At a UN meeting held in New York in 2006, African state leaders said conflict was the greatest obstacle to the continent’s development.
Fast forward fourteen years and not much has changed. This week Open Door’s 2020 World Watch List revealed that terrorists and militants are making major advances across West Africa making it the latest battlefront for Islamic Fundamentalists.
Despite this, Africa has many opportunities, owing to its vast natural resources, burgeoning youth population and still-untapped potential.
This is why today, 20 January Prime Minister Boris Johnson will host the UK-Africa Investment Summit in London; bringing together businesses, government and international institutions to showcase and promote the breadth and quality of investment opportunities across Africa.
With Brexit creating uncertainty for future UK trade with the EU, businesses and the UK government are looking at opportunities for growth in other international markets.
The summit is intended to strengthen the UK’s partnership with African nations to build a “secure and prosperous” future for all the continent’s citizens and create jobs and boost mutual prosperity.
But can these aims really be achieved in a continent where there is an absence of peace in many of the nations represented at the summit table? Many are in the grip of insecurities, killings, violence insurgencies and religious persecution.
Amaechi Nsofor, head of Africa Business Group at global accounting firm Grant Thornton said: “Part of the challenge is that, regardless of the availability of opportunities, there are barriers to doing business in most African countries.
“Security concerns and political instability remain an issue in some areas and customer perception of African manufactured exports is not as high as it should be. Not to mention infrastructure constraints, the high cost of doing business in Africa and limited options for financing.”
In June 2019 UN aid agencies and NGOs warned that surging armed violence in the Sahel region of Africa had propelled forced displacement and humanitarian issues to unprecedented levels.
Five of the most violent countries for Christians are located in the Sahel, a horizontal belt of semi-arid grazing areas and farmland located between the Sahara Desert and the African savannah.
Militant Islamist rebel groups and terrorists have proliferated in the Sahel in recent years. Conflict between Muslim herders and Christian farmers has also resulted in violence. And weakened government structures leave the population vulnerable.
In Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger, displacement has increased five-fold, and the Lake Chad Basin has witnessed a new spike in displacement and attacks. In the past year, killings have surged in Cameroon, Burkina Faso and Niger, all new entrants to the Open Doors World Watch List, which outlines the Top 50 countries where it is dangerous to be a Christian.
As radical Islam has been forced out of the Middle East, it has spread into sub-Saharan Africa. Almost 30 violent Islamic extremist groups are known to be active in the region.
The UN’s report said although conflict has plagued the Sahel for many years, insecurity has never spread so fast, in such vast areas and affected so many people.
In Nigeria, Boko Haram’s fight to establish a self-declared caliphate governed by Islamic law has claimed more than 25,000 civilian lives and has left over 2 million people internally displaced, according to data from World Politics Review.
And despite claims from the Nigerian government that Boko Haram has been “technically defeated,” it has been reported that the insurgency has entered a new, deadlier phase, and there is concern that new factions have opened up with militant cattle herders in the Middle belt and Islamic State West African Province (ISWAP) involved in even deadlier activities. On Christmas Day, only hours after Boris Johnson had delivered his Christmas address in which he recognised the plight of persecuted Christians around the world , ISWAP released a video of 10 Christians being beheaded in Nigeria.
Last week’s 50th year commemoration of the end of the Nigerian Civil War should be a reminder to the global community that if current trends continue, the dangers increase of a new civil war which will inevitably have a ripple-effect on the world, possibly undermining all the expected gains from the London Investment Summit.
So is there hope?
A report by the UN back in June said Africa is at a “critical” juncture in its development trajectory.
Africa’s gross domestic product (GDP) growth has tripled since 2000 at an annual rate of 4.6 per cent, according to data from the International Monetary Fund, with total GDP set to reach US$3.2 trillion in the next five years, while the continent has a booming startup sector.
There are also clear opportunities for African countries such as Ghana and the Ivory Coast to develop their manufacturing sectors, which produce around 52 per cent of the world’s raw cocoa.
But the report warned: “Most African economies face downside risks to growth from…threats of terrorism and conflict; political instability; and high chance of debt distress in some countries.”
Failure to address inequality [and poverty] undermines economic growth and development and in some cases is an underlying cause of social tensions and violent conflict.
Hence, the UK has a lot of peace building work to do if it is really serious about its plans to maximise the African Investment partnership project. There needs to be peace and stability on the continent for any investment and trade deals to be meaningful in the long-term.
We should know only too well from the troubles in Northern Ireland and the massive change in its economic fortunes as a result of the relative peace it now enjoys brought on by the Good Friday agreement.
Part of the process of developing Africa’s economy is dependent on attracting significant investments in infrastructure and the commercial sectors.
The UK is strategically placed to work with African economies to develop manufacturing capabilities and move up the value chain.
Countries such as South Africa, Nigeria, Uganda and other Commonwealth members already have strong historical ties and links to diasporas in the UK, as well as similar legal systems, based on UK common law.
For the UK, however, there will be a greater fiscal and moral return on investment if it first invests in ensuring the security of Africa’s citizens.
By Ayo Adedoyin