"Wait a minute!", Africa is doing so well than you think, declared Bo Goransso, the Swedish ambassador to Kenya, Burundi, Rwanda and Somalia.
Africa Has Done in 30 Years What West Did in 100
Some time ago a friend asked me if I was not tired of working in Africa. "Everything seems so hopeless. One disaster after the other; HIV/Aids, conflicts, wars, corruption, drought, floods-"
I told him that although everything he mentioned was true, there were other stories and perspectives, leading to more positive conclusions.
The most important change that Africa - and the entire world - has gone through in recent years is democratisation. In 1985 there were 44 democracies in the world, today that figure has doubled. The number of authoritarian states has declined drastically, and the intermediate group, "in between" has increased. In the 1980s, there were, globally, 291 elections to parliaments or for presidencies. In the 1990s, this figure more than doubled, to 603 elections. In Africa, the trend is even more striking; in the 1980s, there was a total of 29 competitive elections for parliaments or presidencies. The figure for the 1990s was 160. In Africa, around 80 per cent of the population now live in countries with a multiparty system. This is a genuine paradigm shift.
The second largest change relates to manpower: training of people, and the growth of knowledge among people.
In sub-Saharan Africa, enrolment into primary education increased by 38 per cent over the past 10 years. One major reason for this increase is the introduction of free primary education, now established as a human-rights norm in most countries.
At independence, Mozambique did not have any nationals teaching at its sole university. Now, 95 per cent of the teachers are national. Tanzania had 3,000 students at university level 10 years ago; today, it has 27,000. Impressive, but far from perfect; Uganda with a smaller population has around 45,000 students. Kenya is even better off, having around 65,000 students with a population similar to Tanzania
The changes are irreversible; competence will not be eradicated, and people who have noticed that their voice and ballot mean a change, will resist a return to authoritarian rule. This is not to say that there will not be setbacks. There is still a long way to go before genuine democracy is deeply rooted in many African countries. The gap between a democratic culture and a democratic system can be wide.
But the more competent the people, the more aware of their skills and rights, the more difficult to take them for an authoritarian ride. There is some truth in the saying, You can fool some of the people some of the time, but you can't fool all the people all of the time.
The impact of this double change, the massive African democratisation and heightened competence, is difficult to overestimate.
A glance at the different countries or regions also allows for guarded optimism, if we choose a 5-15 year perspective, one not clouded by daily reports of disasters.
Some years ago, war was raging between Eritrea and Ethiopia. It has ended, although followed by a drawn out cold war. Nevertheless, lives are no longer being wasted. Neighbouring Somalia seems to have a chance to go from division and tension to unity and detente for the first time in more than 10 years.
Sudan seemed to have already started on that path when the conflict in Darfur erupted, but we should note that it did so partly as a consequence of the peace in the south. Still, the political agreement between south and north should create a platform for long-term solutions not only of conflicts inside the Sudan but also in northern Uganda, when Kony is no longer given sanctuary in the southern Sudan.
We all remember what happened in Rwanda 10 years ago. It is now a country that in 2003 concluded a political and legal transition with a referendum on the constitution and the election of a president and parliament - and in 2004 is sending peacekeepers to Sudan. For those of us who saw Rwanda 10 years ago, such a scenario was impossible to foresee, even dream of. In Burundi, the chances of peace and stability seem better than in many years, despite eruptions of violence and the existence of groups outside the reconciliation efforts.
DR Congo is the giant that can crush its neighbours, and itself, not through its strength, but its weakness. But- 10 years ago, Mobuto was at the reins, with a rule that cost millions of lives to conflict, oppression and the effects of abject poverty. Now there is hope and international, not least regional, support to the fragile institutions being established with the aim of ushering in a more democratic rule in DRC.
Angola has achieved internal stability after suffering war for decades. Its main challenge is now to utilise its resources for improvement of the livelihoods of its people. The conflicts in Liberia have in recent years been the most blatant illustration of the African stereotype: hopelessness, conflict, lawless societies, refugees. But even in Liberia, we may be over the hump.
Southern and East Africa have continued to be areas of peace and relative development. Zimbabwe is the exception, where political disaster has led to economic and human disaster. But South Africa, Mozambique, Tanzania and Kenya have, through domestic peace and an active foreign policy, contributed to stabilisation of the whole continent. Zambia and Malawi have managed difficult political transitions, which should pave the way for deepened democracy and economic recovery.
Reasons for optimism? I think so. Definitely not reasons for pessimism. And despite slow or even negative economic growth in many countries, leading to setbacks in the fight against poverty, we must recall that Africa has in 30 years done what it took the Western world 100 years to achieve, in the areas of literacy, life expectancy, school attendance etc.
If we see in the rear-view mirror that democratisation and competence were the two dramatic changes on the continent, what does the crystal ball say for the coming 10 years?