Brunswick Review The Integrity Issue

Africa and the Inequality Forecast

Without radical change in the global economy, geopolitical crisis is likely to get far worse.

"There’s a war going on outside no man is safe from.”

That line is from a song by New York hip-hop duo Mobb Deep. Policy makers and macro analysts seem to agree.

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In January of this year Aengus Collins, Head of Global Risks and the Geopolitical Agenda at the World Economic Forum, asked, “Could the world be sleepwalking into a crisis?”

The answer is yes, yes it could. Michael Spence, a mild-mannered economist as Clark Kent as you’re likely to find, recently wrote that “Taken together, these diverse economic and political trends may or may not lead to another global crisis or sudden stop. Either way, they will sustain a prolonged period of radical uncertainty.”

That’s mild-mannered-economist-speak for “crisis.” He was describing situations from Europe to the US to Asia, but increasingly, the world feels uneasy no matter where you
are. But it seemed for a while at least that Africa, this continent of 54 countries, which is three times the size of the US, would get a pass.

African countries so often are out of sight and out of mind for the West. Usually that is reason to object, but lately it has seemed a good thing. As trouble has bubbled and boiled on either side of the Atlantic and Pacific, and more recently on the sub-continent of India, Africa has, by its own real or perceived standards, been relatively stable (one exception might be the political rumbling brewing in historically stable and “boring” nation of Botswana).

As globalization’s unraveling seemed to accelerate, Africa sealed the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA), the world’s largest free trade area. The promise is considerable; the area would cover a market with a population similar to that of India, and a combined gross domestic product of $2.5 trillion.

Few are saying it out loud, but Africa’s promised growth cannot be delivered without a redesign of the global economic order.

Alas, no one is safe and this eerie calm can’t last. The fate of Africa is entwined with the rest of the world and, indeed, it is particularly vulnerable in the current climate.

While it has many manifestations, the core of the world’s current instability is essentially about insiders and outsiders—haves and have nots—created by the broken social contract of the world’s dominant economic system.

In People, Power and Profits, Joseph Stiglitz writes, “The true wealth of a nation is measured by its capacity to deliver, in a sustainable way, high standards of living for all of its citizens.” That promise seems dead. If not because of the crash in intergenerational mobility, then because of the reality that capitalism’s externalities have finally caught up with us through the climate crisis.

Cruelly, the latter is likely to bring Africa’s much vaunted economic promise to a sharp halt. Emerging markets have the most to lose by the pressures of climate change. Few are saying it out loud, but Africa’s promised growth cannot be delivered without a redesign of the global economic order.

If the world feels like it is in crisis now, just wait until it becomes clear there are 1.3 billion people destined to join the disgruntled outsiders.

Itumeleng Mahabane is a Partner in Brunswick’s Johannesburg office and an award-winning former journalist.

Illustration: Serge Bloch

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