I very much appreciated one of our last three readings for this class, Herbst and Mills’s paper “Africa in 2020: Three Scenarios for the Future.” The three scenarios the reading forwarded as possible projections for Africa’s future were useful to think about as a finish to the semester. We’ve all studied one country in-depth for this blog, and most of us have looked closer at a few other African states for the purposes of our research papers. This, in addition to the discussions we’ve had in class, makes it useful now to reflect on the patterns that have emerged on the blog and in class and decide what we each think the future holds for African states.
Herbst and Mills’ paper gives three possible scenarios for African states to follow. In the first, “Africa takes charge” scenario, states take charge of their own fates, emerge as major players, and significantly impact international policy. The paper discusses many drivers necessary for this most optimistic scenario, mainly focusing on bigger states leading the way in several factors (economic growth, establishment and growth of private sector industries, education, security). This scenario is the one I’d like to focus on because, at least as it seems to me, we already know the many ways in which African states across the continent may flounder or “fail.” We’ve seen corruption and civil war turn states upside down, and we’ve watched false starts and ultimate regression all over the continent. Examining any nation region of the world becomes most interesting, however, when we look for their potential to break out of cycles of poverty and corruption and decide how best to make it happen. The country I studied this term, Angola, is particularly fascinating to study and imagine different futures for. Angola’s GDP growth rate is one of the fastest-growing in the world, yet last year it was also one of the countries to fall the farthest on Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index. Angola has faced so many of the struggles seen in countries all over the region: resource curse, Chinese investment, civil war, violent conflicts, big man rule, and widespread corruption. However, it is also emerging as one of the big states and power players on the continent, making it one of those states that Herbst and Mills argue will be critical in setting the example of an Africa ready to take charge. So how best to get there for these big states? Obviously, the situations of Angola, Kenya, Nigeria, and South Africa are very different, especially in terms of international relations. I would argue that in addition to the drivers that Herbst and Mills focus on in the article, which are very similar to the drivers we discussed in our last day of class, there is also an important element in getting the big states on the same page. South Africa has heavy ties to the west and is perhaps the most international player of them all, Angola’s relationship with China is only getting stronger, Kenya is seen trying to mediate regional conflicts, and Nigeria is struggling with internal conflicts of its own. These big players, all with the potential to become even more powerful moving forward, need to collaborate regionally and internationally for the “Africa takes charge” scenario to become plausible.