Robert Rotberg addresses audience members at the CIGI Campus. (Adamski Tomasz/CIGI Photo)
Robert Rotberg addresses audience members at the CIGI Campus. (Adamski Tomasz/CIGI Photo)

According to Robert Rotberg, Fulbright Research Chair in Political Development at the Balsillie School of International Affairs and Visiting Fulbright Scholar at CIGI, there is great hope for Africa’s political and socio-economic future. But there is still a long way to go for the continent to reach the success that Asia has achieved.

At his CIGI Signature Lecture, Rotberg offered an overview on what Africa will need to pursue in order to turn the page on its rather uneasy past.

Around the time of decolonization in the 1960s, elements of Africa’s socio-economic status were on par with or better than Asia — per capita GDP and literacy rates, for example, were higher in the former. What went wrong? Rulers, such as Mobutu Sese Seko, that were animated by greed left several states and their populations suffering. Combined with a failure to enter the global marketplace, Africa has been struggling to catch up ever since, according to Rotberg.

Since the 2000s, however, Africa’s future has become increasingly characterized by opportunity rather than failure. The continent, Rotberg explained, has been growing rapidly, not only in terms of population, but also in economic, political and social performance indicators. Levels of education, democracy, trade and productivity have increased, while HIV incidence rates have been decreasing. Indeed, Rotberg reiterated Tony Blair’s statement that “a new attitude [and] a new frame of thinking” is emerging in Africa, as the lethargy of previous decades becomes superseded by ambition.

The underside of Africa’s great hope is serious, contemporary challenges, Rotberg explained. First, population growth will have profound impact throughout the continent, negatively affecting food security. Second and third, maternal health and malnutrition continue to cause problems for life expectancy and well-being on the continent. Fourth, and related to the first challenge, access to water will continue to threaten food security. And lastly, poor infrastructure — including roads and electricity — will negatively affect Africa’s human capital and ability to establish itself in the global market place. Moreover, there are challenges posed by high crime and murder rates, narcotics and ongoing civil strife.

According to Rotberg, for Africa to overcome these challenges and catch up to Asia, there are four key strategies that are being, and should continue to be, considered.

The Role of China

Africa should leverage a deal and build a stronger relationship with China. Both parties could benefit from sub-regional agreements, including, for example, provisions on the use of African labour in projects on the continent.

The Mobile Phone Revolution

Cellular phone technology— and its ability to improve business communication, electoral legitimacy, health care practices and literacy — is helping Africa join the global village in a modern way.

The Rising Middle Class

As engaged stakeholders, Africa’s middle class is growing and becoming an important factor in the quality of governance on the continent. This group — and the rising success of African businesses that are not entirely dependent on government support — are playing a key role in Africa’s political growth.

Strengthened Leadership

Rotberg emphasized the need for enhanced leadership in Africa based on Nelson Mandela’s model of good governance. The continent needs leaders with intellectual honesty, integrity and a desire to help their people succeed. Reiterating two pieces he wrote in previous weeks, Robert also mentioned that female leaders, like Joyce Banda, are having a profound impact on the continent and that promoting good leadership is an area where the government of Canada could play a part.

Africa still has a long way to go to catch up with Asia, but Rotberg sees a surmountable set of problems and a new-found willingness on the continent to get it right.

HAVE YOUR SAY: If you attended this lecture, caught the webcast or watched the archived video, we would love to hear your thoughts on the issues Robert Rotberg raised. Start a dialogue by adding your comments below. 

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