De Beers chairman Nicky Oppenheimer delivered a speech yesterday at the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) for defence and security studies in London, where he outlined his belief that the African continent will succeed despite its several challenges such as HIV-AIDS, poverty, unemployment, high levels of instability and corruption.
“In the 21st century, things in Africa have changed and we are on roll,” Oppenheimer began. He pointed out that continental economic growth has improved from 2 per cent during the “dismal 1980s and 1990s” to over 5 per cent for the last three consecutive years. He said the growth was partly due to the decline in the number of conflicts within Africa, which have fallen by two thirds from the “bad” late 1990s.
Oppenheimer said Africa no longer dominates the international agenda as it did in 2005 at the Gleneagles G8 summit, but suggested the continent is all the better for it. Successful African countries, he explained, have had to become more self-reliant and take greater responsibility. He cited Liberia’s recovery after 20 years of civil war as one of Africa’s recent successes. Under the continent’s first democratically-elected woman president, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, the country recently rejoined the diamond trade after being accepted by the Kimberley Process.
He also pointed out to the emergence of China and other new players including India, Russia and Brazil as forces for economic change on the continent, Oppenheimer explained. “China’s rising profile in Africa is perhaps the most significant development for the continent since the end of the Cold War. It has ended European and American complacency that Africa would always belong to their sphere of influence, a continent for assuaging guilt rather than building growth,” he said. But pointed out that due to China’s (and Asia’s) industrial pre-eminence, some avenues for African development such as high-volume manufacturing have been curtailed.
Oppenheimer said Africa could accelerate its development by following his “rules”, some of which include: using aid as a growth catalyst, being granted free and unfettered access to trade markets and removing tariffs and non-tariff barriers like agriculture subsidies, dealing with conflict and improving peace-building capacity, and managing natural resources prudently.
But overall the news from Africa is good, he exclaimed. “Today, for every African failure, there is a steady stream of successes; and for every African autocrat, many more democrats. Sound domestic policy, which counts more than external assistance in creating the conditions for growth, stability and prosperity, is more and more the African norm. Failure is the deviation,” he concluded.