“Africa is rich, but Africans are poor.” Africa offers the spectacle of a fractured and poor continent with States that have shown their partial or total incapacity to produce development and provide a fair distribution of its fruits amongst territories and social classes. This paradox can be seen in the poor quality of human resources and the continent’s limited leadership. Except in the very few countries that have made training and, more generally, human development a priority, Africa does not have enough internationally competitive human resources.
One of Africa’s most acute problems is the resignation of its intellectuals at a time when they could play a crucial role as intermediaries between political leaders and the masses, as suggested by the major social changes in South America, at the forefront of which one finds that continent’s intelligentsia. What is fundamentally lacking is an ambitious African leadership that takes responsibility for managing change.
Today the African continent must recover its development project and promote a credible and agile African leadership capable of leaving its mark on African policies and international negotiations. Like agile companies that perceive opportunities and risks in time to react, Africa needs strategist-States that constantly monitor conditions and are agile enough to determine and undertake strategic actions in complex situations.
Massive investment in human capital is the continent’s only hope for acquiring the human resources needed to meet the challenges imposed by the harsh competition surrounding the control of knowledge, which touches both companies and countries. The leadership we are looking for can only come from African intelligentsia—people who are familiar with the new concepts and speak the new language. Africa must also take ownership of the new know-how and gain in business intelligence. Africans cannot be satisfied with basic analysis schemas that are no longer useful in today’s complex world, and will be even less so in future. They must take stock of changes currently in progress, and construct and consolidate a knowledge-based economy to allow Africa to occupy its proper place in global exchanges. The primary responsibility for this lies with African universities.
In Africa, the creation of wealth is so slight and the weight of debt so heavy that international aid—both financial and technical—plays an important role in defining and implementing development policy. African leaders, as a result, feel more indebted to donors than to their own citizens. Reviews by development partners, and the cycle of subsidies, loans, cancellation of debt and its associated conditions are a standard part of public management in most countries. The high percentage of outside aid in countries’ budgets and the associated conditions in fact deprive the leaders of African governments of the capacity to take any autonomous initiatives.
Development cooperation built on the current logic removes the responsibility from Africa. International cooperation is also in crisis. Not only are resources declining, but aid objectives and modalities are also contested. This is symptomatic of the poor fit between old cooperation strategies and the new fact of globalisation. Worse, it creates the illusion that development is possible only through State actions and with support from the outside. Societal development requires a long-term project supported by actors in the society, but short-term interventions—the natural time frame of aid—win out over the long term and encourage the divorce between African societies and their destiny. ‘Donors’ give more than financial support; they also give their opinions, i.e. they make choices in sensitive ‘how to react’ fields, which is why the development models and policies chosen are extroverted. Yet development is above all the responsibility of the country concerned. Discussions on how to renew the framework of partnerships between Africa and its international partners, to give these partnerships meaning and make them more efficient and pertinent, are thus urgently needed. The generalisation of cooperation through budgetary support and decentralised cooperation are of course good first steps toward giving more responsibility to States and local authorities with respect to their own choices, but we need to go further.
We need to define new paradigms to give meaning to international development cooperation, but cooperation must also be built on the indispensable solidarity required to resolve shared problems of worldwide scope (climate change, free circulation of people and goods and the fight against pandemics). Finally, we must diversify and explore partnership opportunities with the various regions of the world to arrive at a wider and more decisive African presence.
Since they became sovereign, most African States have not managed to find their place and become significantly involved in managing international and world affairs. To bounce back from this failure and take their place in the concert of nations, they must be part of a real dynamic of integration that results in the attainment of critical mass and allows them to weigh on the workings of the world.
To be better heard on the international stage, Africa must grant greater political responsibility to its major organisations. In shortage economies, competition and competitors spawned by liberalisation and globalisation bring, of course, a measure of progress. Yet they also cause tensions, high levels of inequality, brutal social relations, social differentiation, mobility and in general an extroversion of the national economy. The regional market is the most promising source of future activity. Future regional demographics will also be a driver of growth for long-term regional trade. Regional complementarity and competition on national markets are strong stimulants for the development of the regional economy. The regional space should be able to offer still-fragile societies a controlled framework for the exchange of goods and services, policy harmonisation, conflict resolution and strategic alliances in the face of the rest of the world.
The main argument for regional integration in the framework of globalisation is based, today, on the conclusion that isolated national development is a dead-end street. So, clearly, we need to accelerate the intra-African process of integration, which is a springboard to and vector of globalisation. There are also global challenges to which Africa cannot remain indifferent. These include, in particular, debates on climate, water, deforestation and security, all of which should allow Africa to reposition itself and become a credible and vital partner to the rest of the world, particularly in view of its natural resources.