Download PDF

Oppenheimer Lecture
Nana Akufo-Addo, 2012 Presidential Candidate, New Patriotic Party, Ghana
Arundel House, London
Wednesday 29 February 2012


'This can be Africa’s century,' Ghanaian presidential candidate Nana Akufo-Addo told the audience at the fifth IISS Oppenheimer Lecture. A former Ghanaian attorney general and foreign minister, he was speaking on the future of democracy in Africa and the impact of the Arab Spring. But he also took the time to point out that the continent had the world’s second fastest economic growth after Asia, and that strengthening trade and ties across the continent could assist Africa’s self-empowerment.

The dividends of democracy cannot be overrated,’ stressed Akufo-Addo, who has been one of Ghana’s leading politicians since the country returned to a multi-party system in 1992. The 2008 Ghanaian presidential elections – in which Akufo-Addo ran as the National Patriotic Party candidate – were hailed by international observers as a model for Africa. They passed off peacefully, despite the extremely close-run victory for National Democratic Congress candidate John Atta Mills, who won by less than 1%.

(Akufo-Addo said that the events of the Arab Spring showed that democracy was compatible with Islam, despite some claims to the contrary. Many Arab leaders had often used the Islamist threat as a way of seeking international support for their autocratic regimes, but the reality was that democracy was neither alien to Islamic belief nor at odds with African values.

However, he added: 'The angst and frustration that propelled the protests in the Arab world – in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya, in Syria and Yemen – resonate deeply with many Africans. It is a shared sense of arrested opportunities. This young, hungry generation, with a global perspective on opportunities and the aspirations to match, expect their leaders to help deliver social and economic transformation that will have a meaningful impact on their lives.'


Speech as prepared, check against delivery

Chairperson, distinguished ladies and gentlemen.

I am very honoured and, dare I say it, highly delighted to have been invited to give this year’s Oppenheimer Lecture at this prestigious body, the International Institute for Strategic Studies, and I am particularly grateful to the Director General, our chairperson, Dr John Chipman, for that. The honour and delight have, however, been somewhat undermined by a nagging anxiety about my ability to follow successfully in the footsteps of the eminent Africans who have preceded me on this podium -- Nicky Oppenheimer, the Chairman of De Beers, one of Africa’s great business concerns, who initiated this lecture series; President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, Africa’s first elected female head of state, who has recently won re-election, an acknowledgement by the Liberian people of the critical work that she is doing in promoting national reconciliation and progress in post-conflict Liberia; Trevor Ncube, a very prominent figure on the African media landscape; and President Paul Kagame, the redoubtable Rwandan leader, who, like his Liberian counterpart, is fully engaged in the difficult process of national reconciliation and reconstruction of post-conflict Rwanda. Any deficiencies in the quality of my presentation from those of this illustrious cast can be put down to the fact that I am a mere opposition leader. 

I have chosen to speak on the topic ‘The Future of Democracy in Africa and the Arab Spring’, for two reasons. The first is that my country, Ghana, is one that clearly is determined to walk the path of democratic empowerment after earlier years of turbulent, unstable authoritarian rule. An important milestone in that journey will be passed this year, which is an election year in Ghana. As one who will be a significant player in that process, this occasion gives me the opportunity to stand back from the narrow confines of my own country and look at the wider connotations of the democracy project on a broader continental perspective.  Secondly, the impact of the so-called Arab Spring on the development of democracy in Africa has been dramatic, a phenomenon that can only be strengthened in the years ahead.

There are many development challenges ahead for Africa. The World Bank rightly identifies these as undiversified production structures, huge infrastructural deficits, underdeveloped human capital, weak governance, fragile states, and a need for women and youth empowerment. The road ahead for all of us in Africa, north and south, will continueto be one of tough choices,  choices that present as many opportunities as challenges. Outside of Asia, Africa has the fastest growing middle class. The world’s fastest-growing economies in the first decade of this century have been in sub-Saharan Africa, leading the reputable journal, The Economistto call the continent "the surprising success story of the past decade" and project that over the next five years, the average African economy will outpace its Asian counterpart. In May 2000, the cover ofthe same Economist  had called Africa a  “hopeless continent.” That is the significance of the change of the last decade.Events last year, in both North and South, have made one choice very clear: the democratic path has become the preferred option of governance for Africans – one that can guide us to deliver the future our people demand. Africans are taking two important lessons from the global economic crisis: one, a strong recognition that the state is an indispensable agent of social and economic development and; two, the market economy is worth saving.

History of democracy in Africa 

The spread of democracy in the last twenty years in Africa has been dramatic, with 2011 a year of reaffirmation – as the year of the Arab Spring also saw elections in some 27 nations in Africa. It marked the beginning of the end of 50 years of post-independence struggle for democracy. The promise of the independence movement that freedom would rapidly improve the quality of life for independent African peoples was quickly and cruelly subverted by decades of authoritarian rule in post-colonial Africa. In 1947, the founders of the liberal-democratic tradition from which my party, the New Patriotic Party, has emerged, were the same people who gathered in Saltpond on that seminal date of 4th August, to initiate the struggle for freedom and national independence. They believed at the outset of the Cold War  that the principles of democratic accountability, respect for the rule of law and human rights, individual liberty and responsibility, and a strong market economy, with good management of public finances, would provide the most effective base for African development. The motto of our party became “Development in Freedom,” and I believe these words have come to have a far deeper meaning across our continent. 

By the 1960s, all of the North African states had gained independence and by 1966, with Ghana in the lead, all but six sub-Saharan African countries had as well. That same year, there were eight military coups in Africa, including one that overthrew Ghana’s first President, the world famous Kwame Nkrumah. Three straight decades of decline did not tell a bright story of the short history of independent Africa. The 1980s saw only five African countries holding competitive elections. Dictatorship and suppression of individual freedoms were apologised for as a necessary trade-off for development despite the era of authoritarian rule being Africa’s worst period of economic decline, instability and insecurity. 

But Africa was quick to learn from global trends. In 1970 the number of electoral democracies globally was about 45. This has now increased three-fold, and Africa alone is responsible for a third of this increase. I believe this same innate capacity must be translated into the most important African project of the 21st century: social and economic transformation. African leaders must help build societies of opportunities that meet the aspirations of our 1 billion people.

The dearth of inclusiveness and opportunities for the youth will sink African democracy unless we can end “jobless growth” driven by extractive industries and raw material exports. The urgent task ahead is captured in the words of Mthuli Ncube, Chief Economist and Vice-President of the African Development Bank (AfDB): “Africa is growing but there are risks. Urgent attention is needed to foster inclusive growth, to improve political accountability, and address the youth bulge.

The Arab Spring

As one writer put it, the revolutions in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya were not created by accident but the direct consequence of deep social transformations that are irreversible. This transformation is led by the youth population, who have grown up believing that freedom can lead to greater prosperity. Mohammed Bouazizi, the young man who set himself alight and triggered the Arab Spring, did so because the Tunisian system had long failed to give him and his generation the freedom and opportunity to pursue the prosperity that they desired. Autocracy placed an unsustainable check on the spread of opportunities.

The angst and frustration that propelled the protests in the Arab world -- in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya; in Syria and Yemen – resonate deeply with many Africans. It is a shared sense of arrested opportunities. This young, hungry generation, with a global perspective on opportunities and the aspirations to match, expect their leaders to help deliver social and economic transformation that will have a meaningful impact on their lives. And they have new tools to achieve their goals, with the continent having the second largest number of mobile phone users in the world.

The political space in most of sub-Saharan Africa has been opening up, especially since the fall of the Berlin Wall, and it was only a matter of time before it crossed the Sahara. The Sahara has always been seen as a dividing line on our continent – between religions, ethnicities, ideologies, cultures – but I believe that these distinctions will finally break down over the 21st century as Arab nations persevere to come to terms with the same choices other African nations have been making for the last two decades. 

It is time that the north/south divide in Africa forever remains just sand and not a mental divide, as well. Sub-Saharan Africa has valuable lessons-learned to offer North Africa and vice-versa. The challenge for the whole of Africa in the 21st century is to use the space of democracy to facilitate social and economic transformation. Providing economic opportunity for our people is our most critical task. Despite different starting points, we face similar challenges to transform our economies, and nearly half of the expected global population growth over the next four decades will happen in Africa. This is a daunting statistic that should, nevertheless, excite African leaders to rise to the challenge. It should motivate us to be bold in investing in education and training. 

The Arab Spring has reminded us that democracy will rise because it has the capacity to respond to the innate human instincts for freedom and for the ability to determine the direction of our own lives. Progress across North Africa is still uneven, with some very new governments and some very old ones looking for answers to satisfy their people. In sub-Saharan Africa, Ghana’s example as a stable democracy with a vibrant economy has pulled the region along, and we believe this same catalytic effect can happen in the North. The power of seeing firsthand the dividends of democracy cannot be overrated. 

Arab democracy and Islamic parties

But whether in Europe or Africa, Asia or the Americas, democracy must find its own course. The current new wave of democracy in the Arab world will, no doubt, add its own rich contribution to our understanding of democracies and we should be patient as this quest to define a new identity plays out. But I think it is important for us all to remember that Islam is no more incompatible with democracy than African values were supposed t be. Democracy will be successful where it enjoys domestic ownership and leadership that is responsive to the people. 

Alfred Stepan and Graeme Robertson compared 16 Muslim-majority countries that are predominantly Arab with 29 other Muslim-majority countries and documented that the democracy deficit that Arab societies face is Arab much more than it is Muslim. Non-Arab states have shown success in offering reasonably inclusive and democratic political rights to their citizens.

So I am not on the side of those who fear that the Arab Spring will end by empowering fundamentalists through elections. Indeed many Arab leaders used the pervasive fear of radical Islam as the alternative waiting just offstage as the excuse to bait the rest of the world to continue to support their authoritarian tendencies. I believe we would all be better served by helping Islamic political parties learn that they must deliver or face tough elections, rather than telling them there is some characteristic in their ideology that will prevent them from succeeding. African governments, post-Soviet ones, and Latin American ones all went through this same learning curve. In fact, it was only until relatively recently that Europe’s democratic landscape was dominated by clerical parties. Indeed, the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) continues to dominate Germany’s democracy.

An identity for Arab democracy

Perhaps we should remind ourselves that the Qur’an makes it obligatory for leaders to consult their followers in the affairs of state (Q: 3:159). If democracy is about giving people a voice in matters of state, then democracy is not alien to Islamic beliefs. The success of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party in Egypt or the Ennahda Party in Tunisia should not be determined by how they use religion in the affairs of state, but how successfully they address their economic issues and the desires of the Egyptian people to have a say in their future. We all have a duty to support them through this transition. 

But the Arab populations of North Africa must also help themselves. Race, geography, and history have conspired to make African Arabs a people with several heritages. They look north, south, and east for answers to their identity and interest. Where are their long-term geo-political interests? Do they look east towards Mesopotamia and the Middle East? Do they look north towards the Mediterranean and Europe? Do they look south across the Sahara to the rest of Africa? These are critical decisions they have to make.

Where things are now/current challenges

The period of passive citizenship in Africa has hopefully come to an end, and governments have begun to adapt. Africa’s young and enthusiastic Facebook generation has no time for non-performing leaders. The good news is that they have accepted the wisdom in expressing their impatience through the ballot. In Ghana, for example, Afrobarometer polls have shown that 90 percent believe that leaders should be chosen through regular, open and honest elections.

The key challenge now is ensuring that democratic freedoms can deliver opportunities and prosperity to Africa’s long-suffering peoples. Whether you look north or south, east or west, the currency of Africa’s challenges and opportunities is virtually the same. We are societies that present limited opportunities for the masses. What Africa needs, above all, is value addition – and this starts with adding value to our human capital through an education system that provides every child with the skills to realize their full potential. Africa needs a confident, educated workforce to be able to compete effectively in the global economy. That is why, for my part, I have made education the foundation for my vision to build a knowledge-based, industrialised economy in Ghana. Access to free, quality, basic universal education is our key to effective participation in the new global economy. Our human potential has not yet been developed to match and capitalize on our continent’s rich resources. Until we bridge this gap, we are squandering opportunities that could move us forever away from a culture of handouts to a culture of hand-ups and the creation of dignified and confident societies. What is the way forward? 

I suggest six steps: 

  • We need to enhance transparency and accountability in our governance structures and build strong institutions that can fight corruption.

  • We need to expand rapidly our infrastructure on value for money basis.

  • We need to invest in our human capital.

  • We need to transform stagnant, jobless economies built on the export of raw materials and unrefined goods to value-added economies that provide jobs to build strong middle-class societies.

  • We need to make a commercial shift from travelling to Asia or Europe to buy finished products for our local markets to acquiring knowledge, tools and inputs that will enable us to produce our own finished products.

  • We need to create an environment to encourage talents that have gone overseas, or have been nurtured overseas, to be brought to bear to facilitate this transformation. 

FDI, intra-African trade, and economic transformation

Africa’s leaders need to address the structure of African economiesin order to meet the aspirations of Africans. The economies are essentially unchanged since the colonial days. For example, in 2011, Ghana became an oil-producing country and recorded the highest economic growth in the world, as a result.  Our total exports grew by 60.6 percent to $12.7 billion, with gold, cocoa and crude oil accounting for 76.6 percent of those exports. Compare that to 1927, when the most progressive leader of our colonial era, Governor Guggisberg, left our shores, and 70 percent of our foreign receipts were derived from the export of three raw materials -- cocoa, gold and timber. Our dependence on raw materials has in fact increased in the past century. It is this dependence that feeds our dependence on foreign aid.  We cannot be doing the same thing over and over again and expect a different result. 

The social and economic vision for an Africa that will ensure that Africa’s growth will transform African lives is a simple one. We must add value. We must leverage our natural resources to industrialise and diversify our economies. For example, Ghana’s petroleum find should not only lead us to build a petro-chemical industry, but serve as a platform for an integrated industrialisation campaign that links the exploitation of our iron ore and bauxite deposits to the establishment of an integrated aluminium industry and to the significant expansion and modernisation of our agricultural sector. About 30 years ago, some African nations, beginning with Ghana and Uganda, implemented liberal economic reforms to stop their economic decline. But in many cases we opened our markets to global competition when, beyond the extractive industries, we had nothing to compete with. So while the continent’s share of global foreign direct investment projects has improved steadily over the past decade, much of this investment has reinforced the structural deficits of our economies.  

Africa is currently benefitting from growing investments from countries like China, India and Brazil. We are inspired by the growing economic successes of Brazil and India, two big democratic states from the developing world. We are all witnesses to how China’s aggressive development of the market economy, on the wheels of industrialization, has lifted some half a billion people out of poverty over the past three decades, creating the world's largest middle class in the process. Africawelcomes China’s enthusiasm to assist with the needed credit to accelerate development on the continent. But, since this is a relationship of mutual economic needs -- I have raw materials, you have capital – it is the responsibility of African leaders to negotiate the best deal out there for their respective countries by leveraging these investments in the three critical areas: developing infrastructure, expanding manufacturing, and modernizing agriculture. Agriculture is a good example of the role that government can play in economic transformation. After less than two years of targeted government intervention, including the supply of fertilizer, pesticide and improved seeds, post-conflict Sierra Leone managed to increase her rice production by a third, meeting and exceeding what was needed for local consumption. 

In this respect, deliberate efforts to promote greater intra-African trade and investment are vital. Right now, African countries tend to produce the same products and commodities as their neighbours. Our lack of economic diversification limits the usefulness of—and therefore the levels of—intra-African trade since what we produce goes to and what we need comes from the world’s more advanced economies. Africa’s internal trade is only about 10 percent of its total trade compared, for instance, to more than 60 percent in the European Union. The good news is that intra-African investments have witnessed a 21% compound growth from 2003-2010. More importantly, Africans investing in Africa are far more likely to invest in a diverse range of sectors. This is an indication of how focusing on an enhanced intra-regional trade agenda, all across Africa, can help promote economic diversification.

A new African Union

Our continental organization, the African Union, must rise to the challenge of playing a central role in this process of social and economic transformation. It needs to take a hard look at the world around it, at the role it needs to play to be relevant, and the need to reform and revamp itself to rise to this challenge, so that we can build a new Africa that is neither pawn nor victim.

I would certainly prefer that North African states become full and active members of a reformed African Union. But, the AU must also become capable of facing the challenges and opportunities of the twenty-first century. The impotence of the AU in the face of the crises that erupted in Libya and Cote d’Ivoire leaves much to be desired. A new African security architecture has to be urgently rebuilt. To that end, I believe that the AU must move away from automatic membership earned by geography and insist on strict adherence on membership eligibility based on certain fundamental democratic principles. The European Union’s strict rules for membership helped pull Eastern European nations through their post-Soviet transitions, and this should serve as an example to us. 

AU members should demonstrate a commitment to strengthening and protecting the institutions and culture of democratic governance; respecting human rights, religious freedom, and the rights of the individual and minorities; building functioning market economies and facilitating the free movements of people, knowledge, goods and services across member states. Africa’s small countries will continue to struggle to go it alone, but the accelerated economic integration of committed nations can serve as the model for others, breathe new life into the AU, and deliver the benefits of African integration to the doorstepsof the African peoples. The AU shouldreflect the values of our people. 70 percent of people polled across African nations support democracy. Even higher numbers rejected one-party rule, military rule and strongman rule. Recent efforts to undermine the democraticprocess in Cote d’Ivoire and Senegal are troubling. Attempts to remove term limits and the failure to recognize results of legitimate elections are a pattern from which the continent must move. It is time we heard African leaders and institutions speak strongly and clearly with one voice against such retrogressive developments. In this century we should speak with one voice, one set of common values, to determine the direction of our continent. 
 
Principled and Transformational Leadership 

Those of you who know me also know how deeply I believe that democratic values are the only way forward for all Africans – be they north or south. I was the candidate of the ruling party in Ghana who, in 2008, accepted defeat in the last presidential election, without demanding a recount and without spilling a single drop of blood, without seeking power-sharing or forcing a constitutional crisis, in an election which I lost by the narrowest of margins in the history of elections in Africa. That margin was 0.46 percent, some 40,000 votes in a poll of some 9 million voters. I had spent the previous three decades of my life fighting against military dictatorship and for freedom and democracy. Democracy should not be subject to individual interpretation, and it should not be a negotiation between elites and stakeholders. I was not prepared to put my personal ambition before the principles that made me a politician in the first place. Democracy is best established when institutions are trusted, the rules of the game clear and political actors are prepared to win and lose. 

Conclusion 

When Mohamed Bouazizi took his life in defiance of a system that offered him a life with no prospects, it sparked fires across North Africa, and reminded those of us in the south that our own transformations have yet to be completed. The pressing challenge for all of us is how we negotiate successfully the interface between elections and democratic governance, institution building and development, poverty and economic growth and jobs, with the overriding objective being enhancing the dignity of the African –– whether they be Berber, Dinka, Wollof, Hausa, Yoruba, Igbo, Ga, Akan, Shona, Zulu, Ewe or Kikuyu. 

Democracy, whether in Ghana or Libya, Tunisia or Botswana, has to be seen to be delivering on two fundamental fronts: the electoral process must command the full confidence of voters, and elected leaders must use their mandate to serve the interests of the people. 

The transformation of North Africa will not be smooth. They will stumble, as their southern neighbours have done; they will face crises as we faced crises – but we can no longer pretend that there is any other option than democracy for enhancing human dignity. 

I believe Africa, a united Africa of north and south, can cross this threshold of accepting democracy as the only way forward and never look back, using the stability and legitimacy gained to unleash energies to drive the transformation of the continent.

There is a lot of talk that this will be the Asian century, the Chinese century – but do take it from me: the 21st century holds excellent prospects for Africa. This can be Africa’s century. We need to get Africans to believe in themselves. We must begin to see who we are as superior to what we are and where we are. 

This can be Africa’s century, and Africans deserve leadership that can get them there. Africa needs transformational leadership. An Africa united in the quest to build societies of opportunities and aspirations can change the landscape forever if it stays on the trajectory of freedom, democracy and economic transformation. I believe fully in Africa’s potential and the ability of Africans to realize it. 

Thank you.


One of the NPP’s founding members in 1992, when multi-party democracy returned to Ghana, Nana Akufo-Addo has since served as attorney-general and foreign minister. In the 2008 presidential contest he received the highest number of votes in the first round, but failed to secure a majority; in the second round he lost to National Democratic Congress candidate John Atta Mills by the narrowest of margins.

Akufo-Addo graduated as an economist from the University of Ghana and went on to read law in the UK where he was called to the Bar (Middle Temple) in 1971.

The meeting was chaired by Dr John Chipman, Director-General and Chief Executive of the IISS.

Back to content list

About the Oppenheimer Lectures

Since the inaugural lecture by Nicky Oppenheimer in 2005 entitled 'Africa needs a hand-up not a hand-out', prominent speakers have included Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, President of Liberia, and Rwandan President Paul Kagame.