Africa and the great leap forwardDominic Johnson
Berlin: Wagenbach, 2011
Everything is different in Africa, maintains Dominic Johnson. In Africa’s cities – there are now 35 cities with more than 1 million inhabitants – not only the slums are growing but also the middle class residential areas. Africa’s population is young and increasingly at home in cities rather than in rural areas. Mobile communications are closing the gap with the rest of the world.
The continent has left its role as victim behind; dependency is replaced by involvement in world economy. Through the increase in the price of raw materials, a lot of money is flowing into Africa but capital flow within Africa is also increasing, new constellations of interest are emerging. The economic preconditions for resolving the most important fundamental problems are already in place, even though at least a decade of high growth rates will be necessary to alter living conditions in a sustainable way.
Upheavals in the nineties overcame the postcolonial order. Even so, authoritarian regimes or chaos rule behind a façade of democratization, freedom of opinion and pluralism. But even in places where state order has fallen apart, there is a primitive accumulation. War lords and pirates are assembling riches. Africa is a new Wild West and this is something from which African entrepreneurs can profit. Increasingly, African countries are using their growing economic playing fields to reorganize the continent under its own steam. Africans‘ self-confidence is growing and an essential Africanism is developing. This is not all democratic. The actual driving force behind Africa’s upswing is the symbiosis between the politics of power and the economic interests of a new elite. A military-industrial complex is developing; a driving force behind economic modernization and social change. But at the same time it prevents the development of a democratic political culture. Old identities and precolonial areas of power are making their way to the political scenes; and then there is also ethnic-inspired social unrest.
“Everywhere one sees a lack of cultural orientation, of historical leadership figures and also of positive models of interpretation that could place the good and also the bad actions of modern Africa in the context of its time and replace the model of interpretation prescribed by the rest of the world with an own interpretation of African events. […] The new Africa is an unfinished construct on an unstable pedestal.”