African nations face a tough year but they should not mortgage their future for short-term outside help

Mxolisi Ncube says governments on the continent need to work together to address their many challenges, and seek international solutions from the likes of China and India, where business, not politics, dominates thinking

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 06 January, 2016, 12:12pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 06 January, 2016, 12:12pm

The year 2016 could prove one of the toughest for most African nations, as governments have a litany of challenges to juggle – and preferably beat – before they can call it a normal year.

Ravaging drought, a niggling energy crisis, fluctuating commodity prices, rising oil prices, a slowdown in the economies of benefactor countries and skyrocketing rates of unemployment are just a handful in a plethora of challenges looming large for African governments.

Impending disaster means you are negotiating on the back foot, but that does not mean leaders should rush to sign questionable deals

On top of that, ratings agency Standard & Poor’s said in a report this week that sub-Saharan African governments forecast increasingly expensive debt financing, with the end of favourable global and domestic conditions.

All these challenges underpin the need for astute planning. Admittedly, averting impending disasters – like the worsening energy and food crises – might need short-term and unorthodox solutions, but that should not come at the expense of national sovereignty and future growth.

Due to a lack of proper national planning, African governments often fail to navigate their way around most economic challenges and natural disasters. Impending disaster means you are negotiating on the back foot, but that does not mean leaders should rush to sign questionable deals and implement programmes that leave their economies worse off.

As new challenges threaten some governments, they are most likely to mortgage their countries by ceding some of their natural resources just for food aid, while others might sign pacts that compromise their sovereignty and leave them susceptible to puppet governance.

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Instead, before looking elsewhere, African governments should seek pacts within their regional groupings for possible solutions like removing trade barriers for basic commodities or facilitating soft intra-continent loans.

The international focus should be restricted to friendly countries like China and India, where aid and loans would be tied to nothing more than business agreements.

To guard against both manipulation and abuse, governments need to get tough on corruption and ineptitude, while a long-term investment in energy and industrialisation means prioritising skills development and trade.

Sustainable long-term solutions moulded around China’s own economic blueprint may be a long shot, but one worth taking. Only willpower, planning and accountability can deliver the winning blow for the continent.

Mxolisi Ncube is a Zimbabwean-born journalist who lives in Johannesburg, South Africa