The way ahead
A continental level framework for engagement with emerging and traditional economic powers should be developed, probably at African Union level, in consultation with the private sector and civil society. It should aim to outline African objectives and a clear strategy for achieving these goals. The African Union, the African Development Bank, NEPAD and regional economic communities should provide the necessary support for governments to identify national development priorities and monitor trade, aid and investment dealings with emerging partners (UN OSAA, 2010). The UN report (ibid.) argues that the institutions should also “co-ordinate strategic analysis where action is appropriate at the continental or regional level”. A race to attract the largest amounts of investment or aid from emerging partners should be avoided. Africa-wide attempts should be made to co-ordinate trade preference regimes with the traditional and emerging partners. This would enable Africa to conduct streamlined trade with the rest of the world at a lower cost. Finally, the same institutions could be used when co-ordinated bargaining is required – and they could serve to protect the interests of non-commodity exporting countries, who have received less attention from emerging partners. Strong and effective regional organisations need well prepared, well structured members that feed valuable policy input into the regional decision-making process and efficiently implement policies and decisions adopted at regional level.
The domestic agenda is equally challenging and calls for sustaining reform. For Africa to reap the full benefits from engagement with the emerging powers, African countries need stable, home-grown, development policies. Opening new space for private sector development is paramount. If Africa fails to form solid strategies and to negotiate proactively, there is a risk that the new global players will push Africa to further specialise in raw material exports. Time is still on Africa’s side and it can leverage the new relationships and ensure they contribute to Africa’s diversification into manufacturing, services and agriculture. The necessary ownership needs to be established at supra-national level.
Africa does not need more dialogue platforms, but more tangible progress towards regional integration. The emerging partners can help through their infrastructure development. The continent can take pride in its improved macroeconomic management. To preserve this achievement, large infrastructure investments need to be accompanied by proper budgeting of maintenance costs and prioritised consistently with the country’s development strategy. Regional co-ordination improves the bargaining power of African countries and helps to raise the scale of investment projects to the level where emerging partners can a make a significant contribution to the development of the private sector, resulting in a virtuous circle of enhanced economic integration at the regional level and beyond.
The shift in global wealth has ended post-colonialism and the broadening of Africa’s partnerships reflects the normalisation of its international relations. The challenge is to ensure that this shift results in strong, sustained and shared growth for the continent. To succeed, African countries should unite to take advantage of the competition between those partners and let their models compete and prove their effectiveness.
Pessimists say the emerging economic giants are plundering Africa. Optimists see Africa already belonging to the emerging powers club. This Outlook’s conclusion is that there are distinct opportunities but that African policymakers need to ensure that relations with all partners, old and new, are framed to achieve their country’s development vision, not their partners’. Spreading the gains throughout African society is the key to the stability and sustained vigour of these emerging partnerships.