Theoretically, could the whole of Africa unite and become an economic superpower? If so/not, what would be the challenges facing them economically?
The question of Africa uniting is not a theoretical one; indeed, there are ongoing efforts toward regional integration and economic cooperation. The African Union (AU), through its eight Regional Economic Communities (RECs) and its Agenda 2063, offer blueprints for these possibilities. Nonetheless, there is no simple or straightforward answer to your question. Africa's prospect for becoming a "superpower" is more complicated; therefore, I will limit my response to African unity. Let me provide some relevant background information before delving into my response.
- First, the African continent is not monolithic; its 54 countries are characterized by diverse cultures, languages, landscapes, and colonial pasts.
- Second, Africa has an abundance of valuable natural resources (e.g., oil, uranium, copper, gold, cobalt, and vast uninhabited land) and a large entrepreneurial, tech-savvy youth base. Huge disparities in wealth and income also characterize the continent.
- Third, Africa has great potential and could become the next economic frontier. It is home to some of the world's current fastest-growing economies; its population is also expected to grow by 184% and increase to 2.1 billion by 2050.
These and other factors account for Africa’s slow journey towards full integration despite the potential benefits. An additional challenge that faces Africa as it works towards economic integration involves building a comprehensive, efficient, and reliable infrastructure to link its regions and countries to facilitate the free and timely flow of people, goods, and services. The integration efforts could also benefit from specialized regional Research and Development to help take advantage of economies of scale. An important lesson from the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) is that Africa needs to advocate more strongly for its interests and negotiate on behalf of its members globally. The level of inequality and the gap in access to COVID-19 vaccines have exposed and heightened reasons why Africa must directly engage, and become fully integrated, with the world on trade issues and health matters while working towards ending financial and other dependencies.
Globalization and the shifting world economic and political order have often disadvantaged Africa. However, African countries are tapping into the benefits of working together, even without full economic integration. While tourism services have been top foreign exchange-earners in countries like Kenya, Rwanda, Uganda, and Tanzania, we have learned from places like Bangalore, India that with advancements in technology, services no longer require proximity between producers and consumers. There is also increased recognition that services can be tradable, and scale economies can be easily achieved in the service sector. Who is to say Lagos or Nairobi are not capable of providing telecommunication and information services? Kenya’s M-Pesa, is already an excellent example of what Africa has to offer the world on mobile banking. Thus, whether or not Africa achieves full integration, the region must harness its current ingenuity, abundant labor, and entrepreneurship to produce for the continent and access larger markets. It must look beyond its role as a global supplier of raw materials and develop its service sector along with value-added products.