Is Experiencing Alarming Economic Decay
Disorder and Conflict Are Becoming More Intractable
The Islamic Revival Is Spreading ot Sub-Saharan Africa
The West's Commitment to Africa Is in Doubt
The Best Prospects in the Region Are Mostly in Southern Africa
In the absence of substantial external assistance resources, the combination of these negative trends is likely to lead, in some states, to the acceleration of economic and political collapse amidst turmoil and bloodshed. In acute cases, the surviving elements of organized society may not have the ability to reconstitute effective civil and political life, thus leading to failed states. Unfortunately for Africa, and for its friends and donors, this nightmare scenario has already come to life in Somalia and Liberia, and potentially threatens Angola, Rwanda-Burundi, and Zaire. Whether Mozambique will in fact recover from its disastrous civil war, and whether Kenya and Nigeria can avoid one, also remain to be seen. For American policymakers, and for the international community at large, these problems are real, immediate, and serious.
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On the economic front, the general trends remain somewhere between bad and catastrophic. Africa continues to stagger under the burdens of economic stagnation, ruinous foreign debt, a severe shortage of domestic and international capital, depressed commodity prices, and endemic corruption and inefficiencies.
Making matters considerably worse is a rapidly increasing population (3 percent per annum, the highest growth rate in the world) that is causing severe environmental degradation, putting extreme pressure on land and water resources, and producing populations with an unusually young average age (in many countries, now less than seventeen) that are increasingly bereft of reasonable expectations for health, jobs, and minimum standards of education. As these young, frustrated, and volatile populations swell in urban shantytowns, they also pose a threat to the stability and even the viability of affected regimes. Another serious effect of poor economic conditions is a continuing "brain drain," as thousands of Africa's most educated and talented people find better opportunities abroad.
As noted, Africa suffers under a massive debt overhang, and in fact Africa's repayments each year on its official debts (bilateral and multilateral) essentially balance all new foreign aid inputs. For many African countries, foreign financial aid is being recycled into repayments to Western creditors. Even this aid, however, is often accompanied by stringent demands from donors for economic reform and restructuring; most regimes are hesitant to implement these because of the political pressures that such reforms create, at least in the short term. At the moment, there is a lack of agreement on how best to revitalize developmental efforts, aside from a general consensus to move toward free market economics, with trade and investment taking the place of reliance on developmental assistance. In any case, no increase in such assistance is now forecast.
A relatively new but increasingly important factor is the spread of AIDS. From its presumed inception somewhere in Africa around 1960, the disease has doubled inexorably around every eighteen months. By 1994, over ten million Africans were believed to be infected, but because of the long time between infection and the appearance of symptoms, the full extent of the AIDS pandemic is only beginning to be sensed. With infection rates running as high as 30-40 percent among many national political, business, and military elites, a leap in mortality rates and the collapse of government health services in some countries is to be expected by the end of the century. This will have a ripple effect on national economies and institutions as many sectors, both public and private, find themselves short of technical and management personnel to accomplish essential work.
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The economic and social difficulties plaguing the continent contribute to, and in turn are aggravated by, accelerating civil strife and disorder, often of an ethnic or religious nature. Post-colonial Africa has been marked by a number of disastrous wars and violent upheavals, sometimes involving a substantial international intervention; early examples include the Biafran War in Nigeria (1967-70), the Sudanese civil war (1956-72), and several outbursts in the Congo (Zaire) (1960-64, 1977, 1978).
Africa's propensity to war has not abated with the passage of time--indeed, quite the contrary. A recent scholarly review of Africa's wars and their consequences identified six major wars, five lesser wars, and eighteen related conflict situations since 1980. For the affected nations, these violent conflicts have inflicted considerable damage upon physical infrastructure, generated millions of refugees and displaced persons, disrupted agriculture, poisoned the atmosphere for foreign investment, and produced massive financial deficits that have stifled plans for serious domestic investment in long-term development. In many cases, large refugee populations have had negative effects on entire regions, creating an adverse economic ripple effect. The humanitarian dimensions of these conflicts have also demanded huge interventions by an increasingly reluctant and frustrated international community, with the cumulative bill running into billions of dollars.
Perhaps the most serious consequence of all, however, has been the progressive erosion of a climate of accommodation within the affected populaces, and the growth of skepticism that peaceful progress is even possible. The inability of African states to control violence among competing internal parties and communities is abetting a widespread perception of failure of governance at its most basic level, and in some cases is contributing to the threatened or actual collapse of the authority of the organs of the state. This phenomenon is neither universal nor inevitable, but it substantially increases the complexity and raises the stakes for all involved in attempting to devise effective policies and approaches to build a stable and developing Africa.
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Islam has been a major force in sub-Saharan Africa for a full millennium, spreading century by century, especially down the coast of East Africa. Substantial Islamic minorities can be found as far south as Mozambique, and smaller populations exist even in South Africa. Recent years have witnessed the spread of Islamic revivalism into sub-Saharan Africa, both from the North and the East. The Islamic revival may spread into the Sahel, West Africa to some extent (especially Nigeria), and East Africa in particular (Kenya, Somalia, Tanzania, Ethiopia, and Eritrea). The challenge for the U.S. and its allies is to develop policy guidelines that seek peaceful accommodation with Islam, but also consider how to respond to Islamic regimes that reject peaceful accommodation with their opponents and with the West.
The spread of radical anti-Western Islamic regimes may become a major problem for Africa--and for the U.S. and European nations involved in Africa--within the decade of the 1990s. If the U.S. is drawn into this issue (which appears possible--consider the allegations of Sudanese links to the bombing of the World Trade Center), there is also a prospect for serious terrorist incidents, perhaps extending into the United States itself. Of all the issues related to Africa, this is perhaps the most politically delicate and threatening to the U.S.
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Another important trend affecting Africa is extrinsic, namely the growing pressures in the West, and especially in the U.S., towards disengagement and limitation of commitments. There is a significant lack of congruence between Washington's stated policy interests (for extensive involvement in Africa) and actual security interests (virtually nil), and a growing gap between supportive official statements and the actual commitment of resources to address Africa's basic needs and emergencies. Africa's most important sources of grants and loans have been France, the World Bank, and the U.S. But all of these donors are growing weary of committing funds to Africa, and their commitments are presently stagnant.
Publicly stated U.S. goals for Africa include promoting democracy, good governance, free enterprise, a climate conducive to private investment, respect for human rights and political liberties, and other noble ends. But to date, there has not been any consensus in the U.S. government or among the public to commit the substantial additional resources which would be required to back up efforts to implement these publicly expressed policy interests. In part, this reflects the general and continuing shrinkage of foreign aid resources.
With regard to the U.S. military's role in Africa, which was never large, budgetary pressures for retrenchment are amplified by a desire to disengage from the Third World military entanglements that characterized the Cold War. In Africa, the result is a tolerance for only the most minimal military assistance programs, and the most modest of military-to-military relations. Although this policy thrust may be appropriate as a "Cold War corrective," it sets sharp limits on Washington's ability to influence African militaries to demobilize or downsize, reform and professionalize themselves, and engage more effectively in legitimate security and peacekeeping missions. With few carrots and sticks to wield, Washington will have difficulty achieving its policy goals. However, with Soviet bloc military aid gone and European aid also in sharp decline, even modest U.S. aid could have considerable influence.
The evidence suggests that the private sector's interest in Africa is also wavering. Substantial new investment has thus far not materialized. A mixture of bad perceptions about the region and greater opportunities elsewhere threatens to starve Africa of the foreign capital and technical expertise essential to the continent's recovery.
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Despite Africa's formidable difficulties, there have been several modest success stories. Sound policy and good governance, hopefully rewarded and reinforced by substantial foreign assistance and investment, can help African states onto the path to stability and growth.
Botswana is a model of stable and enlightened government and prudent expenditure, and the result has been annual growth on the order of 10 percent since 1980. Ghana has apparently turned the economic corner, discarding earlier statist experiments to achieve recent annual growth rates of 4-5 percent. In the Indian Ocean, Mauritius is in the process of becoming a minor economic "tiger," and is now beginning to export its rapid private sector growth to neighboring Madagascar. Such examples certainly give reason for some hope.
On a much vaster scale, Southern Africa, with a reinvigorated and democratic South Africa leading the way, could be a dramatic and very important exception to the generally unfavorable forecast for the continent. If South Africa is able to consolidate its democratic transition and generate a regional economic revival in collaboration with its fellow members in the Southern African Development Community, the prospects for all of Southern Africa will brighten, and may spill over to favorably influence events in Central and East Africa.
Southern Africa should also be least affected by tensions between Islamic and non-Islamic communities. U.S. policy already acknowledges the critical role played by South Africa, and is focusing on a number of initiatives to increase the prospects for success. Also essential for regional progress will be the successful consolidation of the peace process in Mozambique and the achievement of peace and reconciliation in Angola. These too are significant U.S. policy objectives in the region.