In fact, Africa is the second largest continent in the world that is second only to Asia. The approximate percentage of the earth’s surface covered by this continent is 6%, while the continent occupies over 20% of the total earth’s land mass (Asante, 2015). Actually, the continent is one of the most ethnically diverse regions in the world that is second only to the Indian subcontinent with about 3000 distinct ethnic groups (Asante, 2015). Moreover, there are many languages spoken by the people, who live on the continent; the number of various languages is approximately 2000 (Asante, 2015). Historically, the northern parts of Africa have been important participants in the global politics and trade. For instance, the ancient Egyptian kingdom was one of the oldest known civilizations in the human history, which existed around 3000 BC (Asante, 2015). In fact, other northern parts also contributed to the early political and technological advancement; such a powerful kingdom as the Carthaginian Empire, which was parallel to the mighty Roman Empire, participated in both political and technological development. Apart from the east African coast, which interacted with Arabs, Persians and Indians among others, the rest of the sub-Saharan African land remained largely unknown up to the time of slave trade and colonization. In fact, the African communities were disrupted by the boundaries established during colonization. This paper will illustrate that the conflicts that resulted from colonization and weak democratic institutions possess a serious threat to the future social, political and economic stability of Africa despite the recent economic growth.
Before Colonization and Partition of Africa
Before the coming of the Europeans, the African communities had settled throughout the continent. In fact, the locations of the settlements depended on such factors as rivers, forests, mountains, oases and others. Thus, the settlements were distributed with no regular pattern. In addition, the leadership and the political systems were tribal-based: several chiefdoms and kingdoms were composed only of one tribe. In extremely isolated cases, some kingdoms were composed of the related tribes (Nnoromele & Anyanwu, 2015). This form of political system was replaced during the colonization.
The colonization of the African continent begun in the 1870s and was complete by around the 1900s. In the 1880s, the global powers met in Berlin Germany to share out Africa (Nnoromele & Anyanwu, 2015). In fact, the rush for African continent was driven by such factors as the need for raw materials, including ivory, minerals and the land appropriate for agriculture. During that historical period, Europe was undergoing rapid industrialization and, thus, needed large amounts of raw materials. During that time, the Europeans did not see any prospects of having future African states and did not consider the viability and the governability of the territories they partitioned. Different powers claimed and colonized various African parts that led to the future states of a strange shape. Actually, some of the states, such as Gambia, are very small and are composed of communities that were separated from Senegal. Depending on the interest in the particular territory, strange boundaries were established that divided the communities and the tribal lands. In other territories, many unrelated tribes were grouped together that led to the ethnic strife in many instances such as the cases of Nigeria, Sudan, South Sudan and DRC, all of which threatened the prosperity of these countries (Nnoromele & Anyanwu, 2015).
In fact, many boundaries of African countries feature straight lines. This case is more common in some North African countries; for instance, Algeria, Mali and Mauritania have the longest straight-line borders in the continent. Moreover, Libya and Egypt, Egypt, Sudan Kenya and Tanzania, and Kenya and Somalia have straight boarders. Actually, such a partitioning had little regard to the topography, tribal boundaries and African homelands among others. For instance, the ewe community of West Africa was divided between Togo and Ghana by the national boundaries. Such divisions of communities brought the longstanding legal battle between Nigeria and Cameroon (Nnoromele & Anyanwu, 2015). Another contentious African boundary is the one between Angola, Namibia, Zambia and Botswana. What is sometimes referred to as Caprivi Strip, Namibian territory expands to the east for about 450 kilometers. Such boundaries, which were established without consulting the African population, have barred the pastoralists from crossing the national borders (Nnoromele & Anyanwu, 2015).
In fact, the tribal strife and the competition for ideologies have left Africans largely disoriented in comparison to Asian countries that had a clearer path to development after the colonization. In other instances, global western powers used underhand technics to enrich themselves at the expense of Africans (Scholvin, 2015). As a result, Africa has faced such challenges as capital flight, geopolitically instigated instability, brain drain and wars; such challenges increased poverty, inequality, the prevalence of diseases, and low life expectancy that led to conflicts. Thus, Africa continues to be one of the least developed regions in the world. Actually, the Per Capita income has been increasing slowly; for example, the Per Capita income in sub-Sahara Africa increased marginally from $742 to $762 between 1988 and 2008. With the exception of South Africa and Seychelles, this region is characterized by the most unequal income distribution that falls below South America and Caribbean.
In contrast, other parts of developing world experienced a rapid development; for instance, between 1988 and 2008, the Per Capita income increased threefold, by 68% and 34% in China, the rest of Asia and India respectively (Scholvin, 2015). In fact, the reduced incomes in sub-Sahara Africa led to the increase in child mortality, illiteracy and negative changes in social infrastructure. Moreover, the slowdown in the development resulted in reduced investment in education and a great number of ethnic and civil strives in various African countries (Scholvin, 2015).
Despite the bleak past, large parts of sub-Saharan Africa have managed to maintain a steady development and some countries have experienced significant levels of growth in the recent past. The reduction in the number of armed conflicts in some countries demonstrated the path to development; however, other countries remain in wars. Some of hotspots of conflict in Africa include such long-term warring countries as Somalia, Sudan, south Sudan and DRC. Actually, all the conflicts have started due to political reason. For instance, the southern part of Sudan fights for the allocation of a greater number of resources to this region. In fact, the southern Sudanese crisis began due to the civil strife between the President Salvar Kir and the former first vice-president Riek Machar. In all the cases of the conflicts, the social and the economic development has been stifled.
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Another emerging trend that has been noticed in Africa is the tendency of African leaders to unconstitutionally hold on to power. In most cases, the leaders are corrupt and they have impoverished their countries through graft and embezzlement of the public resources. The examples include Zimbabwean and Ugandan presidents, who have ruled for over 30 years, while the countries have not enjoyed any stable development. In 2015, the Burundian president decided to stay in the position for the third time that is against the country’s constitution; such a violation of the constitutional rules led to the armed strife that was disrupting social and economic activities since that time. The neighboring Rwandese president decided to do the same but the citizens welcomed such a decision. DRC is also in a crisis after the postponement of the elections from 2016 to 2018 (Henson & Yap, 2016). The examples of the leaders, who held on to power, and the conflicts in Africa has also been noticed in Sierra Leone and Ivory Coast, which has led to death, the increase in property and the disruption of economic activities.
While Africa has been experiencing economic growth for the last decades, this may not be sustainable, as the democratic institutions are not strengthened. Africa’s growth has been accompanied by the development of democratic institution, the rise in commodity prices and youthful generations in some countries. The West African nation of Nigeria experienced sustainable economic growth in 2000s and 2010s (Chitonge, 2015): the country’s GDP expanded to $500billion; the growth slowed in 2015 due to the fall of global oil prices and the armed conflict in north eastern part (Chitonge, 2015). However, the oil production has led to such an armed conflict as the Niger delta; one of the most brutal Islamist fighters, the Boko haram group, resided in the country. Moreover, the oil exploitation has experienced some serious environmental degradations due to oil spills in the Niger delta (Chitonge, 2015). In fact, Africa has attained a collective GDP of $ 1.6 trillion in 2016, which is projected to expand to over 2 trillion by 2020 (Henson & Yap, 2016). Moreover, the continent’s GDP grew by about 2% between 1978 and 1998. From 1998 to 2008, the continent's GDP grew by about 4.9% (Chitonge, 2015). Such a growth was experienced thanks to sound economic policies and rises in oil prices and other commodities the continent is rich in. For instance, the oil prices rose from $20 per barrel in 1988 to over $140 per barrel in 2008 (Chitonge, 2015). Actually, the recent growth in African economies promises future economic growth. Another growth opportunity in many African countries is the development of strong institutions of governance that has been experienced in some countries. For instance, Kenya adopted a new constitution that is among the most democratic on the continent (Chitonge, 2015). The democratic institutions of governance will help to reduce poverty and to boost growth. Actually, the continent’s base of resources, the growing young population and the uptake of ICT are expected to drive the growth in the next decade (Henson, S., & Yap, F. (2016).
Recently, some countries in Africa are trying to establish institutions of democratic governance, which may boost social, economic and political development. In fact, the development has been experienced throughout the continent even by the countries, which have not had a representative government for decades. For example, the example of such a country is Somalia that has suffered from lawlessness since the early 1990’s. The elections were held in 2012 and the president sheikh Mahmoud was elected. The country has continued to strengthen the institutions and fight terrorist groups since that time. Generally, even relatively peaceful countries abolished multiparty systems and had no democratic institutions. Actually, Kenya reverted to multi-party system in 1991, Ghana - in 1992, Tanzania - in 1995 and Mali - in 1995 (Schraeder, 2012). Many African countries have adopted multiparty system to enhance the political discourses. The dictators, who stayed in powerful positions for extremely long time and plundered the countries’ resources, characterized the previous party system. Actually, the stolen resources were used to buy loyalty of corrupt local and international backers. The development of the internet and the social networks has enhanced public participation in the governance. The return to democracy is encouraging, as several countries have become peaceful and prosperous. If this trend is maintained, the continent is likely to continue economic development and to reduce poverty.
The rise of democratic systems has led to the promotion of the concept of good governance. As a result, many governments, opposition movements, media and civil society groups have demanded more accountability from their governments. Such disadvantages as corruption, embezzlement, police brutality and irresponsive systems are being openly discussed. The solutions to these problems are also sought, which shows that African countries are beginning to encourage self-correcting mechanisms.
Africa has continent-wide institutions such as the African Union (AU), the former organization of African Union (OAU), which has done very little to enhance social and economic development (Demissie, Lukhele-Olorunju, Gumede, & Muchie, 2015). AU has recently tried to develop democratic institutions in order to advance democracy in the continent. For instance, the AU has organized a peace-keeping mission for war-torn Somalia. However, AU has been very ineffective in ensuring that the leaders follow their nation’s constitution. For instance, the president Mugabe of Zimbabwe illegitimately retained; the same situation was also noticed in Burundi, Rwanda, Uganda, Sudan and Ivory Coast (Chitonge 2015). In 2015, the President Mugabe ascended to the helm of the AU; it is, therefore, not clear how this organization can advance the democratic leadership with such a leader (Demissie et al., 2015). The organization has not enforced a peaceful transition after the dictators unconstitutionally extended their terms, which has led to the disruption of social and economic order.
The conflicts and weak democratic institutions are the most important threats to African social and political future. While a few countries are strengthening their political institutions, the institutions of other countries still remain to be very week. As a result, the presidents are holding on to power, which has led to political instability and the destruction of economies in some cases. The continent’s resources are not bringing any benefit to people in this case, but they are used for the armed conflicts. In other cases, the top leadership accumulates wealth through the corruption. While the economic performance of the continent is impressive, especially, in terms of expansion of GDP, such a performance has not translated into the improved living standards. Highly unequal systems have hindered the increase in income of the poor. As a result, the continent has continued to struggle with high child mortality and low life expectancy. If the rate of the expansion of democratic space increases, economic, socio-economic and political development will follow and the continent may be able to reduce poverty and inequality. As stressed by the paper, the conflicts that resulted from colonization and week democratic institutions possess a threat to social, political and economic development in Africa despite the recent economic growth.