Africa has huge growth potential – professor

US professor Robert Rotberg launched his book Africa Emerges at Clark's Bookstore in Cape Town.

US professor Robert Rotberg launched his book Africa Emerges at Clark's Bookstore in Cape Town.

Published May 30, 2013


Cape Town - More than a hundred years after Joseph Conrad dubbed Africa as “the heart of darkness”, another author is determined to dispel that outdated perception once and for all.

US professor Robert Rotberg launched his book “Africa Emerges” at Clark’s Bookstore in the city. His most recent book highlights sub-Saharan Africa’s enormous opportunities for growth in the coming century, as well as the myriad challenges the continent must face to realise its potential.

“I am optimistic about Africa but there are some very large issues that need to be solved,” said the former Harvard professor, who is the Fulbright Research Chair in Political Development at the Balsillie School of International Affairs in Waterloo, Canada.

“The fact is, there is a lot to be done. Africa and especially in South Africa are done for without close attention to governance and excellent leadership.”

Rotberg served as a member of the US Secretary of States’ Advisory Panel on Africa in 2004. Three years later he directed the establishment of the Index for African Governance. He is founding director of the Harvard Kennedy School’s Program on Intrastate Conflict.

Now, the professor is working on a project that examines the ability of parliamentary systems to have effective oversight over the executive branch. South Africa is one of the many African countries he is using as a case study.

“Leaders I have spoken to are frustrated, disillusioned,” said Rotberg. “South Africa is so far advanced, but the country cannot supply jobs, or solve the energy shortage.”

Rotberg spoke on the importance of leadership in taking advantage of China’s economic involvement in Africa.

Africa’s growth, he said, is a result of China’s role as a trade partner and builder of infrastructure.

“Without China, Africa would not be booming,” he said. “If there is good leadership, countries can take advantage of the Chinese mercantile thrust.”

He sited various development projects in which the Chinese have invested, including a massive $1.2 billion (R11.6bn) dam in Ethiopia and several new mines in southern Africa. “Good leadership is necessary to keep Chinese power in check and to get the most out of economic investments, said Rotberg.

“Africans don’t much like what the Chinese are doing,” he said. “The Chinese are not employing Africans. Instead they bring labour from overseas, and they support corrupt regimes with weapons and funds.”

“This economic growth comes at a time when Africa is experiencing a previously unseen population boom.

“Sub-Saharan Africa’s population will grow to be 3.7 billion in the next 50 years, according to population analysis by the UN. This population explosion will be exceeded only by China and India, whose collective population will top four billion. The rest of the world by comparison will only total two billion collectively.

“South Africa is different from most of sub-Saharan Africa because it is not growing as quickly as other countries like Nigeria and Tanzania. South Africa’s greatest challenge is the creation of jobs,” said Rotberg.

“Employment is important for economic growth and limiting crime.

“South Africa is so far advanced, but it still can’t supply jobs for its school graduates, and that is a problem,” he said.

“Jobs will become particularly important as the country and the continent undergoes a massive population boom.

“South Africa’s population is going to explode in a way that will overwhelm its cities,” he said. Politicians are not going to know what hit them.”

Rotberg is working on another book called Strengthening Governance in South Africa: Building Upon Mandela’s Legacy due next March.

Related Topics: