The second decade of the new century has come with a renewed optimism about Africa’s development, with the “Africa Rising” narrative gaining popularity. According to a 2013 issue of the Economist Magazine, the continent had 4 of the 10 fastest growing economies in the world, yet as already highlighted in previous posts, we are also paradoxically seeing an increase in poverty at the bottom of the pyramid. The paradox of high growth and high poverty – with increases in inequality across the continent – is one that has been reflected in many different countries. There are many factors that cause and sustain inequality, but this post will focus on what may be the most significant of these, Illicit Financial Flows. Africa faces a more debilitating challenge of the illicit movement of her finances out of the continent. It is estimated that approximately US$854 billion has been moved out of Africa illicitly over a 39-year period, predominantly to Western financial institutions, turning the continent into a net creditor to the world (Ndikumana and Boyce 2003, 2008). The bulk of IFFs from Africa originate from West Africa amounting to 38% of all funds illicitly flowing from the continent. Nigeria stands out as the leading source of IFFs and is estimated to have lost $218 billion dollars between 1970 and 2008. Faster economic expansion associated with rising income levels can actually drive capital flight if growth is not accompanied by genuine economic reform and better governance (IMF, 2000). During the period of significant economic growth, Africa also saw an acceleration in illicit financial flows.
#TA10 Blog Series
Our theme for our 10th Anniversary is “Looking Back, Looking Ahead”, and in this moment of reflection, we are also taking the time to ask the big questions. We have been interrogating our own assumptions and role in Africa’s processes of democratic development. In the process, questions on the meaning of development and Pan-Africanism emerge, but what we found compelling was a question posed by a colleague, “Does Africa really need us?” The ‘us’ here does not only refer to TrustAfrica but the entire philanthropy sector that we are a part of. It may sound like a strange question but if you consider the fact that Africa is arguably the wealthiest continent and also that it has its own centuries old rich traditions of giving. In terms of material wealth, the facts speak for themselves-the continent is the repository of 15% of the planet’s crude oil reserves, 40% of its gold, 80% of the chromium and the platinum metal group and it also holds about one third of the world’s hydro-carbon and mineral resources. In 2010 alone exports of fuel and other minerals from Africa were worth $333 billion; more than seven times the value of aid that Africa received. Which begs the question, why are we even talking about philanthropy and official development aid?
The continent has in the past three decades gone through what we commonly refer to as the ‘winds of change’- shorthand for the transitions from one party state and military dictatorships to multi-party political systems. Although the ‘winds of change’ specifically referred to changes within the political systems we also experienced these winds within the socio-economic space through the adoption of structural adjustment programs which literally marked the end of any romantic notions of socialism but instead saw most of us adopting market oriented reforms.
Ten years ago on the 6th of June 2006 we opened our doors for business in Dakar to serve the continent of Africa. It is important to note that TrustAfrica was conceived, in a series of groundbreaking meetings from 2002 to 2005 that brought together hundreds of dynamic individuals and organizations that promote democracy, human rights, peace and security, and sustainable development. These processes entailed the incubation of what was then the Special Initiative for Africa (SIA) at Ford Foundation until it was officially weaned off as an autonomous foundation operating out of Dakar.
From inception we were very clear about our mission; to strengthen civil society in order to achieve the twin goals of democracy and development. We coined this as addressing some of the continent’s most pressing challenges. Ours was also an attempt to promote initiatives led by Africans, informed by an objective appreciation of the continent’s social, economic and political context. We hoped that our work would contribute towards re-affirming confidence in the agency of Africans in seeking solutions to the continent’s most endemic problems. We placed our bet on civil society in its broader manifestation, and saw it as a space where deficits in our democracies and development could be addressed. In this introductory article to the #TA10 blog series, I will focus on some of our initial thinking and also what became of those early initiatives. There are five areas that have been particularly exciting for us as an organisation; achieving the mission of enhancing citizen based agency for democracy and development, ensuring that we are credible landscape interpreters, understanding our partners (civil society), the supply-chain (philanthropy) and also reflecting more on how we have worked and what we could have done differently. We were very clear from the beginning that there was no silver bullet to resolving Africa’s intractable challenges. Instead, we would need to invest in catalytic initiatives that have a ripple effect whose impact will be felt well beyond our initial efforts. In this post, I will discuss in more detail how we set out to be a part of the ecosystem working towards Africa’s transformation.