I recently watched Walter Isaacson of CNN’s Christiane Amanpour show interviewing Zanny Beddoes, Editor of the Economist. The interview centred on Brexit, the rise of populism in the West and emerging global shocks that will have far reaching implications across the world.
Beddoes identified four shocks that will define the future as a technological revolution that is already raising concern about the future, geopolitical shift dominated by the rise of China, demographic shock with aging population and declining fertility in the Western world and climate change. There is reason to worry about what these shocks portend to the African continent. The centre – classical liberalism that cherished individual, economic and political freedoms - that used to hold the Western world and its allies in developing countries together is no longer firm. Capitalism, the catalyst of unity, is no longer redistributing wealth as envisaged.
The gap between the rich and poor is widening leading to frustrations - what we are witnessing in the form of Brexit and the rise of populism in the US. While this worrying trend is being discussed in many countries, it is muted in Africa.Yet, virtually every corner of the globe is witnessing protests over economic injustice. African countries are choking in debt with rising numbers of unemployed, thousands of young people dying in the Mediterranean trying to cross over to Europe in search of greener pastures and poor governance. In the US, continued frustration has led Elizabeth Warren, one of the Democrats seeking the party’s presidential ticket, to propose what she refers to as accountable capitalism. Many economists including Beddoes consider her ideas as “reckless radicalism.” If there has to be changes to the capitalist ideology, they say it must be incremental.
Although the GDP in most African countries is rising, no one including economists, have faith in numbers that do not provide for employment or reduce incidences of poverty. Frustration is mounting. If capitalism is failing, it is in our interest to develop a pragmatic ideology that will take the continent forward.
The vacuum left by Western dominance on political and economic freedom should not just be replaced by other emerging global powers without our own interpretation on how to lead our people out of the misery caused by, among other things, colonialism.
The geopolitical shift that Beddoes describes as the rise of China’s authoritarianism is real but, in some sense, it is actually a socialist market economy. The danger Africa is likely to face is that the leadership may take advantage of the shift to bring back the past that was dominated by primitive authoritarianism and accumulation of wealth.
We have spent many years moderated by the Western ideology to change Africa to what it is today – somewhat politically stable with many countries holding democratic elections – and a dream that one day we shall build institutions that can hold together our countries. It is that dream that is under threat today in a dynamically changing world. Although technology and demography could help Africa from sliding into the dark ages, increasingly, many African countries have found ways of limiting it either through taxes or outright blocking it off -- elements of autocracy – and perhaps signs of what to come.
On demographics, the ballooning of African youth, aging population and declining fertility in Europe and America, will continue to be a sore thumb in our hands. Perhaps we need to redefine democracy and free market as eluded by Ms. Warren.
Scientists have warned about climate change and no one nation can fight this common agenda. The US’s exit from the Paris Agreement will not just hurt America but the entire world.
Already in Africa, we are witnessing unprecedented observable effects such as flooding, drought and change in rainfall patterns. Change is inevitable. But what kind of change? Emerging technological revolution, geopolitical realignment, demographic dynamics and climate change could be overwhelming to Africa that many countries will have no way of stopping new powers from taking advantage of them once again. Perhaps it is too late to chart our own future but it won’t hurt by trying to shape one.