Interview With Abayomi Azikiwe
Question: Due to ignorance, Africa may be seen for some as a continent, with high similarities among countries, rather than a group of countries with highly diversified languages, cultures, ethics, climate, geographic landscape. How do you see Africa?
Azikiwe: Africa geographically is a continent. There are 54 recognized states on that continent with different governments. There are many different languages and cultures even races in Africa. However, politically there has been a historical tradition of viewing Africa as a unified entity for the purpose of development.
This notion of a unified Africa goes back to the Marcus Garvey movement of the 1920s and extends through leaders such as Kwame Nkrumah, the president of the First Republic of Ghana, and a leader in the independence movement, through to the late Col. Muammar Gaddafi of Libya, who was a sponsor of the African Union formed in 2002, the continental organization.
The African Union grew out of the Organization of African Unity formed in 1963. Since the days of Nkrumah, the ideas related to Africa becoming one unified federation of states still have resonance among the masses and this impacts the leadership of these various independent states today.
The notion of Pan-Africanism also encompasses the African Diaspora composed of expatriate Africans and people of African descent born in the various parts of the world including the western hemisphere and Europe.
Question: In the past, Africa is often associated with civil war, drought, widespread famine, humanitarian aid in the international media. African countries, especially South Africa, are more often presented as emerging markets in recent years. What are the driving forces behind this change?
Azikiwe: The independence movements of the post-World War II period have had their impact. In recent years lessons from the 1960s and 1970s involving military coups and regional divisions are being seriously taken into account.
Today there is a greater awareness of the need for unity and political civility. Nonetheless, there are many external factors that are also shaping the problems associated with the military intervention in politics and the ongoing factional disputes that we see in Libya, Nigeria, Ivory Coast, Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Somalia and other states.
In addition, the need for greater cooperation with Asian states is gaining greater acceptance. The People’s Republic of China is the leader in this field of improved relations with Africa. However, there are other states as well including India, Japan, Malaysia and Iran that are enhancing dialogue and economic partnerships with Africa.
Question: Regional and international trade for African countries are booming, what are the best and worst performing countries? Why?
Azikiwe: Those that have oil, natural gas and strategic minerals are gaining the most attention. There have been huge discoveries of oil and natural gas in East Africa just this year. Kenya, Tanzania, Mozambique, Somalia are now known to be endowed with oil and natural gas.
Angola is booming economically due in part because of its rising exports in oil to the United States and other industrial and developing countries.
Question: The natural resources in Africa are often seen as the major attractions for foreign investment to be there. Besides natural resources related industries, what are the industries with huge potential for fast development?
Azikiwe: I think tourism has great potential. So does the areas of telecommunications. There has been a great upsurge in mobile phone usage. There is a strong need for local communications technology for people to establish local radio and television stations, broadband access and the ownership of personal and lap top computers.
Education is also a major area of need along with healthcare services including pharmaceuticals.
Question: The general assumption in economics around the world is that there needs to be an expanding middle class with higher spending power in order to create a huge consumer market potential. How do you define middle class in Africa? What are the major spending trends by middle class?
Azikiwe: Well it has since independence been characterized differently than in the U.S. or other industrialized states. When people talked about middle class in Africa it was more associated with social rank within various societies. The possession and acquisition of substantial sums of money was not always a factor.
Today however, there are Africans emerging who are quite wealthy and who have firm ties economically with western corporations and institutions. Also partnerships with Africans in other neighboring countries are proving to be lucrative for the mid-level business sector.
Question: What are the economic and political reforms needed for African countries to achieve high economic growth?
Azikiwe: There needs to be a strong emphasis on social spending. People need healthcare facilities with trained personnel. They need educational institutions which are subsidized by the state or businesses so that there will be universal access to education.
Also there has to be access to modern communication technology. The world has grown smaller for those who have radios, televisions, mobile phones, high-speed internet access and local transportation.
Question: There is an assumption that long term international aid made some African countries become dependent rather than develop the necessary efforts to revive the local economy. What should be done to integrate international aid and local economic activities for the sole purpose of reviving local economic activities?
Azikiwe: The primary interests of Africans must be paramount. Some aid agencies are not working to put themselves out of business. They have become a business unto themselves. They tend to work in conjunction with those who are not interested in the long term welfare of the continent.
People in developing and emerging states must become self-reliant. This can be done. Just look at the example of China. In just six decades the country has emerged from extreme underdevelopment to a world power.
Question: The vast Chinese investment in infrastructure to tap the natural resources has raises some concerns of a new form of colonialism. For some, it provides another solution for Africa besides the humanitarian aid between developed and underdeveloped countries. What is your opinion?
Azikiwe: Those who say that China’s approach to Africa is colonial are the neo-colonialists themselves. These are the same countries that were involved in the Atlantic Slave Trade for centuries and colonialism for another century. Today these states who are hostile to China want to maintain the status-quo where Africans do not really benefit as a whole from economic investment.
The western-based transnational corporations are getting a lot of competition today from Asia. This is a good development for the African continent, for the Asian markets and ironically for the West. The western states can no longer rest on their laurels. They must recognize and deal with the new realities of international relations.
Question: The trade barriers among African countries are high, what should be done to integrate the pan-African market?
Azikiwe: There should be immediate action taken by the African Union now in the aftermath of their summit that was held in Ethiopia. These barriers must be broken down and there should be investments into facilitating trade and communications links between the various nation-states.
Question: For African countries, should political reforms or economic reforms come first? Or should African countries look to the Singapore or China model—high economic growth, but the democracy level may not be as impressive.
Azikiwe: I think that the question of democracy in Africa cannot be divorced from the economic development of a state. For real democracy to flourish there needs to be political and economic institutions that can sustain change and the need for change.
As long as we have people who do not have access to education, healthcare, communication technology, jobs and capital for small and medium-size business development, it will put a monumental strain on political and economic reforms.
Question: What is your opinion on the economic outlook of Africa?
Azikiwe: It depends on numerous factors. The need for greater political and economic unity is important. There must be a new culture of relations between the former colonial states of the West and the African countries. Africa must demand fair trade and investment. Governments must insist on the non-interference in the internal affairs by the West in the various states.
If there is social stability and the rise in education and technology access, there are no barriers to what Africa can accomplish.
Abayomi Azikiwe is the editor of Pan-African News Wire , an international electronic press service designed to foster intelligent discussion on the affairs of African people throughout the continent and the world. The press agency was founded in January of 1998 and has published thousands of articles and dispatches in newspapers, magazines, journals, research reports, blogs and websites throughout the world. The PANW represents the only daily international news source on pan-african and global affairs. To contact him, click on this link >> Email