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Review of Globalization and Sustainable Development in Africa


By Elizabeth Morgan

Globalization and Sustainable Development in Africa. Bessie House-Soremekun and Toyin Falola (eds.). University of Rochester Press / James Currey, Rochester, USA / Woodbridge, UK, 2011. Pp. 484. ISBN. 978 1 58046 392 8 (hb). £45.

This collection of essays was compiled as a result of the First Public Scholars in Africana Studies International Conference held in 2009 in Indianapolis. It benefits from experienced contributors from diverse disciplines, from anthropology, history, economics to law, and from those with a deep knowledge of Africa, demonstrating a profound understanding of a variety of African issues. A number of the authors are based in the United States or Europe and therefore have dual perspectives.

Its overall theme is to offer solutions to sub Saharan African development that start with the role of Africans themselves, and their responsibilities to drive their own future, rather than those that maintain dependency on funds and policies from elsewhere. Whilst this is not to suggest that the authors’ eyes are closed to the combined effects of the colonial past, subsequent trade liberalization and the World Bank’s influence, it is refreshing that proactive self reliance is the key thrust.

The collection describes issues and cases at multiple physical and temporal scales and is set out in four sections. In the first, essays examine the benefits and impacts of globalization on the continent using both economics and sustainable development lenses at macro level. The second section comprises micro level case studies describing local level entrepreneurial activities. The third section sets out the case for differing industrial and financial networking policies and the final section covers aspects of security and conflict that need to be considered for development to take place, in the light of the continent’s history.

Taking each of these in turn, assessments of the continent’s ability to compete in the global economy include a descriptive historical analysis of sub Saharan Africa’s development and how that has led to the continent’s marginalization in the context of the world economy. In seeking the benefits of development, it is said that African countries cannot replicate the factors that allowed individual European countries to develop in the past, as the global context drives new scale firm capabilities and competitive pressures driving across national sovereignty.

However, tools for growth identified include effective leadership and governance for the benefit of the population at large, in turn to encourage self-reliance, improve education and develop efficient transport, energy and communications infrastructure, and systems to deal with corruption. The fact that a brighter economic picture has emerged in some states, such as South Africa, Botswana, Kenya and Ghana, gives confidence that development challenges can be overcome. It’s pointed out that this might include entrepreneurs of African origin being attracted to the continent because of its growth opportunities. Perhaps sustainable entrepreneurs might bypass the developed world’s systems of power supply and find new commercially successful ways of building and marketing renewable technologies. Also there is the case for overcoming the lack of economies of scale available to governments in small African states. This provides the context for the second and third sections setting out the prospective for entrepreneurship and pan-African cooperation as a means to improve economic and social structures.

This second section includes detailed accounts of both successful and less successful development from enterprising communities, for instance in Zimbabwe, Cote D’Ivoire, Ghana and Nigeria, offering learnings and encouragement from micro level commercial activities. Some of the challenges to be overcome are unexpected and the reader shares the frustration of skills and systems in place to support entrepreneurship.

The third section includes consideration of structures that might give African countries a greater impact in the world economy, through some form of United States of Africa or an African Economic Community. At country scale, three chapters offer complementary perspectives from industrial, fiscal and business policy studies on improving the prospects for Nigeria, for instance.

The final section views the irony of the continent’s richness in natural raw materials, leading to what has been called the ‘resource curse’ and the ‘greed and grievance’ issues that have followed from it. Added value processing has been elsewhere, failing to benefit local economies. The negative environmental consequences of mining and drilling have contributed to social and health problems and all this has led to fractious politics. Whilst solutions are elusive, paths to solutions for these longstanding issues are identified.

What might be missing in the work as a whole are opportunities and successes from commercial enterprises at scales between the micro entrepreneur and the global multinational enterprise. However this volume offers expertise and insight into how Africans might take leadership roles to drive sustainable growth for themselves, consistent with reduced dependency on both non-African aid and non-African organising systems.

Reviewed by: Elizabeth Morgan, Sustainability Research Unit, University of Leeds.

[Published in Leeds African Studies Bulletin 74 (December 2012), pp. 82-84]

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