In the last two and half years I visited professionally three sub-Saharan countries, besides a brief visit to South Africa: Ghana, Tanzania and Uganda and now again privately Tanzania. In spite of the private character of this last visit I had time and interest to consider the special challenges for African countries, most of them also challenges for Europe. And as with the Middle East - maybe more indirectly - peace and stability in Africa is helping to maintain peace and stability in Europe. (See my respective article on the relationship between the development in Middle East and Europe.)
Africa: Continent of Desperation or Hope?
Africa, this vast and very diverse continent is not often in the European news. Yes, when there is a conflict, a civil war with some interferences from the neighbors there are reports about it. And there is always some satisfaction, that the refugees predominately flee into another -poor- African country. But now in connection with the refugees coming across the Mediterranean Sea and especially with the growing number of refugees coming from Syria, Iraq etc. the threat of all the -black- Africans coming to Europe made headlines.
This danger was especially underlined in view of the COP21, the Climate Conference in Paris in December. Because the climate change would affect Subsaharian Africa in dramatic ways unless drastic measures are undertaken to limit the rise of the temperature of our globe. The coasts would be affected by the rising sea-level and the inner parts by growing desertification. The climate changes would bring more hardship to a continent already characterized by many environmental problems, poverty and conflicts.
As such the continent is not poor, looking to the endowment with mineral resources, oil and gas but also fertile land. In this respect there are poorer and richer countries. But overall it is a rich continent - or it would be a rich continent if the resources would be used in a diligent, clever and sustainable way. And that includes the human resources as well. That is also the reason why again and again Africa is described as a "Continent of the Future" or that now comes the "Time of Africa"! But it is still unclear what direction Africa and its young population will take.
The Colonial Burden
We do not know, what way the African people would have chosen without the colonial interference and occupation. It was not always equally disastrous but very often it was extremely cruel and devastating. And the slave trade organized by the "Arabs" - often with the help of local chiefs - could never have been an excuse for the crimes the "Europeans" did to the African people. And the European and US neo-colonialists did their job of ruining economic and political relations in many African countries also after the formal end of colonial rule. Many still do it. As always, domestic forces did and do their job in joining to reap the fruits of unequal economic relations for themselves and in depriving the citizens of many benefits of their hard work in agriculture, industry and trade.
The big Issue: Corruption
Corruption having its source in the interconnection of multinational companies - in the meantime also from China and some other BRICS countries - with local forces is one of the big problems of the countries. As a driver during my recent visit to Tanzania stated: how can politicians fight honestly against corruption when already during the elections they try to "buy" votes in order to win. Corruption is not only a financial issue. It became modern -again- to change constitutions of different countries in order to allow presidents to remain in office and in power and run for a third term or even longer. Democracy becomes an issue of political games and is not a principle of good governance. The alternation of government and opposition is not seen as a vital element of democratic systems.
The new President of Tanzania, where a normal democratic process of elections took place, John Magufuli is trying hard since then to fight against incompetence and corruption. Some observers doubt that this can last, as opposition against this fight is growing. In addition some argue that Magufuli is not so independent, because as a minister for public works he must be influenced by the Chinese construction companies, who may also have financed his election campaign. But you could feel in the country a strong hope and expectation, that President Magufuli will succeed in his reformist policies. And it is to be hoped he will insist on a careful and longterm oriented use of the incomes from resources like oil and gas etc.
Certainly tribal structures and divisions are an enormous problem for modernization and good governance. Often it was misused by colonialists for their own interests. For example when the Belgians introduced the differentiation between Tutsi and Hutu in the identity cards of the Ruanda population.
And often national and local African politicians used prejudices between tribes for their purpose. Not to speak about Arpartheid in South Africa. But there are enough examples of good neighborhood and living together peacefully between members of different tribes. As in Europe it is more a question of political leadership which decides if the existing differences and even prejudices lead to conflict and war or not.
One reason of tribal conflicts is certainly the competition about good and valuable/arable land. And it is not always easy to solve such conflicts even for willing governments. As I have stayed for several days in the Maasai area between Mount Meru and Mount Kilimanjaro I asked a well educated and professionally active Maasai who is the enemy of his tribe. He answered without hesitation: the government who wants to grab our land. And only after that he mentioned neighboring tribes but with much less emphasis.
The disputes about land is often one between government and tribes in addition to one between tribes. And this is an important economic issue. Often also companies are involved. Especially those, who with the help of governments need land for new investments - in the case of Tanzania sugar plants to substitute imports. Small farmers who use "government" land are not wiling to give up using this land for farming or raising livestock. They argue against land grab and resist to give up "their" land. To solve these disputes it needs honest governments who are able to act with sensitivity and dialogue in involving the respective citizens and their chiefs for the settlements of conflicts about land.
But it needs also enough land in good environmental quality to offer it in compensation to those who should leave the land used until now. Here we see the necessity to have a successful climate policy over the next years. And it must be supported by an agricultural policy of the richer countries which give the poorer countries like those in Africa a chance to substitute imports or to increase exports. The EU has already improved its agricultural policy in this direction, but more must be done to establish fair trade relations. To feed the growing population in African and elsewhere we need a environmentally sound and sustainable agricultural policy.
And one of the urgent environmental issue is the urbanization in poor countries. Also because of failed agricultural policies - but not only because of this - many people migrate into the cities. But these are not well prepared for such an enormous influx. And many basic investments in transport infrastructure, housing and health services are missing. Cities, if well planned and managed, can contribute to sustainable development. But very often these conditions are not met and are neglected and additional environmental problems are created.
We do not know if all the anxieties and fears about a mass exodus from Africa into Europe could or will come true. But we should not make the test, we do not need a reality check. First of all it is a moral obligation of the rich to help the poor. But in addition it is in the interest of the rich themselves to help the poor neighbors to establish sustainable living conditions. Always there are and will be migration, but it is important to reduce the push factor, where people feel themselves forced to leave their families and countries.
In a globalized world conditions and developments in one part are easily affecting conditions and developments in other parts of the globe. And the richer continents - at least materially richer - attract people from poorer regions. Especially if the richer regions have peace and stability and the poorer are also those of conflicts and wars. The deterioration or improvement of the environment is another decisive factor for emigration and immigration. Who wants peace and stability in Europe must have a convincing policy for our poorer neighbors and specifically for Africa.
The fight against poverty and illiteracy is also important for the resistance against -religious- extremism and terror. Military interventions can be necessary in extreme cases. But it would be much more effective, if we would help the African countries to develop good governance, effective policies against poverty and considerate strategies for sustainable economic and social development. Yes this is easier said than done. But much more could be done than is done today. Instead of spreading fears and anxieties we should act in a comprehensive way in designing and implementing a strategy of development which would at least reduce the incentives to leave the African continent.