Africa 2020 – An Evaluation of Herbst’s and Mills’ Proposed ideal Scenario

In 2006, Jeffrey Herbst and Greg Mills published “Africa in 2020: Three Scenarios for the Future,” detailing Africa’s prospects over the next fourteen years, and outline specific steps and policies which would lead to one of three possible outcomes. Although I find their outcomes to be fairly obvious, the real value of their piece is in the analysis of the driving factors of each outcome.  Among the most important factors, which the author’s note, is the willingness of domestic leaders to legitimately take interest in domestic development, and ultimately, continental development. In order to achieve the most ideal scenario, “Africa takes charge,” the authors purport that the drivers for Africa change must come from within the continent itself. Although the authors do recommend that countries eschew pursuing international aid, or promote isolationist continental policy, my main critique of the article is that it downplays what I see to be as the necessity of foreign, non-Africa involvement, as a step along the way in development.

In their introduction to the three scenarios, Herbst and Mills write of the potential success of Africa taking its development into its own hands, even though many African countries “are among the weakest in the world,” and seemingly have no agency regarding their destiny. The authors counter this using Bostwana, which was once one of Africa’s poorest and least developed countries. I find this to be inherently contradictory, as the authors’ themselves point out that Botswana’s growth was stimulated primarily by De Beers, and the diamond trade. While it is certainly true that as countries develop, they are better able to help their regional and continental neighbors, I think that to say that the most positive scenario is based on Africa taking charge of its own destiny ultimately ignores the necessity of outside investment and influence, which can provide development in the proportion of countries necessary for Africa to really develop from within.

Writing in 2006, the authors’ best case scenario was for a developed Africa which acted continentally in order to promote regional growth. Besides this scenario being extremely unrealistic in a fourteen year span, it completely mitigates the necessity for involvement of countries outside the continent. In the authors’ ideal scenario, the continental powers have the ability to help develop those countries which have lagged behind. Evaluating their scenarios today, despite development of many large African countries, particularly Nigeria, it is still impossible to promote development across the continent which would yield a stable and productive Africa by 2020. Perhaps if Herbst and Mills reevaluated their piece today, they might still see the possibility for Africa “taking charge” by 2020, but I imagine they would reevaluate their frameworks to allow for heavy foreign influence across the continent in the meantime.

While I agree with the authors that it will be important for Africa to take a continental approach to growth and development, it is foolish to claim that in order to do so, Africa must promote growth from within. In order to establish levels of development, high enough to create momentum across the continent, Africa must be dependent on foreign investment and engagement for a while longer.

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