IPS World Desk
Natural and man-made disasters, armed conflicts, widespread corruption and deep social inequalities have been so far a dramatic source for most news coverage when it comes to Africa, the world’s second-largest and second-most-populous continent on Earth, which hosts 54 states spreading over 30 million square kilometres that are home to over 1.2 billion people.
Nevertheless, an often neglected fact is that this vast continent with huge natural resources –which have been systematically depleted by private –and also in cases, state-owned corporations— registered an economic growth of around 4 per cent in 2014, “creating one of the longest stretches of uninterrupted positive economic expansion in Africa’s history,” according to the United Nations.
As a result, a growing number of Africans have joined the middle class each year.
May 25 has marked Africa Day, an annual commemoration of the establishment of the Organization of African Unity (OAU) on that very same date on 1963, when 32 independent African states signed the founding charter in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. In 2002, the OAU became the African Union.
Just three weeks ahead of Africa Day, a new UN atlas charting data from 54 African countries revealed the continent’s energy potential; showing that investment in renewable energy would strengthen its economic advancement.
“The Atlas makes a strong case that investments in green energy infrastructure can bolster Africa’s economic development and bring it closer to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs),” said Juliette Biao Koudenoukpo, Director and Regional Representative of the Africa Office for the Nairobi-based UN Environment Programme (UNEP).
As such, she continued, it is an important policy guide for African governments as they strive to catalyse national development by making use of their energy resources.
The Atlas of Africa Energy Resources, released by UNEP and the African Development Bank at the World Economic Forum in Durban, South Africa, shows both the potential and the fragility of the continent’s energy resources, which are at the heart of Africa’s socio-economic development.
While Africa is richly endowed with both renewable and non-renewable energy resources, its current energy production is insufficient to meet demand, it says, adding that about a third Africa’s population still lacks access to electricity and 53 per cent of the population depends on biomass for cooking, space heating and drying.
According to UNEP, energy consumption on the continent is the lowest in the world, and per capita consumption has barely changed since 2000.
The poorest African households spend 20 times more per unit of energy than wealthy households when connected to the grid. A kettle boiled twice by a family in the United Kingdom uses five times as much electricity as a Malian uses in a year, UNEP reported.
The Big Challenges
According to the United Nations, climate change poses a significant threat to economic, social and environmental development in Africa. “There is strong evidence that warming in Africa has increased significantly over the past 50 to 100 years, with clear effects on the health, livelihoods and food security of people in Africa.”
Then comes corruption, which remains the “most daunting challenge” to good governance, sustainable economic growth, peace, stability and development in Africa, according to the international organisation.
“While corruption is a global phenomenon, the impact is felt more in poor and underdeveloped countries, where resources for development are unduly diverted into private hands, which exacerbates poverty. In many corruption perception surveys, Africa is perceived as the most corrupt region in the world, as well as the most underdeveloped and backward region…”
All this amidst the dramatic fact that Africa is also home to around half if the more than 4o conflicts worldwide, from South Sudan to Nigeria through Somalia.
The challenges posed by protracted conflicts and longstanding disputes on the African continent has been a major focus for the international community. In fact, already in 1960 the first peacekeeping operation in Africa was deployed in the Republic of the Congo to ensure the withdrawal of Belgian forces and to assist the government in maintaining law and order.
Since then thousands of peacekeepers have been deployed in nearly 30 peacekeeping operations to African countries, including Angola, Mozambique, Somalia, Sierra Leone, Ethiopia and Eritrea, Burundi and Sudan, and the Central African Republic, among others.
Decolonisation, Women Advancement
Another often-neglected fact is that at the end of World War II in 1945, nearly every country in Africa was subject to colonial rule or administration. Following the founding of the UN in 1945 and its massive decolonisation effort, Africa is now virtually free from colonial rule. In 2011 South Sudan became Africa’s newest country when it gained independence from the rest of Sudan.
Meantime, it would be needed to remind that in 11 African countries, women hold close to one-third of the seats in parliaments. Rwanda has the highest proportion of women parliamentarians in the world, according to the UN. Sub-Saharan Africa has the highest regional female entrepreneurial activity rate in the world, with nearly a third of businesses having some female ownership.
Africa’s Agenda 2063
An additional fact is that in January 2015 the heads of state and governments of the African Union adopted Agenda 2063, with visions and ideals aiming at serving as pillars for the continent in the foreseeable future.
“The Agenda is a strategic framework for the socio-economic transformation of the continent over the next 50 years. Its builds on, and seeks to accelerate the implementation of past and existing continental initiatives for growth and sustainable development,” according to the Africa Union (AU).
The guiding vision for Agenda 2063 is that of “An integrated, prosperous and peaceful Africa, driven by its own citizens and representing a dynamic force in international arena,” the AU states.
The seven “African Aspirations”, which were derived through a consultative process with the African Citizenry, are: a prosperous Africa, based on inclusive growth and sustainable development; an integrated continent, politically united, based on the ideals of Pan Africanism and the vision of Africa’s Renaissance, and an Africa of good governance, democracy, respect for human rights, justice and the rule of law.
Also a peaceful and Secure Africa; Africa with a strong cultural identity, common heritage, values and ethics, an Africa whose development is people driven, relying on the potential offered by people, especially its women and youth and caring for children, and an Africa as a strong, united, resilient and influential global player and partner.