Moeletsi Mbeki

Moeletsi Mbeki from Institute of International Affairs talked about Africa's way forward in front of a well-attended seminar.

Photo: Sida

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Africa – developing or lacking progress?

Updated: 23 June 2014

Private sector is an important driving force for a faster development in Africa. But for the growth to take off the same way as it did in Asia, it’s crucial to invest in entrepreneurship, as well as to free oneself from old systems.

Africa – developing or lack of progress? That was the title of the full-day seminar, arranged by Sida on the 19th of January, and it was a title that provoked and caused discussions. One of the invited speakers, professor Hans Rosling, said jokingly that the name almost made him cancel his participation, because “of course there is progress in Africa”. It’s a matter of looking at the long-term trends in the diagrams. When doing so, it’s obvious that development is going in the right direction in many of Africa’s countries.

Roel van der Veen, a professor in International Relations at the Amsterdam University, gave a more negative view as he compared the development in Africa’s countries with that in Southeast Asia. Both are former colonies but while the Asian Tigers’ growth has taken off, the African states stand still. Why? His explanation lies with the social structures that are characteristic for many states in Africa, with a patron-client system, based on the loyalty from certain groups.

– Getting support from farmers in the countryside was never important in this system, which has contributed to governments never making it a priority to invest in agriculture.

If Africa is to reach the turning point where economic growth would take off, agriculture needs to be developed. Macroeconomic stability and larger economic freedom for persons and small entrepreneurs are two other key factors he emphasized. Roel van der Veen received some critical remarks from the audience, for example how he could talk about a special “Africanisation” when it’s really the same kind of traditional system that has existed in Asia and in Europe, or that he has excluded many other important factors. His research dating from 2004 was also thought to be the reason why he neglected the large progresses that have actually taken place during the last years. 

Colonialism and its impact on entrepreneurship

Moeletsi Mbeki, a South African author and a political economist, also attended the seminar. He commented on Roel van der Veen’s presentation about the economical turning point that occurred in Indonesia, which is something Nigeria is still waiting for. But he had another theory as to what caused the politically motivated turning point: the massacre of half a million people in 1965-1966, executed by the country’s leaders with the support from USA. Similar events also took place in Malaysia. 

– Yes, we need a turning point, but not “the American way”. We can create African Tigers, the same as in Asia, but as a result of two other factors: an elite requiring such a development, and entrepreneurs, said Moeletsi Mbeki.

He presented his view on what are the factors that prevent entrepreneurship from taking off in Africa: economic, social and political obstacles that are all part of the legacy from colonialism.

– You need a lot of money to start up a business in South Africa today and a lot of people don’t have this. I believe that we, and Sida, need to sit down and find out what are the key interventions that are necessary to create a better business climate.

A young population with big opportunities

Greg Mills, director of the Brenthurst Foundation in South Africa, agreed that a strong private sector – not aid – is key for Africa’s development, but that many people are wrong to think that a special development model is needed for Africa.

– Look at the donor countries instead, they who give money, how are their private sectors developing?

In contrast to Roel van der Veen, Greg Mills looked into the future and highlighted six important factors that will affect the continent’s development. An increasing population is one of them: in 2025 one of four young people in the world will come from Sub-Saharan Africa, and half of them will be living in cities. This demands increasing investment in urban infrastructure as well as ensuring growth in the countryside, since food production is an area of concern. At the same time, he emphasized that this young generation will have the biggest possibilities to get out of poverty.

Africa’s growth opportunities look far better today compared with those 20 years ago. But one should not talk about one Africa, but about an entire continent with 55 very different states.

It’s time for a third liberation for the African people, concluded Greg Mills. After the first one from the colonial powers, and the second one from the liberation leaders themselves, it’s now time for a liberation from a political economy characterised by corruption, crony-capitalism and widening inequality.

– It’s no longer about what the donors can do, but what the Africans can do themselves.

So, what is the way forward for Africa? And is growth the only thing necessary to improve life for Africans?

Charlotte Petri Gornitzka, Director-General of Sida put an emphasis on the new role of donors, who should no longer tell African governments what they ought to do, but rather listen to what kind of help those governments need in order to develop and whom they want to involve in that work.

Chinese companies investing in Africa are a part of the continent’s development and business opportunities. That was a common opinion among speakers, even though they recognised that problems have arisen along the way.

– The Chinese succeed far better in making the African economy develop, unlike us in the West whose aid is based on altruistic reasons; the best aid is when the donor has his own strong economic incentives for an intervention to succeed, reckoned Roel van der Veen.

Moeletsi Mbeki stressed the fact that African countries need to gain a better control over their resources, so that the growth can stay within the country.

– In South Africa, we have well-organised trade unions and chambers. Without that, you get a lot of cowboys trying to grab the land.


The following speakers participated in the seminar Africa – developing or lack of progress?

Roel van der Veen, Professor of International Relations at Amsterdam University
Greg Mills, Director of Brenthurst Foundation in South Africa
Moeletsi Mbeki, Deputy Chairperson of the South African Institute of International Affairs.
Carin Norberg, Director of the Nordic Africa Institute.
Hans Rosling, Professor in international Health at Karolinska Institute
Anders Östman, Senior advisor Sida
Charlotte Petri Gornitzka, Director-General of Sida


Page owner: Communication Unit

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