Africa has made economic strides in the last several decades and will expand further in coming years due to political advancement, former Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga argued on Tuesday, in a lecture on development and change on the African continent.
“If the continent you have in mind is of dictators and looters, think again,” Odinga said.
Odinga, son of the first Vice President of Kenya, Oginga Odinga, held the position of Prime Minister of Kenya from 2008 to 2013, when the political position was abolished with the passage of a new constitution. The executive position in Kenya is now vested in the presidency.
To provide context for his argument that Africa has progressed and continues to move forward politically and economically, Odinga noted several economic and political indicators.
Over the past 20 years, real income per capita in Africa has increased over 30 percent, gross domestic product is expected to increase six percent per year across the continent, and 45 African nations are now considered democracies of varying degrees, he said.
Chinese foreign investment in African infrastructure and raw materials has also increased, proving that Africa is a developing hub of trade, Odinga argued. Furthermore, he said that Chinese investment is not an exclusive partnership, so other nations should follow China’s lead and enter Africa as well.
Though recent discoveries of vast oil reserves in over 12 African nations have triggered international predictions that more conflict lies in Africa's future, there are “equally compelling reasons to be hopeful,” Odinga said.
"[African nations are] determined to invest oil money in infrastructure and human well-being,” he said, and added that “the power of the gun no longer confers the pride it once did.”
However, despite significant developments, challenges remain if growth is to be sustained, Odinga acknowledged.
African nations must address five key issues to move forward: expanding democracy, building infrastructure, facilitating inter-African trade, addressing poverty and combating corruption, he said.
The issues of corruption and infrastructure development, Odinga argued, are particularly important for African economies.
Corruption is a widespread issue that deprives Africa of an estimated $148 billion annually, he said. Similarly, the lack of infrastructure internally and on the international level limits economic development and inter-African trade that could contribute billions to African economies.
To solve these complex issues, African states need to take initiative, citizens of African nations need to speak out, and the international community must assume a role as well, he argued.
Odinga expressed his support for President Barack Obama’s $7 billion initiative to bring solar and wind power to Africa —a project entitled Power Africa —as a critical step in building much-needed energy infrastructure on the African continent.
More broad future goals, Odinga said, should include unification similar to that of the European Union, so that travel and trade among African nations can increase and benefit all.
The spread of technology and the growing African middle class prove that a unified Africa is not only possible but also developing right now, and is rendering national borders in Africa increasingly meaningless, he added.
On the state and international levels, however, the dialogue must shift from issues of sovereignty and nationalism to focus on forming a community, Odinga said.
Nevertheless, Odinga said thatAfrica is poised to enter the international stage as a location for economic investment and industry.
“The Asian tiger has danced on the stage for far too long, the African lion is now here and saying, ‘I am awake,’ ” he said.
The lecture, “The Awakening African Lion: Raila Odinga on the Continent’s Transformations and Challenges,” was held at 4:30 p.m. in Roberston Bowl 016 and was sponsored by the Wilson School, the school's Innovations for Successful Societies and the University’s Program in African Studies.