly unwarranted and rather daring. However media bears a distinct responsibility for nurturing an image of helplessness that does not reflect the real Africa and the efforts of its people to jump into the 21st century and take their destiny in their own hands.

Various signs indicate the great potential of this old continent, in spite of the many challenges ahead.

In the last fifteen years Africa made consistent progress in tackling the pressing problem of undernourishment, reducing it by five percent, or primary education, that increased from 58 to 76 percent in Sub-Saharan Africa.

In terms of the Millennium Development Goals (MDG), several African countries are making significant progress. Ghana, for example, has achieved Goal 1: Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger.

According to UNDP, "Rwanda presents a unique case in development and in the progress towards achieving the MDGs. Whereas many countries were on course to implement the MDGs in the 1990s and beyond, Rwanda has been recovering from the tragic and devastating genocide and civil war of 1994."

UNDP also reports that immunisation services are highly successful in Malawi, and progress is expected in MDGs in that country in the areas of health, education, gender, environment, and governance.


For Themba James Maseko, CEO of the Government Communication and Information System of South Africa, it is time for a paradigm shift in the way Africa and the entire developing world is perceived by the media and decision-makers.

Challenges ahead are obvious and these must be addressed. Maseko identifies five key areas of change: the need of leadership that is able to tackle poverty, children and women abuse, and human rights; economic policies to promote investments and entrepreneurship; the need to address the Diaspora, the brain-drain and the loss of skills and knowledge; the need to address environmental issues ranging from deforestation to uncontrolled extractive activities, to desertification; and the need to fight corruption.

There are other signs that also indicate that dynamic Africa is ready for change: as an example, the growth in mobile use. Between 2003 and 2008 subscriptions to mobile phones have increased in Africa by 550 percent, growing from 54 millions to 350 millions. Access to broad band is still difficult in many countries, for this reason mobile devices have turned into a basic tool for small and medium companies.

Today, African countries are pioneering in the use of bank services and electronic transaction via mobile phone. In Kenya, Tanzania, South Africa, and Zambia, mobile phone network operators offer payment and money transfer services without the intervention of banks, and payments via SMS are very popular in rural areas.

Africa is the the world's second-largest and second most-populous continent, possibly the youngest with almost half of its population younger than 15, and has the highest fertility rate. Even if media are not taking the note, another Africa is on the rise, a dynamic one that has ideas and is willing to address the serious challenges it still has to solve. And this other Africa, needs universal support, for the sake of the entire world.

*Paola Valeri works for the publishing and editorial unit of a global human rights NGO and is also a senior editorial writer for the magazine Civilización Global. (IDN-InDepthNews/03.12.2010)