Africa is a place where many things have been changing and continue to change for the better, writes Hassan Ba, David Applefield, Tumi Makgabo, Mugo Kibati, Kola Karim, Euvin Naidoo, Rosa Whitaker, and Ali Belhaj.
or all the enthusiastic response to President Obama’s July address in Ghana and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s first Africa visit in August, there is another Africa in which the Obama message of African accountability resonates differently. This “other Africa” is the one that doesn’t make the news or need the pep talk. Yet for a decade or more, many parts of Africa have been quietly leaving their colonial legacy behind, building infrastructure, nurturing democratic traditions, curbing corruption, and resolving longstanding ethnic rivalries. Some historical perspective is in order: most of Africa’s 54 countries have only been independent for 50 years or less. Evaluating African progress today is like assessing the state of America in 1825. Recall that the US, too, struggled with its own public health challenges, like small pox and yellow fever. Remember that America’s unparalleled infrastructure was not built in a day – or even a century. 1825 marked the much-hailed opening of the muddy Erie Canal. Violent conflict with the nation’s indigenous peoples – namely, the American Indians – was widespread. Democratic and developed nations mature slowly. Like the youthful America, Africa too has been maturing but its problems should be


seen as part of the natural development pains and not the absence of its emergence. The post election conflagration in the country of Obama’s own roots – Kenya – could be viewed in similar light: a crucial but necessary stage in the organic journey toward socioeconomic maturation.

ethnic conflicts, and the shenanigans of Africa’s remaining despots. Even Barack Obama, in his eloquent and friendly speech, structured his Africa agenda around the continent’s traditional shortcomings. The on-the-ground facts in Africa are more complicated. A new breed of African leaders and its can-do thinking gained gravitas in the 1980s and 90s under three pillars: significant advancement in civil liberties; disengagement with State control in favor of an emerging civil society and private enterprise; and the opening up of African society to public education, urbanism, and emigration. Young leaders – especially women – have filled important political and economic roles in most African countries for more than a decade. They are at the front line against corruption, fight for transparent management of public funds, and have risked their own security for a new understanding of common African good. Thousands of African women have decided to enter the political arena on the local, national, and continental levels. They have often succeeded in uprooting patriarchal systems that blocked gender parity and helped send exceptional leaders to the state house, such as

Young leaders – especially women – have filled important political and economic roles in most African countries for more than a decade.
Just as Americans prefer to remember the visionary heroes of the 19th century like Eli Whitney, Robert Fulton, John Deere, and Charles Goodyear, Africa’s new leadership beckons attention. Today you may not have heard of Mo Ibrahim, Aliko Dangote, Binta Diop, Ismaïla Sidibé, Vimal Shah, or Patrice Motsepé, but Africa, too, has its share of contemporary heroes. Much of the western world is unfamiliar with the new African elite – indeed most media coverage of Africa perpetually concentrates on the continent’s public health problems,

Corporate Africa 2009


Durban is the second most populous city in South Africa.

Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, president of Liberia and Luisa Diogo, the first female prime minister of Mozambique. This new Africa elite includes young business leaders and entrepreneurs who have succeeded in making several African economies some of the fastest growing in the world, including Tanzania, Congo, Angola, and Malawi. Well before President Obama’s visit, many people in Africa were already comfortable talking about Africa’s need to “count on itself” and be rid of the shackles of external aid – which has proven inefficient and infantalizes a continent of capable adults. This new elite has learned, too, to embrace the practice of self-criticism – and to insist that the rest of the world approach its partnerships with the new Africa based on mutual respect, not as former colonial masters. The new generation of African leaders have identified seven priority areas to which they are applying their leadership: • The rethinking of the African Union as a genuine regional institution from the ground up, and the creation of one vast market with a consensus of shared values. • The establishment of solid and sustainable national democratic institutions in nations like Liberia and Zambia. • Food production that eliminates food insecurity and starvation for the entire African continent. • The development of human capital via education and professional training. • The construction of modern infrastructure (airports, ports, roads, and bridges) throughout much of the continent. • The creation of an attractive business environment compatible with sustainable development and social justice. • The drafting of a New Green Deal for Africa that positions the continent to be a global exporter of renewable energy and a primary provider of carbon credits. To solidify and reinforce Africa’s emerging economies and democracies, Africa’s new leaders welcome western leaders’ firm condemnation of corrupt leaders who subvert constitutions and foreign corporations who circumvent the law. Yes, the fight against poverty and AIDS is far from over in Africa. Yet Africa, fueled by its own talent and self-belief, is making far more progress than westerners Hassan Ba

David Applefield realize. It is often said that it is always darkest before dawn. But Africa’s dawn has already arrived. Hassan Ba, special advisor to the president of Senegal, is currently writing a book on Africa’s new leadership. David Applefield is a specialist in African media and small business . Tumi Makgabo is a South African television producer and CEO of Tumi and Co; Mugo Kibati is the founder of Miliki Ventures in Nairobi, Kenya; Kola Karim is the CEO of Shoreline Energy International in Lagos, Nigeria; Euvin Naidoo is the CEO of the South African Chamber of Commerce in Boston; Rosa Whitaker, the CEO of The Whitaker Group, served as the Assistant US Trade Representative for Africa in the Bill Clinton and George W. Bush administrations, and Ali Belhaj is a leading Moroccan politician. n

Corporate Africa 2009


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