Sleeping giant or wakeful disaster area?

There has been much speculation about this mysterious continent!

Subject to the vagrancies of European imperialistic ambitions, Africa has been a abused and plundered continent from time immemorial.

Starting as a source of unlimited human traffic, and evolving into a treasure trove of precious jewels and metals, Africa has been robbed of its greatness by many generations of opportunistic explorers and pirates (including, so-called legitimate first-world governments).

In their wake they left behind the worst of their social depravities, and creating confusion amongst the indigenous inhabitants and invading and slaughtering them with impunity.

The horrific slaughter of elephant, rhino and other challenging beasts is forever a monument to the cruel, senseless and egotistical greed of men.

But that was the past.

What of the future?

Previously the mineral wealth was exploited indiscriminately. Foreign powers raided the African shores, devastating its loveliness and corrupting the indigenous people. Vast amounts of riches was extracted from her bowls and exported to yonder shores with little left behind for the people to whom they rightfully belonged.

How many dynasties have been created from the ‘rape’ of this magnificent and gracious continent?

And here we sit many of centuries later and what is left?

There are various opinions about the potential of the continent especially as of late.

A few years ago Africa was seen as one of the major future markets in the next 20 years. Ever since the recent commodity price collapse, this thinking has changed. Coupled with bearish views on emerging markets, Africa has lost its lustre. Fund managers now claim better opportunities elsewhere and have been bailing out of their African exposures.

South Africa, in my view, has added further credence to this perception. Africa is a suspect investment destination. On its journey to finding its economic and political equilibrium, South Africa has not met the optimistic ‘Rainbow Nation’ expectations.Rather it has experienced unexpected prolonged birth-pains. In its attempt to create a fairer society for all, it has trashed its job-creating abilities, aligned itself with disreputable regimes and contaminated its ethos with unbounded corruption.

With the expectation that SA would step forward as a leader of this beautiful continent, underpinned by the messianic African vision of its struggle icons, it has been a massive disappointment.

Having emerged from a brutal society of racial discrimination of unprecedented proportions, and guided by one of the greatest icons of human equality and freedom, Nelson Mandela, South Africa had the potential to lead Africa (and even the world) into a new era of prosperity and joy for the entire human race.

Of late this vision has been punctured. The existing leadership has shown itself to be as self-serving and misguided as other failed regimes on the continent. With little willingness to participate in the African messianic vision postulated by Mandela, South Africa has slipped from its position as leader to that of follower. And to this end, the continent has an abysmal record.

There are a number of dynamics that have created this result and it’s not all about the depravity of the current political leadership. The abuse and depravation of the previous generation, the opulence and abuse of its masters all get mixed in to create the result that we now face. When an influential leader stands up in front of the voting masses and openly declares that there is nothing wrong with capturing vast amounts of wealth for the benefit of a select few, one has to acknowledge that there is a huge disconnect and disparity in basic human values. How can there be justification for hoarding eye-watering quantities of wealth for the benefit of a select few at the expense of a destroyed education system, non-existent health care, deteriorating basic services, and housing for the poor? What is it about the social construct that makes that acceptable enough to allow this survive without a massive revolution from the people?

The answer remains elusive.

But consider this.

Did you know that a vast portion of Africa is desert – barren, non-cultivatable. Surprisingly this includes South Africa of which nearly 80% desert or semi-desert.

The remaining parts are luscious, fertile and uncultivated.

And this brings to the greatest wealth that Africa has to offer. It is a massive bread-basket! And the world is going to need this resource to feed itself going forward.

Whereas previously the riches the continent had to offer was in the arena of ‘nice-to-haves’, food is a non-negotiable necessity that Africa is capable of producing in unbounded quantities. Add to this the fact that agriculture is essentially non-existent in a lot of these countries, the potential is staggering. Take this raw material and apply skill and capital and you have a powerhouse of economic value awaiting to be unlocked.

If you ever have the pleasure of flying over Africa in the daylight hours it is abundantly apparent how under-utilised the land-mass is. And then cross over the border into South Africa and see the contrast – farm after dam after roads. The contrast is immense!

I have an interest in South African history especially around the turn of the 19th century. At that time the landscape was peppered with some colourful personalities one of which was Cecil John Rhodes. Notwithstanding the fact that he was the biggest rogue and thug to ever grace these shores, he had an interesting vision – a railway line from Cape to Cairo, a infrastructural connection all the way across the continent. It was the only part about the man I liked and it is still to be actualised. Picture a 4 lane highway connecting Johannesburg to London, meandering its way across the most exciting tracts of land remaining on the planet?

Why not?

Of course it will require a lot more leadership and vision than is available right now.

Could such a leader arise who could see all of this potential, engage all the parties, articulate the vision and raise the finance? Could such a person emerge?

Seems unlikely until you dig a little deeper.

We have right now a passionate and experienced politician, one who openly connects with all the leaders in the region, has the exposure to the complexities and challenges involved and has the passion and respect to pull it together. This person currently remains humbly indiscrete and unexposed. But they exist.

Think of the United Federated States of Sub-Sahara Africa (UFSSSA), a cohesive force working together towards one vision, driven by infrastructural and agricultural development, with no borders and a free-flowing single currency, applying all its resources to maximum efficiency?

pipe dream?


Well maybe not. But the missing component is the inspired leadership with the ability to engage all stakeholders.

Will the real Slim Shady please stand up!

Afica Addio!