July 12th, 2011
10:30 AM ET

Africa is on the move

Put your thinking caps on for a moment. Which continent has six of the world's 10 largest growing economies? Which continent has projected to have the world's third largest city by population in just a few years? Which continent has the world's newest nation? If you said Asia, that's wrong.

One more question might help you get the answer. Which continent has seven of the top 10 failed states in the world? The continent is, of course, Africa and that's what I talked to two terrific guests about on Sunday: Nicholas Kristof, columnist of The New York Times and best-selling author, and Peter Godwin, African-born author and reporter.

Both were just back from Africa. Peter has a new book out, which is called The Fear, about Zimbabwe. Here's an edited transcript of my discussion with them, where they talk about Africa's growth, the birth of South Sudan, and the fate of Zimbabwe.

Optimism about Africa's growth

Fareed Zakaria: Is it fair to say that for the first time that you see an Africa that's on the move, that these countries like Angola, Mozambique, Ghana, Kenya are growing and there's a spirit of optimism?

Nick Kristof: Yes. There's definitely a sense of growth, and I think more people are waking up to that. Part of it is that we're seeing more countries that are success stories and for more countries trying to emulate those successes.

One of the problems I think we have in journalism is that we, you know, we cover planes that crash, and so we always covered those failed states as problems. And I'm afraid that in that kind of reporting we miss a lot of the background success in so much of Africa.

Fareed Zakaria: Do you think - we'll get to Zimbabwe in a second, but do you think - does Zimbabwe look at what's going on in Africa, this stirring and feel even more benighted? Does if feel like, 'I can't believe, you know, finally Africa is taking off and we once the breadbasket of Africa and are now totally dysfunctional?

Peter Godwin: I think certainly they look at the Arab Spring ruefully and think why not us? I mean, in a sense Zimbabwe tried its own Arab Spring in the year 2000 and has been trying ever since.

The big difference and one of the things I think we often overlook when we look - when we examine the Arab spring and why did it happen when it happened is that the success in various countries, Tunisia, Egypt has depended on the reaction of security forces, and in Zimbabwe, the security - you wouldn't be able to put a primrose down the barrel of a soldier's gun, because it will meet a bullet on the way out.

So, yes, I think that there's a certain frustration in Zimbabwe that their own sort of peace process if you like seems to be stalled.

Fareed Zakaria: But when you talk about the optimism you're talking about, it was mostly economic optimism that is to say. Is it also political optimism?

Nick Kristof: It's also political. If we think about half of the continent now has some form of quasi democratic elections, which is a huge step up in the past. We are seeing more accountability, more of a civil society in a lot of places. Internet is bringing this sort of amount of accountability.

So you have that political advance. You have an economic advance and you have a huge improvement in health care, in nutrition and in mortality.

Fareed Zakaria: Peter, there are going to be 27 elections in Africa this year. Are most of them phony?

Peter Godwin: It's said it's not who votes, it's who counts the votes. Yes. Now, across the whole spectrum, many of them are imperfect, but what you need to look at is where incumbents lose and that's still relatively rare.

And certainly in Zimbabwe's case that obviously wasn't the case. That didn't happen. But I have to say having just come back from South Africa and witnessed the municipal elections, there's a local election, and that was a free and fair election. It wasn't perfect, but it was real democracy at work. And it's astonishing for me particularly, you know, from Zimbabwe, it's something to celebrate.

Fareed Zakaria: What I'm struck by is you talk to businessmen now and they've gotten very interested in Africa. And in Africa, when I was in Nigeria, Kenya, there's a kind of new class of businessmen, even in Nigeria. Young, western educated often and they do seem to be stirring things up.

Nick Kristof: Yes. And they're also pushing in the right direction on issues like corruption, for example. There's real outrage at corruption in countries like Kenya that does seem to be creating modest steps better.

And just, you know, we're - on my first trip to Africa, back in 1982, I backpacked across the continent. The single thing that I found most depressing was river blindness, all of it. You see these elderly or middle-aged people who have been blind and have to take a grandchild out of school to lead them around. It was just frankly left me with kind of bad taste for West Africa.

This time, you go around, you just don't see that nearly to the same degree, because river blindness has been almost conquered. And there's so many other diseases that are like that. You really get a sense of just - if you have a long enough timeframe of dramatic change.

The birth of South Sudan

Fareed Zakaria: The world has just welcomed a new country into its fold, a country called South Sudan. It's the first new country that's been created in Africa since Eritrea in 1993.

What does the future hold for it?

Peter, was there concern when you were talking to people in South Africa about whether there might be a war in Sudan?

Peter Godwin: Yes, and I think that there has been a lot of concern. And the truth is that many of the issues that still need to be resolved have simply been put off until after they begin. And so there are a bunch of issue that have just been put to one side.

There are seven different rebel groups in the south, attacking the SPLA. So never mind north/south. There's so much to try and figure out.

But at the end of the day, the truth is that about 75 percent of the oil reserves, which the south is, you know, overwhelmingly reliant on, are in the south, but all the pipelines go through the north. And so I think at the end of the day, neither north or south has got an appetite to actually go to war. At least that's my hope.

Fareed Zakaria: Do you think it has been a mistake to indict Bashir, the president of Sudan? Because, you know, there's an argument that goes we're trying to get the root of this problem which is the government of Sudan, which really seems to be determined to do whatever it can to hold on to as much of the oil revenues as it can.

By indicting Bashir, you give him no exit strategy. So he's going to sit there and stay because he knows the minute he leaves the office of the presidency of Sudan, he'll probably end up in the Hague in a war crimes trial.

Nick Kristof: I can see an argument that it makes it more difficult to have Bashir retire politely somewhere else, but I also think that at the end, you know, he has a long history of doing extraordinarily nasty things that preceded the indictment and he's continued it. So I don't think it particularly improved his behavior, but I don't think it worsened it.

And I also think there is something to be said for creating norms of how leaders behave and creating some kind of accountability, so that they know that if they go ahead and massacre people that there may be consequences.

And so on balance, I think that it was indeed the right move albeit it probably has made it more difficult to deal with Sudan right now.

The problem of bad governance

Fareed Zakaria: Would you like to see Robert Mugabe indicted?

Peter Godwin: Well, I mean, Nick is absolutely right. I think in the short term, the crimes against humanity, the war crimes issue can create unintended consequences. But I think what we're doing here is something longer term. We're trying to create a new culture, where we say, you know what, you do these things, you're not immune. It doesn't matter whether your local enemies sort of give you amnesty or whatever. This is something that, you know, you can run, but you can't hide.

And in the medium and long term, I think that that's a goal that's really worth going for. I mean, certainly in Zimbabwe, we've seen just that after the appalling violence in 2008 where there was torture on an industrial scale where the government literally declared war against its own people. And everyone I have spoken to, the prosecutors and investigators and people at the UN and International Criminal Court pretty much agree that what happened in Zimbabwe in 2008 rose to the level of a crime against humanity.

But, nevertheless, nothing has happened, because you can't get it through the Security Council. Zimbabwe is not a signator. So, you know, there are all sorts of problems and inconsistencies as to who ends up in front of the Hague and who doesn't.

And I think there's a big sensitivity at the ICC itself, that it doesn't start to look like a club that indicts black politicians or black leaders. That is overwhelmingly what it's done. So, you know, they're very sensitive about that at the moment, too.

Fareed Zakaria: Do you think that one of the things that has held Africa back or that perhaps put it under the way, you could imagine even more progress, if you had a couple of great, big role models. I mean, Nigeria and South Africa, the two big countries, Nigeria has traditionally been seen as a mess. I think things are modestly improving there. But South Africa is the great disappointment in a sense. Post-Mandela it has not been able to play a kind of leadership role in pushing progressive change.

Nick Kristof: I think one of the great reasons for Africa being on hold in the periods since independence has been bad governance. I think a single explanation exaggerates it, but bad governance goes to the failures more than anything else. And bad governance is contagious and it leach from one country to the next.

In Asia, we saw how the success of a few small economies then spread and influenced China, in turn which influenced India, which may now be influencing Pakistan. That same pattern may be beginning to happen in Africa, as we have some real success stories, and others countries are saying, well, you know, if Rwanda can do it, if Ghana can do it, then why can't we?

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Topics: Africa • Economy • Law • Sudan

soundoff (4 Responses)
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    Already 150 years ago European colonists saw the continent's economic potential. The decolonisation left many countries in chaos. Human factors had the primary responsibility for the failure. This continent could still have a bright future if conditions are improved.

    July 16, 2011 at 1:15 pm | Reply
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