In Africa, the ambiguous promises of the rise

In January 2019, the third edition of the International Conference on the Rise of Africa took place in Dakar, one of many other examples of the privileged place that this concept now occupies in the debates on development and economic growth. Of the 54 countries on the continent, 37 have in fact adopted an “emergence strategy”, echoing the macroeconomic context of the past twenty years: between 2000 and 2019, Africa experienced the highest growth rates in the world. Has the continent slipped out of the “bankruptcy of hope” as the title says? the economist in 2001, on the promise of turnout?

However, as many critics point out, growth is not synonymous with social development. In those same years, inequality grew very deeply. In addition, the growth of the 2000s was largely based on the very high prices of oil and other commodities in international markets. It is therefore volatile and according to World Bank forecasts, this dynamic will come to a sudden halt due to the Covid-19 pandemic. However, the discourses and practices of emergence are worth pondering, as they reveal continuities and ruptures in the governmental forms of growth and development in Africa. In fact, emergence strategies are part of a dynamic of reshuffling the state as a driving force in development policy planning and implementation.

In the field of infrastructure, the effects of emergence are perhaps most visible. After the decades of structural adjustment that had put many projects on hold in the name of budgetary orthodoxy and debt reduction, numerous hydroelectric dams, deep-water ports, bridges, roads and railways were built or under construction as part of the emergence strategies. Likewise, the creations of futuristic cities intended to relieve the burden on the former colonial capitals, such as the town of Diamniadio between the historic center of Dakar and the new international airport, are as much symbolic projections into an “emerging” future as potential white elephants that have been disconnected. of the realities of the local population.

Another important change: To fund this new modernization policy, African states are no longer in a one-to-one relationship with their former colonial metropolises or traditional donors such as the World Bank, the IMF or the European Union. The investor market has grown. China is of course the main partner and foreign investor in Africa, but other players such as Brazil, India, Turkey, Indonesia and even Morocco contribute to this diversification, allowing African states to create new leeway by playing investors off against each other.

On the other hand, the turnout policy is part of a certain continuity in the exercise of power, contributing in particular to its centralization and ‘presidentialization’. The cells set up to implement the turnout plans and manage the colossal budgets they generate are under the direct control of the presidency, and the turnout calendar often corresponds to the election calendar. Emerging policies also endorse a new form of authoritarianism, with the blank check of international donors, such as Paul Kagame in Rwanda, or, for him, Meles Zenawi in Ethiopia.

But the emergence and the promises it brings open new spaces for demands, and it may be in this area too that future social struggles will be played out in the name of better redistribution of the fruits of growth. Therefore, if we can assume the formation of new “emerging states” in Africa, it is under the sign of ambivalence and incompleteness.


*Didier Péclard, associate professor of political science and director of the Masters in African Studies at the Global Studies Institute of the University of Geneva

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