Is there still any hope for Africa? In this contribution to my blog I show on the basis of the examples of Cote d´Iovire and Benin, that there are valid examples of good governance and responsible leadership in Africa. And I give some indications, what lessons can be learnt from theses examples.
An ongoing, albeit weakened civil war in Ethiopia, military coups in Guinea, Mali, Burkina Faso and most recently Niger and Gabon, a puppet government on the drip of Russian Wagner mercenaries in Central Africa: the bad news from Africa dominates much of the media. The motives of the military coup leaders, all of whom were members of the ruling elite before the coup, are known. In many cases, it is all about securing their own interest. The head of the presidential guard in Niger, for example, staged a coup because a good „business friend“ with his corrupt deals was unable to land with the newly elected president. But that’s only one side of the story, the other is that the military coup leaders (and also their Russian supporters) can rely on the enthusiastic support of a large part of the young population in their countries. These young people are numerous. The Sahel is the region with the highest birth rate in the world. Thanks in part to Western development aid, the mortality rate of newborns and children has fallen dramatically, while at the same time the level of education has risen significantly. Many of the young people have a school or university degree and know what the rest of the world is like thanks to internet access and cell phones. However, 80% of them have no decent employment prospects in their countries and have to to organize their living with odd jobs or as a motorcycle cab driver. The result is anger, anger at the old elites, anger at the West, anger at France, which is supposedly or actually responsible for the fact that these young people have no prospects today.
What can be done? What is needed above all are governments in Africa that do their job properly, that „deliver“ and that manage to at least awaken hope for a better future, even if it is not possible to provide all unemployed young people with a good job overnight. And there are governments that do this.
Examples that give hope: Benin and Cote d’Ivoire
In this article, I would like to look at the examples of Benin and Cote d’Ivoire. In Benin, the richest man in the country, Patrice Talon, was elected president in 2016. And in Cote d`Ivoire, the elected president Alassane Ouattara came to power in 2010 with the help of the French military, after his predecessor Laurent Gbagbo, who had triggered years of civil war with his concept of Ivoirité (authochones against immigrants) and who had then refused for weeks to acknowledge his election defeat and vacate the presidential seat.
Both presidents have had a remarkable economic and social track record since taking office. While Cote d’Ivoire has since recorded growth rates of 7-8% p.a., Benin has achieved 6%, despite the fact that neighboring Nigeria, which directly and indirectly contributes 30% to Benin’s GDP, has been in crisis for years.
Agricultural production, the pillar of Cote d’Ivoire’s economy, has increased significantly, both in terms of cash crops for export and local food production. The energy supply has been drastically improved. Cote d’Ivoire has become a net exporter of electricity. By 2030, the share of renewable energies is expected to be 42%. But progress has also been remarkable in the social sphere. Child mortality has been reduced from 95.1 to 22.8 (per thousand births) between 2010 and today, while elementary school enrolment has increased from 89.3% to 96.8%. As a result, the proportion of poor people in the total population has also fallen from 51% to 31.5% and average life expectancy has risen from 50 years to 62 years since 2010!
The situation is similar in Benin, where Patrice Talon succeeded in tripling cotton production – the country’s most important export and foreign currency earner – within 3.4 years. At the same time, food production also increased significantly. With the aim of gradually leading the country out of the status of a pure raw material producer, Talon also took the initiative to develop modern textile production. A training center was created for thousands of textile workers, and a large newly installed solar plant is to supply electricity for the new factories, among other things. Significant investments have also been made in the social sector in Benin. For example, 75% of elementary school now have their own school canteen, which is the most important measure to motivate pupils to attend school. The establishment of comprehensive health insurance for all is progressing, schools and universities are being expanded in a targeted manner and, most recently, the salaries of all state employees have been significantly increased.
It is also worth noting that both countries have managed to make significant social and economic investments while still pursuing a sound budgetary policy. The level of debt in both economies is significantly lower than that of Germany and neither country currently appears to be in danger of sliding into another debt crisis.
All good so far? Both presidents, Talon and Ouattarra, are wealthy, which is a source of criticism. And if Talon manages to boost the cotton sector, then of course his companies, which are currently managed by trust holders, will also benefit. Nevertheless, when fertilizer prices rose in recent years, Talon instructed the country’s ginning plants (80% of which belong to him) to subsidize fertilizer prices to the benefit of the farmers and at the expense of their profits; a state subsidy would be out of the question. According to all that is known, neither president is corrupt, perhaps because of their existing wealth.
Economic progress versus democracy?
While a fairly stable 3-4 party democracy has gradually re-established itself in Cote d’Ivoire after the unstable civil war, Talon is accused of bringing about a „creeping decline of democracy“ in Benin. The background to this is that Talon has cleaned up the party landscape, which consisted of many dozens of parties with largely indistinguishable programs but the egos of many party leaders. Talon introduced a constitutional amendment requiring that parties admitted to elections must be represented throughout the country (to stop ethnic fragmentation) and achieve at least 10% in elections. In the 2019 parliamentary elections, this led to the opposition refusing to run, and only two Talon-friendly parties entered parliament at the time. However, the situation changed again in the 2023 elections. Talon’s historic opponent, ex-President Boni Yayi, re-entered parliament and became the strongest opposition force with his party. In the end, Talon’s efforts to clean up the party landscape worked.
In the discussion about democracy in Africa here, we often hear that we should not impose our models of democracy on Africans, but that they should rather determine their own form of government. The traditional African model of government with a strong president and one-party rule, in which political decisions are balanced between the various interest groups and traditional leaders (tribal elders and local chiefs/kings) outside the public eye, is no longer up to date by any stretch of the imagination. It is also no longer accepted by young people in Africa, especially as this system was extremely susceptible to corruption and is one of the causes of today’s widespread corruptibility. What is true about this debate, however, is that we must allow the Africans in a dialogue on an equal footing that they may have good arguments for proceeding somewhat differently from the ideas of their Western partners on the democratization paths they have chosen. A President Kagame in Rwanda is of course still traumatized by the genocide. And in this respect it is partly understandable, even if not necessarily acceptable, that he senses trouble with every Hutu opposition member.
However, Talon and Ouattara will have to prove that they are not clinging to power but are abiding by the constitution. Talon will finish his second term in 2025. Ouattara did not want to run again at the end of his second term, but then decided to amend the constitution and run for a third term due to the sudden death of his proposed successor. Now, however, both have publicly declared or had it declared that they do not want to run again.
Conclusions for German and European foreign and development policy in Africa
A very differentiated view of the various African countries is required. And dialog at eye level must not be only proclaimed, but must be practiced in such a way that the African partners also have the opportunity to implement some proposals as a result of the dialog that deviate from Western guidelines.
In terms of political and economic cooperation, African countries now have a choice between various partners: the EU, China, Russia, India and Turkey. They will rightly make use of these choices and Europe’s role will be more limited than in the past. Nevertheless, Europe also has a lot to offer. Europe remains an important import and export market and an important financier of development cooperation. Despite the colonial era, there is a cultural affinity that has grown over the years that is not evident in the relationship between Africa and China, for example. And even if quite a few African leaders see the Chinese model of government as a role model, African civil societies are predominantly closer to European democracy. And if the worst comes to the worst, French or British troops are ready to help an elected president come to power in Cote d’Ivoire, prevent Islamists from taking over in Mali or assist an elected government in Sierra Leone in its battle with rebels. This is another reason why Germany would be ill-advised to continue to seek cooperation with its partner France when it comes to Africa. Macron has left the unfortunate times and practices of „Franceafrique“ far behind him. Even if it makes sense to concentrate cooperation on countries that predominantly practice good governance, there are also opportunities for cooperation in autocratic and poorly governed countries. In Cameroon, for example, despite an unspeakable president, there are well-positioned and capable partners among the country’s private companies, in civil society and in some cases also in the government, with whom it is worth laying the foundations today for a post-Biya era.
Title image copyright: © www.gouv.ci