Ali Mufuruki on "Impediments to Economic Growth, Including Governance, Corruption, Inequality"

Highlights from the 29th Annual Camden Conference

In a Conference featuring many expressions of optimistic enthusiasm, Mufuruki's presentation provided a ‘cold shower’ of sober realities as he highlighted the more daunting challenges facing Africa.

Mufuruki began by pointing out that "every time good people take a good look at the state of Africa, they wish it could be better." Yet the ‘New Africa’ that everyone hopes for has remained elusive. Stressing that he should not be considered an "Afro-pessimist," he said that the continent and its future "mean everything to him and his family."

Mufuruki called for "realistic hopes based on an accurate assessment of Africa's strengths and weaknesses," and cautioned that we must resist settling for too little. As for impediments to Africa's progress, he said that there were too many to list in the time allotted him so he would focus on what he called "the Big Two" of impediments: low productivity and high population growth.

Africa's current productivity growth rate, about 6% per annum, Mufuruki branded as totally inadequate, first because of the low GDP base it started from and, secondly, because of Africa's consistently high population growth. He noted that Africa was a world leader "in all the wrong things," including: unemployment, extreme poverty, inequality, natural disasters and epidemics, armed conflicts, terrorism, political instability, human rights abuses, and numbers of refugees.

Mufuruki illustrated his main points with a statistical comparison of Africa and China, beginning in the early 1980s when they were roughly similar in terms of population (about one billion each) and per capita income. Since then, China had achieved double-digit GDP growth (between 13% and 18%) compared to only 6% for Africa. China had focused on training millions of engineers and scientists and on preparing its workers to take up industrial jobs, while in Africa, with no prioritizing by governments, students tended to shun engineering and science in favor of the easier arts and sciences. "How can we seriously hope to industrialize," Mufuruki asked, "without engineers or technicians?"

He then gave a depressing list of all the areas where Africa had fallen behind China: percent of the world's GDP (Africa, with 14% of the world's population, had only 3%, compared to China with 18% and 16% respectively); ending poverty (36% of Africans live on less than $1 dollar a day, while China has only 5% under a higher poverty measurement of less than $2 dollars a day); population growth (China, growing at only 0.6% per annum, against 2.5% for Africa); and food self-sufficiency (Africa imports 83% of its food, while China is self-sufficient and even exports food).

“Responsibility for creating the New Africa that the whole world is calling for rests squarely with today's generation of Africans...we cannot afford to fail.”

Mufuruki noted the recent downturn in exports of African commodities to China, and its impact on African countries reliant on such exports, especially those exporting only single products (i.e. Zambia's copper and Ghana's cocoa). Whereas the Chinese had specifically planned for reliance on African materials in their 5-year plans, African supplier countries had been passive throughout. When the bounty of the export income suddenly diminished or stopped in the last few years, they were caught totally unprepared. "A movie we have seen before," Mufuruki commented ruefully.

Here the speaker returned to the troubling issue of declining African food production, pointing out that in 1980 Africa was exporting about as much food as it was importing. By 2007 there was an imbalance of about $22 billion of food imports over exports, and last year imports made up 83% of Africa's total consumption. This situation has caused inflation in food prices and related increases in dietary deficiencies, especially those affecting brain development, in millions of African children. With Africa's warm climate, vast arable land, and reliable water supply, this food deficit is puzzling, but a recent report of the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization attributes it to lack of strategic planning and government support.

In considering solutions, Mufuruki urged leaders and planners to remember that "Africa's people have the right to some of the same aspirations that people have in other parts of the world," specifically the ability to: 

- Earn a living through honest work 

- Have enough of the basics to live a dignified life 

- Send their children to school 

- Save enough for retirement 

- Have hopes for the future of their children

When people lack hope for these things, Mufuruki said, "terrible things can happen, as is already happening in many parts of Africa." As for what must be done to rescue these hopes, Mufuruki returned his focus on finding cures for the vicious cycle of low productivity and high population growth, stressing that, in his opinion, "Sub-Saharan nations must aspire to annual GDP rates closer to 20% for a period of no less than 30 years if current generations of Africans are going to have any hope in the future."

Success in this area would require finding ways to harness Africa's unchecked population growth more positively by better educating of the hordes of unemployed young people that Africa already has, and by taking better advantage of Africa's present economic opportunities through better planning and policy making.

Mufuruki then turned his attention to the continent's pervasive political corruption, the fight against which he called "a matter of life and death," adding that “if we fail, everything else we are trying to build will come crumbling down." Here Mufuruki added a pessimistic note, pointing out that even the African institutions charged with combating corruption—the judiciary, the police, and the regulatory bodies—were badly infected by it.

To conclude, Mufuruki said that the fight against corruption must go hand in hand with innovative efforts to provide jobs and increase production. This is no time for complacency in any of these areas, and Africa, to be successful, must follow a different path of development than that of other regions.

Calling attention to the many up-coming celebrations of 60 years of African freedom from colonial rule, Mufuruki said: "We must ask ourselves what we have done with that freedom." He ended by stressing that "responsibility for creating the New Africa that the whole world is calling for rests squarely with today's generation of Africans" and that "we cannot afford to fail."

In the question period, Mufuruki made the following comments: Regarding the quality of the information available to Africa's economic planners, Mufuruki said that the data he saw while on the Board of Tanzania's Central Bank overemphasized the urban "official" economy and created mistaken assumptions and that his efforts to improve them were rebuffed. On the subject of suitable role models for African development, he advocated against disqualifying the former colonizing nations, noting that South Korea had prospered greatly by purposely following the example of the hated Japan.  4

Reported by Charlie Graham

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