Since independence from colonialism and white-minority regimes, individual African countries have, in the context of the global order, suffered from inequality in power – these include the rules, architecture, culture and ideas – in relation to their former colonial powers and other industrial nations. This has been manifested in global policy-making where African countries have generally had a limited voice. The ability of Africans to make their own independent policies and decisions were also circumscribed by former colonial powers, donor agencies and big powers that forced African governments to pursue policies, which were in most cases inappropriate and which, not surprisingly, mostly misfired. In response to this, African governments, civil society groups and activists have been calling for the democratisation of global governance – and for the right of African governments to make independent economic and political policy decisions.
Simultaneously, while individual African countries suffer from the global power inequality between nations; deep inequalities also exist within individual African countries between ruling elites and ordinary citizens, whether based on class, gender, age or access to decision-making. However, the world is undergoing radical structural transformations, which are dramatically altering global power generally – not only the power relations between developed and developing countries, but also within countries themselves.
In particular, the twin crises of the slowdown in the US economy and the debt crisis in Europe caused by the global financial crisis, and the simultaneous rise of emerging countries such as China, Brazil and India, has the potential to remake the world and to refashion existing unequal global power relations between developed countries and developing countries. It offers a critical juncture for African countries to address power inequalities within the world order and within individual African countries. The North African and Arab Springs illustrate how the spill over effects of these global crises could potentially open up the space in many individual African countries – and transform their unequal national power relations.
But or Africa to benefit from these global transformations, individual countries and continental wide institutions, will have to make structural changes. Africa will have to overhaul existing – often archaic – institutions, leaders and attitudes and bring new ideas, concepts and leaders, to the fore. Failure to do so and Africa as a continent and many of its constituent countries face being left behind again, and perhaps condemned to remain stuck in perpetual underdevelopment, instability and global marginalisation.
Africa and the contours of global power inequalities
The global political, trade and economic rules have always been heavily skewed against African countries in favour of developed nations. African states have had very little say within global institutions, such as the United Nations, World Bank, International Monetary Fund (IMF), World Trade Organisations, the G8 and the G20 (where Africa’s participation amounts to little more than observer status). Some scholars have referred to the phenomenon as global apartheid: with industrial powers enjoying considerably more power than developing countries, particularly African countries, and fiercely defending their unequal status.
African countries have little say in shaping the development agenda of these global multilateral organisations. For example, the WTO’s Doha Round and the global climate change negotiations have brought few benefits to African countries. African free trade agreements with former colonial powers and industrial countries, such as the Partnership Agreements with the European Union and the African Growth and Opportunity Act with the United States have mostly been disadvantageous to Africans. African countries also have few recourses for trade, economic and political disputes with developed countries, especially as they are marginalised within the WTO’s Dispute Settlement Mechanism. Following the global financial crises, many of these organisations have promised increased resources for Africa: but even they come ‘African governments (will) have little voice in shaping these programs, or in auditing their effectiveness and results’.
For most of the post-Second World War period, African countries were not given the ‘policy space’ to make independent economic or political decisions and have lacked the freedom to come up with economic policies appropriate to their own circumstances – a handicap that has not restricted richer nations. While the World Bank and IMF have been keen to instruct African and other developing nations to pursue specific – mostly irrelevant and often destructive – policies, they have invariably kept quiet when industrial nations have done the opposite.
Meanwhile, for most of Africa’s post-independence period, aid from developed nations has come with substantial strings attached. 2010 was supposed to see the implementation of the Paris Declaration on Aid Effectiveness, which commits international donors to improve aid to Africa and other developing countries. But little progress has been made. In addition, few of the new aid pledges from developed countries, including the G8, have been fulfilled – and it is safe to say that many of the development aid promises to Africa are unlikely to be met in the near future. The aftermath of the global financial and Eurozone crises has reduced the aid capacity of many developed countries and it is likely that some of the funds that were originally earmarked for development aid to Africa will be rechanneled to struggling regions of industrial countries.
If there is anything close to a silver lining for African countries in the global and Eurozone financial crises, it is this: they may now have more freedom to come up with their own economic policies. For example, before this financial crisis, if the few developing countries with the means to do so had used public money to bail out struggling banks as America and numerous European countries did, they would have faced a market backlash. Perhaps they will now have more leeway to act in their own best interests. And only if African countries have the space to decide what policies to pursue can they – as the UN Conference on Trade and Development Secretary-General Supachai Panitchpakdi says – turn their economic gains into ‘real productive capacity’.
Global power shifts may offer new opportunities for Africa to reduce inequality
According to a recent World Bank report emerging markets will account for more than half of all global growth by 2025, and the US dollar may no longer be the dominant global currency. Projections show that that by 2060 emerging markets such as China, India, Russia, Mexico, Brazil and Indonesia will account for around 70 percent of global trade. The impact of this sea-change has already been felt since rising trade with emerging markets, such as the BRICS, has softened the effects of the global financial crises on Africa. Indeed, Africa now conducts half of its trade with developing and emerging economies. From 1990-2008, Asia increased its share of Africa’s trade from 14 to 28 percent, while the share of the continent’s trade with Western Europe declined from 51 to 28 percent.
The increasing power of China and other emerging markets appear to have made many multilateral agencies scramble to incorporate developing country interests, which they had mostly ignored in the past. Many developing and African countries – using the possibility of trade with a booming China and other emerging powers as a bargaining chip – are already able to extract better terms from former colonial and other industrial powers. Brazil has even proposed that BRICS economies jointly provide new funds to help ease the crisis in the Eurozone, while Russian Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin said that BRICS countries with substantial reserves should assist in bailing out the Eurozone’s debt-ridden states “on certain conditions”, including giving more voting power within the IMF to developing countries.
All these global ructions offer African countries an unprecedented opportunity to address power inequalities within the world order – and within their own borders. However, African trade with the new emerging powers is replicating the old trade patterns with the industrialised West – exporting the continent’s raw materials and commodities, which brings growth but few jobs and which benefits existing economic and political elites rather than increasing equity. By continuing in this vein, Africa will reinforce the existing inequalities in power relations between it and the rest of the world – and within African countries themselves.
Inequalities within African countries
Simultaneously, while individual African countries suffer from – and their leaders decry – the global inequality between nations, deep inequalities continue to exist within individual African countries between ruling elites and ordinary citizens, whether based on class, gender, age or access to decision-making. Inequalities within African countries are among the highest in the world. In fact, the high poverty rates in Africa are in most cases a result of very high levels of inequality.
There has been a lot of talk about ‘Africa Rising’ and figures show that 70 percent of Africa’s total population live in countries that have growth rates of more than 4 percent. But only four percent of Africans earn more than US$10 a day, while half of the population in fast-growing African economies still live on less than US$1.25 a day – and Africa’s share of global poverty rose from 21 percent in 1999 to 29 percent in 2008.
Research by the African Development Bank shows the extent of inequality in Africa – with around 100,000 Africans boasting a net worth of US$800 billion in 2008 or about 60 percent of Africa’s GDP. The 2012 Africa Progress Report noted that economic growth has reduced poverty in Africa less than anticipated with the ‘poor receiving too small a slice of the expanding wealth’ and noted that most (African) countries were not on track to achieve the Millennium Development Goals by 2015 as there was minimal progress on education, child nutrition and maternal health. Former UN General Secretary Koffi Annan said: “Disparities in basic life-chances – for health, education and participation in society – are preventing millions of Africans from realising their potential, holding back social and economic progress in the process.”
However, over the past year, a number of international agencies and companies have hailed what they call the spectacular growth in the numbers of the African middle class. The African Development Bank said that by 2010, the African middle class (included floating class) had risen to 34.3 percent of the continent’s population — or nearly 313 million people — up from about 111 million or 26.2 percent in 1980. But the AfDB concedes that Africa’s middle class is characterized by a high concentration of people at the lower end of the ‘middle class’ scale with per capita expenditure levels of just US$2-4 per day, which leaves ‘many of these households in a vulnerable position and facing the possibility of dropping back into the poor category in the event of any exogenous shocks’. According to the AfDB, 21 percent of Africans, representing around 180 million people, fall into this category. They are ‘barely above the poverty line’. While there has obviously been a growth in the African middle class, its size has been over-hyped. For example, the Brookings Centre reports that in its ‘global middle class’ calculations, Africa only represents 2 percent of the globe’s middle class population, and 1 percent of its purchasing power.
The size of Africa’s middle class is important because the poor – the 61 percent of Africans who live on less than US$2 per day according to the AfDB – usually have very little say in political and economic decisions. In most countries, they do get to vote every few years but invariably the choice is between unrepresentative, limited and flawed political parties and the outcome is that one elite or other is given the reins of power: political and economic power.
In many African countries, political power translates directly into economic power, since the private sector is not advanced in much of the continent and because the structure of single-commodity economies makes it easier to concentrate wealth in the hands of a privileged few. Many of the 100,000 Africans with a net worth of US$800 billion will be members of ruling political elites, their families and associates. The reality is that many African governments have persistently failed to govern in the interest of all their citizens, whose experience is one of persistent lack of genuine democracy, the continued monopoly of politics and money in the hands of small elites, and stagnating – or worsening – living conditions.
What is actually happening is that Africa has notched up economic growth that ‘reinforces’ inequalities, rather than reducing them. In short: Africa’s rich are getting richer, while most of the poor remain poor.
The colonial roots of inequality and power in Africa
Most independent African countries inherited societies that were highly unequal. Political, economic and cultural power was unequally distributed between the colonisers and the colonised; or between white minority governments and the indigenous communities. The typical approach of almost every colonial power was to divide and rule communities by favouring one ethnic group – in the case of Britain, Belgian and Italy – or class of citizens – in the case of France and Portugal – over others. In addition, in the British colonialism case of indirect rule, pliant traditional leaders, chiefs and kings were also empowered – vis-a-vis their ‘subjects’ – to rule on behalf of the colonial power according to ‘customary law’.
There were hierarchies of power. The colonials or white-minorities were the 1st tier of power. The second tier was for those indigenous communities ‘chosen’ to run the lower levels of the administration, including the traditional leaders and kings who were the instruments of the implementation of ‘indirect’ rule. At the bottom were the majority of the colonised and oppressed. Very few of the indigenous inhabitants were employed in senior positions in the public or private sector, while colonial and apartheid governments deliberately barred most of them from acquiring the same level of education or technical skills as the ‘settlers’.
Colonial powers also developed their African colonies unequally. They only built infrastructure to serve the settlers – small urban areas where they lived; tiny industrial areas where they established their factories; mining and commercial agriculture centres; and harbours to export raw materials to the colonial ‘mother’ country. The macro-economic policies of the colonial governments mirrored that of the infrastructure distribution: they were only meant to develop the narrow settler industrial and residential zones, and aid the export of raw materials. Fiscal and monetary policy, for example, was often determined in the mother country – but aimed at servicing these settler industrial and residential zones and boosting the national economy of the mother country. Colonial and apartheid governments typically left the countries they colonised as one-commodity countries with no long-term industrialisation plan because the colonies were always part of the supply chain of the ‘mother’ country.
Sadly, the independence and liberation movements that took over from colonial or white minority regimes did very little to undo the economic and political inequality within countries, and failed to reduce inequality between African countries and their former colonial powers. In fact, many post-colonial governments reinforced the inequalities left by departing colonial and white-minority regimes – particularly where liberation and independence movements were dominated by one ethnic or regional group, or by one class or political elite.
At independence, the colonial elite was often replaced by another narrow elite – the independence movement aristocracy: the dominant independence leader and dominant ‘struggle’ families, or the dominant ethnic group or political faction. The highly centralised nature of the liberation movements meant that they could seamlessly fit into the similar centralized power structure left behind by colonial governments.
While in some cases there was an agreement that most big mines and/or commercial farms would remain in the hands of the ‘settlers’, many post-independence governments nationalised key industries and farms, which were then run by people with insufficient skills and experience to do so – thanks to the colonial pattern of preventing the indigenous communities from acquiring a decent education and critical technical skills. Meanwhile, in numerous cases, most of the ‘settlers’ who had been running the public sector (which was sometimes ‘indigenized’ in one swoop) and the small private sector migrated back to the mother country.
Whichever path governments took, they largely stuck to existing trade patterns – exporting raw materials and importing more expensive finished products. Indeed, many governments had no effective economic blueprint for their societies, other than taking control of government and replacing the ‘settlers’ with black faces – and so reinforcing inequalities, but this time between indigenous communities. Devastatingly, more than 50 years after independence, the economies of most African countries are still cast in the pattern left by colonial powers and apartheid governments. Yet, unless African countries go beyond the rigid inherited colonial and apartheid economic architecture, prosperity – and greater equality – will remain a distant dream.
What must African independence and liberation movements in government do to undo inequality?
The reality is that African economies are not going to be developed through solidarity from the old industrial or former colonial powers, through aid, or by the new emerging markets. Neither, will these powers benevolently put Africa’s issues “prominently on the global agenda” as former South African President Thabo Mbeki has urged them to do. It is also unlikely that Africa’s economic recovery will be fuelled by reparations for colonialism, apartheid or slavery from former dominant powers, in the same way the infant Israeli state’s early steps were financed by Germany reparations money. Neither will it be financed by some super Marshall Plan funded by former colonial powers, in the same way the US financed post-war Europe’s reconstruction and in the same way the US financed East Asian industrialisation through generous aid to keep the countries in that region onside in the Cold War battle with the former Soviet Union.
African countries will have to build nations that are developmental and democratic. The very first thing that is required is political will from African governments to base their efforts on the need to govern in the widest interest, and to understand that there can be no economic development unless large number of citizens are lifted out of poverty at the same time. Since independence and liberation, the pattern of economic development in most African countries has been that only the elites have been developed: whether the elite is based on one ethnic group, region, political party or class. This has been the enigma of African post-independence development: the general power structure inherited from colonial and white-minority rule, with its inherent inequalities between the elites and the masses has not been broken, only the colour of the elites has changed.
Public services in African countries will have to be genuinely meritocratic and ethnically inclusive. African governments will have to be foster a developmental coalition between business, government and civil societies – and create ‘growth coalitions’ between the bureaucracy, business, organised labour and civil society to secure buy-in for economic development reforms. However, as Richard Doner and his co-researchers argue, sustaining broad coalitions for growth between these different social partners ‘over the long run requires the ability to export high-value added goods, namely to upgrade’.[22
To achieve this, Africans needs states that boast capable, effective and intelligent public and private institutions – but particularly state institutions that are able to ‘formulate credible policies and consistent policies’. Dani Rodrik, the Turkish economist, has rightly argued that the ‘quality of institutions is key’ to fostering economic growth. And Africa needs not only economic growth – but a higher quality of growth. African states must diversify into manufacturing, services and value-add products. The Economic Report on Africa 2011 by the Economic Commission for Africa and the African Union urged Africans to diversify production and exports, stressing that ‘diversification requires improvement of competitiveness by tackling supply-side constraints as well as improving infrastructure and productive capacities, among other things’.
Up to this day most infrastructure networks in most African countries have not changed since colonial times. This colonial-era infrastructure was designed to link the small areas that produced the country’s one commodity or agriculture product to the coast for export to the ‘mother’ country. Since neighbouring African countries were often colonised by different colonial powers, the colonial infrastructure networks rarely connected them. Railways and roads led to ports to facilitate exports to the colonial power, rather than linking up different African states. Due to the original colonial air links, if you want to fly from one African country to another, it is still sometimes easier to go via Europe. Meanwhile, in some cases, goods manufactured in one African country, for example Tunisia and Cameroon, are exported to France first, before being shipped back to the exporting country’s African neighbours.
Sadly, African countries have left these infrastructure arrangements untouched, and in many cases, also unmaintained. Successful infrastructure development goes beyond building transportation routes. It is a tool for long-term economic investment that is integral to a country’s industrialisation. Furthermore, for infrastructure development measures in underdeveloped regions to be effective, they must be linked to ‘other regional economic stimulus measures [to] complement the infrastructure investment and generate synergistic effects’. In Africa, infrastructure development has rarely been integrated into broader economic development. Indeed, it has often focused on lowering costs for the elite or creating vanity projects – typically building a new parliamentary building or stadium – rather than on fostering growth and reducing poverty. In many cases, projects have been approved based on who was financing it – whether a traditional donor or new emerging market investors such as China. And the financiers have also had a major say in what type of infrastructure would be built and where – using the project to curry political favour or speed up the export of commodities from the financiers’ investments in the country – as was the case under colonialism.
To make a real difference, African infrastructure spend must focus on boosting economically depressed and underdeveloped regions, either linking them to growth areas or turning them into growth areas with a view to becoming future markets for goods and services. Well-placed infrastructure, rolled out as part of an integrated system of national development, can reshape societies, expand economic opportunities and change the patterns of development.
Alongside more effective infrastructure spend, African states must overcome economic and industrial “policy failure”. Each country must cobble together an industrial policy that aims to diversify the economy away from one agricultural product or commodity towards the manufacture of value-added products. African countries must ‘upgrade’ their industrial base, ‘based on growth in local innovation capacities, from lower-value to higher value-value economic activities within the global commodity chains’. Importantly, African governments must pursue economic policies that ‘continuously expand the national pie through sustained growth’, but ‘without pursuing a cheap-labour, ‘race to the bottom’ strategy’. In fact, African countries must forsake ‘low-wage-based export growth for a higher skill, quality-based export trajectory’.
African governments must – like Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan and Malaysia – actively intervene to attract particular kinds of foreign investments, which could complement, or serve as a catalyst within, their own industrial strategies. In East Asian developmental states, foreign investment was secured that helped to transfer technology and skills, and to create new industries. Often foreign companies had to partner with local companies and could not own the majority share in the local plant. Critically, foreign investment was not secured for the sake of it, as in many other developing, including African, countries.
Most African states have – or are considering – trade agreements with former colonial powers that often undermine better integration with other African countries, whether it is the European-proposed Economic Partnership Agreements with former African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) colonies to replace the preferential trade arrangements that had operated for thirty years; or the United States African Growth Opportunities Act (AGOA), which sets out the political and economic conditions for select African countries to export their products to the US until 2015. African countries will have to trade more smartly with both industrial countries and new emerging markets.
Lack of democracy, poor governance and mismanagement reinforces inequality. Africa’s continental bodies – such as the AU and the sub-regional organisations – have been unable to provide the honest, visionary and inclusive leadership to deal with Africa’s political problems. Neither the AU nor the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) could resolve the crisis in the Ivory Coast, while the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) has been unable to stop Zimbabwean autocrat Robert Mugabe’s tyranny. Similarly, in Swaziland, King Mswati has battered his people, but still receives the red-carpet treatment by SADC. A glaring lack of political will and an overemphasis on individual country sovereignty in both the AU and its regional organisations are at the heart of the failure to deal with misrule on the continent.
The changing world order has provided Africa with the chance to change the game – on trade, aid, development and economic growth. But African regional bodies are failing to speak with one voice on key issues and to help African countries negotiate from a collective position of strength. Meanwhile, poor governance, corruption and the lack of genuine democracy continues to undermine trust in African political leadership both within and outside the continent – and reinforces Africa’s unequal power relations with its former colonial powers. Fifty years after the independence swept across the continent, the African political leadership and democracy vacuum has encouraged former colonial powers to intervene yet again to shape Africa’s future on their terms – preventing Africans from finally being able to truly shape their own destinies on their own terms.
African countries can transform this unequal relationship. The world has changed dramatically in the past 10 years and Africa must seize the opportunity to break free of colonial relationships and colonial-era economic priorities and plot a new path on its own terms. But to do that – African states, regional bodies and the AU will need to be much more focussed and determined to ‘fight’ for what’s best for Africans – not just the elites but for all Africans.
But to do that – African leaders and elites must be made to let go of their tight hold on political and economic power. Their fellow citizens must demand – and be given – a real say in how they are governed, which has to be for the benefit of all. Only by tackling the power inequalities within countries can African states have the strength and credibility to transform the prevailing power inequalities between nations.
 See for example, Patrick Bond (2004) Against Global Apartheid: South Africa meets the World Bank, IMF and International Finance. Zed Books, London
 See William Gumede (2011) African political unity must be more selective: a blueprint for change. Briefing Paper, Foreign Policy Centre (FPC), London, May
 See Africa Progress Panel, Jobs, Justice and Equity: Seizing opportunities in times of global change (Geneva: Africa Progress Panel Publications, 2012), p. 45
 Supachai Panitchpakdi (2011) Statement to the United Nations General Assembly, 66th Session – Agenda item 17: Macroeconomic policy questions. New York, October 27
 African Development Bank, Africa in 50 Years’ Time – The Road Towards Inclusive Growth (AfDB, 2011), p.24
 World Bank, Global Development Horizons – Multipolarity: The New Global Economy (Washington DC: World Bank Publications, 2011)
 African Development Bank, Africa in 50 Years’ Time: The Road Towards Inclusive Growth (AfDB, 2011).
 UNECA, Leveraging Opportunities for Accelerated Growth in Africa: Prospects and Challenges for the next Decade (Addis Ababa: UNECA, 2011), p.3
 Reuters (2011) China ex-min: BRICs Euro Fund Unfeasible September 22
 See World Bank, Lesotho – Sharing growth by reducing inequality and vulnerability: A poverty, gender, and social assessment (Washington DC: World Bank, 2008)
 See Africa Progress Panel, Jobs, Justice and Equity: Seizing opportunities in times of global change (Geneva: Africa Progress Panel Publications, 2012), p. 14
 Ibid, p. 15
 African Development Bank, Market Brief: The Middle of the Pyramid – The Dynamics of the Middle Class in Africa (Tunis, AfDB, 2011), p. 1, April 20; and Center for International Comparisons, PENN World Table (Philadelphia: Pennsylvania University, 2009)
 See Africa Progress Panel, Jobs, Justice and Equity: Seizing opportunities in times of global change (Geneva: Africa Progress Panel Publications, 2012), p. 16
 Koffi Annan, Introduction – Africa Progress Panel Report 2011 (Geneva: Africa Progress Panel Publications, 2012), p. 14
 See, Hatch, G., et al., The Dynamic African consumer market: Exploring growth opportunities in Sub-Saharan Africa (Accenture, 2011) Available from http://www.accenture.com/SiteCollectionDocuments/Local_South_Africa/PDF/…. See also Acha, L., et al., What’s driving Africa’s growth? (McKinsey Global Institute, 2010) June, Available from https://www.mckinseyquarterly.com/ Economic_Studies/Productivity_Performance/Whats_driving_Africas_growth_2601?gp=1
See also, Kharas, H., The emerging middle class in developing countries. OECD Working Paper (Paris: OECD, 2010) Available from http://www.oecd.org/dataoecd/12/52/44457738.pdf
 African Development Bank, Market Brief: The Middle of the Pyramid – The Dynamics of the Middle Class in Africa (Tunis, AfDB, 2011), p. 1, April 20
 Richard F. Doner, Bryan K. Ritchie and Dan Slater (2005) Systemic Vulnerability and the Origins of Developmental States: Northeast and Southeast Asia in Comparative Perspective. International Organization. Vol. 59, no. 2 (Spring), pp. 327-361
 Juhana Vartiainen (1999) The Economics of Successful State Intervention in Industrial Transformation, in: Meredith Woo-Cumings (ed) The Developmental State, Cornell University Press, Ithaca, NY, p.220
 Dani Rodrik (2003) Introduction, in Dani Rodrik (ed) In Search of Prosperity: Analytic Narratives on Economic Growth. Princeton University Press, NJ, Princeton, p.10
 Gumisai Mutumi (2002) How to boost trade with Africa – Lower barriers and diversify production. Africa Recovery, Vol 16 (2), September, p.20
 Tsuneaki Yoshida (2000) Japan’s experience in infrastructure development and development cooperation. JIBC Review, December, 3: 62-92.
 Richard F. Doner, Bryan K. Ritchie and Dan Slater (2005) Systemic Vulnerability and the Origins of Developmental States: Northeast and Southeast Asia in Comparative Perspective. International Organization. Vol. 59, no. 2 (Spring), pp. 327-361
 In 2000 ACP countries and the EU signed the Cotonou Convention which wound up the 1975 Lome accords which had formalized trade arrangements between the EU and its former colonies. The Cotonou Convention makes provisions for ACP countries to negotiate new trade agreements – the EU put the EPA on the table.