Is Africa rising? A critical perspective (2) – “a makeover of the mechanisms of domination and social injustice”

Jean Nanga,
Europe Solidaire Sans Frontiers.

The narrative about Africa in the international media, in particular the economic press, as well as in academic journals, is changing. It is no longer dominated by what is frequently labelled “afro-pessimism”, which allows development NGOs especially to dedicate themselves to the civilising, neo-colonial mission in Africa. Now we are faced with “afro-optimism”, which has a strong tendency to supplant the “afro-pessimist” discourse, based on the roughly 5 per cent average GDP growth rate for all of Africa over the past 10 years. By bourgeois economic logic, this effectively makes it the world’s second economic driving force after Asia, at a time when a significant number of economies in the traditional capitalist centres oscillate between an end to recession and fears of a fall back into one.

Among additional signs of Africa’s economic awakening is the growing visibility of African billionaires and millionaires, as well as the growth of the African middle class, which is deemed to be exponential. According to the African Bank for Development (ABfD), one out of three Africans currently belongs to the middle class. We are told this will only get better with time, and the “trickle down effect” will eventually take care of the poor. This “afro-optimism” even veers into “afro-enthusiasm”: How can we not rejoice at the imminent emancipation of Africa?

Of course, despite these perceptible changes in virtually all African societies, this much-lauded growth is far from being the path that leads to such emancipation. On the contrary, it resembles instead a makeover of the mechanisms of domination and social injustice.

There is no denying the average growth of Africa’s GDP, including even double-digit figures for some countries, which cannot be found anywhere in the centres of capitalism at present. However, the growth of Burkina Faso’s GDP (7,9 per cent in 2010, 4,2 per cent in 2011, 9 per cent in 2012, 7 per cent in 2013) or Ethiopia’s (12,6 per cent, 11,2 per cent, 8,7 per cent, 10,4 per cent over the same period), for example, does not, in terms of (social) “development” allow for comparison, let alone comes close to growth figures in Denmark (1,4 per cent, 1,1 per cent, -0,4 per cent, 0,4 per cent) or Switzerland (3 per cent, 1,8 per cent, 1 per cent, 1,9 per cent).

The current praise African growth receives from the praise singers of capitalism essentially lauds the profitability of investments no matter their source. Africa is considered to be a “leading space” for returns on investment. Such growth, sometimes involving African capital, indeed benefits mostly transnationals that primarily invest in extractivism, which is still the continent’s main driving force of growth – an old ‘specialisation” inherited from colonial times.

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