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Thirty-five years in the life of any human institution should not normally be considered too distant to predict its course of progress. After all, it is only a little over a generation away. What is more, those who will shape and influence what Africa will be by the middle of the 21st century are almost all already born.
Let me start with an extremely optimistic, some might say utopian, scenario for Africa — one that also involves a fairly pessimistic scenario for Europe, Asia and the Americas. It is all most unlikely and unrealistic — but come along with me on this trail.
The most stultifying problem for Africa right now is leadership. It affects the lives of the majority of Africans from the cradle to the grave.
In my utopia, Africa’s leadership issues — in terms of performance, governance, administration and management — will take just five years to solve. This achieved, all traces of injustice, discrimination and disparity in political, economic and social spheres will vanish, leaving the continent free of violent conflicts. Guns will be silenced and peace will descend like refreshing morning dew. The African military force will be drastically reduced while the capacity of the police will be increased and enhanced.
Integration will proceed at breakneck speed and by 2025 Africa will have a union government, a common currency called Afri and unmanned borders. Energy will be a priority, with 100 per cent coverage for industrial, domestic and agricultural needs by the mid-21st century. Transportation infrastructure will be transformed, enabling Africa to shrink into one connected nation rather than 54 virtually unconnected ones.
In this vision, education will be free and compulsory for African children for 12 years and no university student will be denied opportunity for lack of means. Free healthcare for all African children under five and all pregnant women will be available by 2020. By 2030, 50 per cent of all commodities produced in Africa — mineral or agricultural — will be processed here as well and, by 2050, intra-African trade will be at 75 per cent. Africa will spend 10 per cent of its GDP on science, technology and innovation by 2040 and our institutes for democracy, good governance and sustainable development will be so popular that they will have campuses all over the world.
Meanwhile, economic progress in Europe, China and North America will have stagnated, making Africa a haven for investment, employment generation and wealth creation by 2040. There will be quotas for Europeans, Asians and Americans seeking employment here. All arable land in Africa will be cultivated, save what is reserved for environmental protection. By 2050, Africa will be the storehouse for 25 per cent of the world food reserve, ready to help in global emergencies.
The African parliament, a new two-chamber legislature, will be 45 per cent female by 2040. The union government will be made up of a presidential council of five, each elected at the regional levels of west, central, southern, eastern and north Africa. No fewer than two of them will be women and they will rule for five years with the chairmanship changing annually. The Central Bank of Africa will also have five governors in the council — one per region with similar term limits. Africa will be a strong member of the United Nations with a permanent Security Council seat. And, of course, we will also have hosted the Olympics on a number of occasions, leading the gold medal table each time.
Those who could make this utopian Africa of 2050 a reality have almost all been born already. But judging from our history and by what is happening elsewhere in the world, a more honest prediction would look very different. Those who will shape the continent of the future are the product of what exists today.
So, in this more realistic world, there will be no monumental improvement in the vision of Africa’s leaders. But there will be incremental change in the quality of the leaders themselves, even if most will remain nationalists rather than pan-Africanists. External pressures and internal demographics will enhance democracy. Regional economic communities — the likely building blocks for an integrated Africa — will move further towards consolidation with more executive and legislative powers. Integration at regional level will drive integration at continental level. Africa must have its fair share in the global division of labour and global decision-making processes.
Without a cohesive system at continental level and a critical mass of strong regional institutions, movement on other issues will be slow: these include power, water, infrastructure, intra-African trade and forging common African policy with different regions of the world. For now, issues such as terrorism, climate change, narcotics, organised crime, migration, arms and trafficking and impunity are of greater concern.
The worst-case scenario for Africa in 2050 is more of the same Africa of 2015. However, the more realistic prospect lies somewhere between that and my utopia.
It will be quality of leadership that will manage the internal and external pressures that will impose themselves on Africa. Even if the best does not happen, we can prevent the worst.
Olusegun Obasanjo was president of Nigeria from 1999 to 2007
Illustration by Shonagh Rae