Reading Post – Africa in 2020

Herbst and Mills’ article on scenarios for the future of Africa effectively ties together the numerous issues and challenges that continue to plague African countries today. It provides an interesting interpretation of events and offers three potential scenarios for Africa in 2020, which is only four years away. The authors suggest that Africa will either take charge, “give and take,” or follow in terms of reforms and initiatives. Expanding upon themes and issues discussed in class, it seems that African countries tend more toward the scenario of “Africa Follows.”

The seven factors and driving factors that the authors suggest will propel change across Africa are still pertinent today. Economic growth, demography, democracy, external environment, the non-governmental sector, conflict, and diaspora, all continue to influence current, and future, political and domestic outcomes on the continent. In particular, economic growth, democratization, and conflict are likely the most pressing issues that have seen minimal improvements in the past 12 years.

The authors assert that economic growth is a necessary precondition for African stability and prosperity and argue that 6% is the target growth rate that countries should strive to achieve (3). Economic grievances are a common underlying cause of political instability and conflict across the world. Many of the same political discontent, rampant unemployment, corruption among elites, and concentration of wealth seen in African countries were also seen in the Middle East, and these factors directly contributed to the Arab Spring. The youth bulge is another critical factor that has exacerbated problems with the economy and prohibited significant improvements in stability. Moreover, the youth bulge and economic grievances have created stagnation or minimal improvement in African economies during the past 12 years. The significant economic growth the authors emphasized has largely failed to take root, which implies that Africa’s overall trajectory has experienced minimal improvement.

According to the article, stagnation and preservation of the present status quo do not bode well for the future of the continent. The “Africa Follows” scenario is the most accurate description of the current state of affairs across the African continent, as African countries continue to not necessarily drive the reform agenda (10). External powers continue to influence development throughout the continent, often acting in their own interests rather than those of African countries. Additionally, frustrations with political and economic reform, or lack thereof, do persist within African countries and continue to disenchant the general public. However the situations the authors predicted about Africa being a place of turmoil are not entirely as bleak or dire as they suggested in 2006 (11). Certainly, growth has been minimal and the status quo has not significantly changed, but many countries are in fact slowly making progress.

This article remains especially relevant today, as the debate over “Africa Rising” being a myth or reality continues on. It is not yet 2020, however 2016 is close enough to the author’s time frame to reevaluate the framework and scenarios they suggested. It is evident that while many of the problems and challenges they mention continue to plague Africa, 12 years is not enough time for significant political, economic, or domestic changes to occur. However, the destabilizing nature of maintaining the status quo and Africa’s continued movement to “follow” will likely be detrimental and a threat for countries in the future. Drawing on historical events seen elsewhere in the world, it is evident that there are patterns that emerge with regards to political changes and conflict, and that many of these events were set off by an unrelated or incendiary incident. The future of African nations and the continent as a whole remains uncertain; however, this article’s articulation of potential scenarios can still serve as a good framework for consideration and analysis. The article provides an interesting perspective for the future of Africa as a continent and considers individual variances that may also occur and puts forth relevant arguments for Africa’s future beyond 2020.

Word Count: 650

Herbst, Jeffrey, and Greg Mills. “Africa in 2020: Three Scenarios for the Future.”Brenthurst Discussion Papers, February 2006, 1-14.


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