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The West Must Catch up with Africa

 5 min read / 

The global future is African, the continent will account for the majority of the world’s future population growth with half of the world being African by 2100. Africa is at the forefront of future trends and the most pressing of global challenges and already represents a key site of global power struggle and transition.

China and other emerging powers have recognized the pivotal importance of the African continent to global affairs and have significantly increased engagement with African states in recent years while Western powers have been slower to catch up to the continent’s significance. In this way, the traditional Western aid donors are not fully prepared to engage with African states as partners rather than aid recipients and it is critical that these states recognise the immense economic, cultural, and political importance of the current shifts underway on a massive continent of 54 countries.

Paradigm Shift in Image and Narrative

Traditional views and stereotypes of African countries that reduce diverse and multifaceted groups with complex contexts into single stories of poverty, war, and disease are outdated. Western media coverage of Africa largely continues to lack the nuance and coverage to portray the complex and lived realities of a continent of over 1.2 billion people and a paradigm shift is needed in how Africa is seen by the world. An integral component in this shift is African ownership of image and narratives, and many innovative media sites have been leading the way in changing how such a diverse continent is viewed and understood. Such platforms include OkayAfrica, Ayiba Magazine, BRIGHT Magazine, RisingAfrica, Quartz Africa, Africasacountry, and MediaDiversified, and their substantive and refreshing content only continues to grow in reach and scale.

From Aid Recipients to Economic Partners

China’s approach to aid and development has proved disruptive to the Western development system and has caused reform within the traditional aid architecture. The principles of solidarity, friendship, and cooperation guide much of China’s engagements with African countries in the spirit of South-South Cooperation. Though such principles do not always hold true and significant power differences are always at play, China’s approach has certainly been a welcome change from the donor-recipient dichotomy that has characterised aid and development relations since the birth of global development post-WWII.

There are many challenges to be faced throughout African countries but this is true of all countries, the so-called “developed world” has not succeeded in ending its own poverty and so there is greater potential for impact in viewing African countries as economic partners beyond mere recipients of aid and development assistance.

Indeed, seven of the 10 fastest growing economies in the world are in Africa and 43% of all Africans are projected to join the ranks of the global middle and upper classes by 2030. By initiating stronger relations on the continent, emerging powers from South Korea to Turkey to Saudi Arabia have manifested strategic foresight in recognising the potentials of Africa’s anticipated transformation.

Lessons from Africa

A key detriment in viewing African countries as recipients of development assistance rather than true economic partners is that traditional Western aid donors lose out on learning from African innovations and ways of thinking. Africa is the not only the future due to demographic increases but is also at the forefront of global trends and there is much traditional aid donors can gain from deeper cooperation and solidarity with African states.

The continent is the most vulnerable in the world to the consequences of global climate change though did the least to cause it; will be host to a quarter of the world’s fastest-growing cities and largest proportion of global demographic change; and is pioneering innovative technologies and solutions from the fields of urban policy to healthcare to refugee policies. The “developed” world will continue to struggle with many of the same challenges facing African states and thus there is incentive to transcend the outdated donor-recipient paradigm and instead focus on mutual learning, partnership, and cooperation.

Towards a Global Development Paradigm of Partnership and Mutual Learning

The military is the current foundation of US-Africa relations, and the European Union largely focuses on a containment strategy to curb African migration flows to Europe. Africa will continue to be the world’s largest source of emigrants and many studies have proven that immigrants and refugees are much-needed “youth injections” in host countries that contribute positively to social security schemes. While the rest of the world will face large-scale ageing and slowing demographic growth, Africa will be the youngest continent and there is enormous potential in realising the continent’s demographic dividend. Thus instead of viewing African states as looming threats, European countries have much incentive to move towards a more win-win relationship that recognises the potential of economic cooperation in the context of Europe’s sluggish economic growth and ageing demographics.

China and other emerging powers recognise that Africa is the future and the Western world ignores this understanding at its future peril. Moving towards a global development paradigm influenced by the underpinnings of South-South Cooperation, namely cooperation and mutual learning, has far greater potential for meaningful impact than traditional donor-recipient relations. Many of the challenges faced by African states, such as climate change and urban policy, have important implications for “developed” countries as these states will face similar challenges and could learn much from African approaches. Africa is a major site of global power struggle and as global affairs currently stand, Western powers need to catch up to what China and other emerging powers have known for decades.


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