Speaking at the World Petroleum Congress in Istanbul, former South African President Frederik Willem de Klerk boldly said, “Africa is an awakening giant.” It was a shockingly optimistic statement especially now that the continent’s economies are losing the momentum that had given rise to the “Africa rising” narrative. However, the former leader who was the seventh and last in a line of seven apartheid leaders in South Africa had some strong points to back him up. Mr de Klerk’s words are not a new phenomenon altogether as many other leaders have consistently showed confidence in African economic prospects.
Willem de Klerk at the World Petroleum Congress (2017)
In Istanbul, Mr de Klerk argued that Africa is the solution to the world’s impending food problems. Interestingly, he was talking about a continent with countries that are currently suffering from the effects of a severe famine. However, he said, “I believe Africa is an awakening giant and, yes, it is not performing according to what we expected soon enough, but it will perform.” It is therefore not an assertion that should narrate the events of the day but rather proclaim the coming future which seems bright.
His argument was simple: Resources! His words were, “If we look at food shortages for the rest of the world with a growing population, Africa is the solution. It has underdeveloped land, frugal land, which can provide food for the growing billions of the world.” The future of the world is tied to Africa. However, exaggerated fears over corruption have threatened not just the future of the continent but the world too. Mr de Klerk objectively pointed out in Istanbul that, “Corruption is a worldwide problem, it is just more sophisticated in the developed world and more sophisticated in the developed world but it is everywhere.”
That was not to give African countries comfort in having good company but was a reminder that as Africa cleans up its mess, everyone else should. The hypocrisy of pretending only African countries are corrupt is an impediment to development.
Mr de Klerk settled the matter by then asserting, “Africa has a great future. I firmly believe in it. But we need to get our house in order; we need to fight corruption more effectively.”
Kanayo Nwanze in Rome, July 2011
At an emergency meeting in Rome, Nwanze who was IFAD President at the time confidently asserted, “The potential is huge. With a little investment, Africa can feed itself and it has the potential to feed the world.” Interestingly, the meeting had been convened as a response to the East African food woes. Nwanze’s view was that small farmers are going to be the continent’s and the world’s saviours. In fact, the G20 had just recommitted to help small farmers in line with the 2009 L’Aquila pledge showing just how key they are to food security. He also thought the continent’s great industrial leap had resulted in countries neglecting agriculture resulting in the food problems now haunting portions of the continent. Agriculture, according to him had been reduced to a poor man’s occupation and that resulted in less investment and less output as an inevitable consequence.
In 2016, India signed a deal with Mozambique to produce 100,000 tonnes of lentils which are to be doubled by 2020 at a fixed price. The BBC reported then that the arrangement though seemingly a piddling deal was indicative of the opportunities India saw in Africa where a lot of land goes unused. It is incumbent upon Africans to see what goldmine they are sitting on. The World Bank in the Growing Africa: Unlocking the Potential of Agribusiness report also boldly declared that, “Africa’s food markets could create one trillion dollar opportunity by 2030.”
The World Bank pointed out that Africa holds almost 50 percent of the world’s uncultivated land which is suited for growing food crops. With such a big advantage, the continent was called upon to tap into booming markets in rice, maize, soybeans, sugar, palm oil, biofuel and feedstock. Gaiv Tata, the World Bank Director for Financial and Private Sector Development in Africa’s statement that, “A strong agribusiness sector is vital for Africa’s economic future,” resonates well with what world leaders envision for Africa. There are limitless possibilities for the agricultural sector in Africa. Africa can feed the world if the governments and the private sector collaborate to revitalise the sleeping giant that is agriculture in the continent. The continent and the rest of the world depend on it.