top of page

The Biggest Challenges and Possibilities of Africa Today

In the post-colonial period, there are many problems facing modern African societies. Rampant corruption and malnourished political institutions yield a poor atmosphere for economic development.

Another crucial problem in contemporary African societies is a general disregard for fundamental human rights. Africa has been generally improving in this regard, and this gives one hope for Africa’s limitless economic and political potential for future generations.

In terms of development, the last three decades have shown African economies stagnating or regressing – and for most Africans, real incomes are lower than they were two decades ago, health prospects are poorer, malnourishment is widespread, and infrastructure is breaking down and social institutions are going down with them [1].

There are a variety of reasons for this societal decay, namely – the legacy of European colonialism, the lack of entrepreneurial skills, the limited inflow of foreign capital and low levels of saving and investment.

These problems combined create a dismal atmosphere for economic development. Despite this, political conditions and corruption in Africa are the biggest impediments to development on the continent.

The political environment in post-colonial Africa is often fraught with conditions of abuse and corruption that are profoundly hostile to development. For instance, in a highly statis post-colonial polity, investors and the general citizenry in Africa often do not have the luxury of channeling their ambitions into economic success, which is primarily a matter of state patronage.

Becoming wealthy without the patronage of the state is very likely to invite unwanted attention from those in control of state power – and this inhibits economic development substantially.

In many African states, development is hindered due to a complex array of political fragmentations. Since the beginning of their inception, African states were indeed instruments of colonization abandoned by their creators and often appropriated by new domestic political elites upon independence – and this genesis tends to create incoherent and fragmented structures that conflict with preexisting political institutions, norms of political behavior and customary sources of political authority – thereby disrupting efficient free market mechanisms that often yield development [2].

The atmosphere in post-colonial African states is often a little tense for substantial economic development. African leaders tend to find it difficult to use developmental policies and institutions to generate support for themselves, as this requires a level of bureaucratic loyalty and a degree of supply response from private agents, which their states lack to begin with – and this leads to African leaders resorting to patronage, nepotism and corruption – which inhibits any culture of growth from assuming form.

Corruption especially inhibits economic development in African. Indeed, corruption has been suppressing economic development – leading to a culture of corruption that makes Africa the most corrupt continent in the world [3].

In the post-colonial period, corruption has diverted already limited funds, mainly vis-à-vis corruption perpetrated by Africa’s ruling elites. For instance, according to United Nations data from 1991, more than $200 billion in capital was removed from Africa by ruling elites – and this amount was more than half of Africa’s foreign debt of $300 Billion ­– and this wealth resulting from corruption also forms part of capital flight on an annual basis, exceeding what comes into Africa as foreign aid.

For Africa to combat the poisons of corruption, African countries must develop robust and independent institutions such as civil services, parliaments and judiciaries that create checks and balances and keep the state in check – thus enabling more personal and economic freedoms.

The rule of law is also a crucial mechanism that will guarantee protection of human rights, ensure governmental predictability and it will create a climate conducive to private sector activity that will enforce adherence to formal rules of behavior which will in turn circumvent corruption.

Many political transformations have assumed form in Africa that have improved the odds of a culture of growth and political accountability assuming form in the late post-colonial period. The changes in human rights cultures and regimes in Africa in the 1990s were facilitated by astounding political transformations that began to take place [4].

The 1990s was a complex period in African history which was full of contradictions and bewildering extremes – since we saw the rise of mass movements and mass revolts driven by democratic and developmental ideals, as well as mass murders and mass poverty perpetrated by desperate regimes.

At the beginning of 1990, all but five of Africa’s 54 countries were dictatorships, either civil and military – and levels of political competition and political participation were abysmal.

As a result, the general citizenry in African countries exercised little choice in selecting their leaders and determining public policy, and leadership turnover was negligible.

By the 2000s, the vast majority of African countries had introduced political reforms and were at various stages of democratic transitions – even though West African elected governments in Niger, Gambia, Guinea-Bissau, and Sierra Leone were overthrown.

Despite these setbacks, electoral politics and democratic freedoms have become part and parcel of the African political experience – thereby correcting the old colonial habits and corrupt authoritarianism that became a part of Africa’s precolonial and postcolonial identity.

The wave of democratization in Africa, no matter how inconsistent, illustrates to use the continents limitless political and economic potential. Africa has been blessed with plenty of diverse natural recourses and a rich and unique historical past [5].

There have been positive developments on the African continent, such as impressive real growth rates and an end to civil war in countries such as Mozambique. There has also been the promise of a democratically elected government in Nigeria after a long period of military rule, and there has been growing regional cooperation and integration of African countries.

To combat modern Africa’s biggest problems, we must work to suppress rampant corruption and nourish malnourished political institutions – and this will yield more favorable conditions for economic development in Africa.

In the late postcolonial period, there has been a wave of democratization in Africa – and it has the potential to enhance the continents political and economic potential ­– which has been suppressed by colonial exploitation and corrupt authoritarianism.

Sources [1] Boyle, P. M. "Democracy and Development in Africa by Claude Ake." JOURNAL OF Modern African Studies 35, no. 4 (1997): 748-749. [2] Englebert, Pierre. State legitimacy and development in Africa. Lynne Rienner Publishers, 2002. [3] Lawal, Gbenga. "Corruption and development in Africa: challenges for political and economic change." Humanity and social sciences Journal 2, no. 1 (2007): 1-7. [4] Zeleza, Paul, Tiyambe Zeleza, and Philip McConnaughay, eds. Human rights, the rule of law, and development in Africa. University of Pennsylvania Press, 2004. [5] Nyikuli, Peter K. "Unlocking Africa's potential: Some factors affecting economic development and investment in sub-Saharan Africa." Law & Pol'y Int'l Bus. 30 (1998): 623.


bottom of page