Reading Note: Kako Nubukpo, The African Emergency, Let’s change the Growth Model! (by Jean-Pierre Listre)

Kako Nubukpo, Editions Odile Jacob; September 2019; 236 pages; €22.90,

Professor Kako Nubukpo is an economist (with a sensitive historian’s tropism) and a renowned academic. He was Minister in charge of Prospective and Evaluation of Public Policies in Togo (2013-2015).

His past experiences and a certain disenchantment inspired his recent book “L’Urgence africaine; changeons le modèle de croissance! ” the tone of the book is energetic, since the first page of the introduction states that Africa is the guinea pig continent on which all the neo-liberal vultures of the planet would fall, but it is also the “mother” continent on which the fate of the “finished” world is at stake, to borrow an expression from Paul Valéry.

One would be tempted to fear that the author hesitates between a furious despair and an insane hope, on a note of bottom sometimes rather polemical… Of this big gap in appearance – and which invites us to the reading -, let us see the significant constituents.

In spite of a few stylistic breaks and a certain recourse to shock formulas, Kako Nubukpo’s book is a pleasant and “dynamic” read; it is presented as a critical and resolute review of a set of questions that challenge not only Africanists but a vast readership that is sensitive and curious about a continent that remains, despite everything, an enigma. However, this work – lacking a bibliography and documented in a sometimes insufficient or dated manner – will not fully satisfy academic circles. But the author was certainly not aiming at this audience in the first place.

In fact, his intention was essentially to sound the alarm on several important issues, identifying the ills affecting Africa and reflecting on possible solutions. But if it is often relatively easy to take stock of the situation, it is of course much less simple to issue truly effective recommendations…

The Introduction recalls some of the major realities (Africa is not a homogeneous and undifferentiated continent; in 2050, more than 25% of the world’s population will be African, etc.), lists the issues addressed, and explains how to deal with them. ), lists the issues dealt with and already gives, in watermarks, the general position of the author on these subjects (to be wary of the almost childish alternations of excessive Afro-pessimism and excessive Afro-optimism; to rethink globally the relations with France and the great instruments attached to it; to give its full place to politics; to develop the endogenous African forces,…).

We open with “Africa, a laboratory of neoliberalism“, with a set of political and economic considerations on the deleterious effects of the large-scale application of liberal dogmas on economies and political situations that did not meet the initial conditions for a successful application. Already, what can be observed is that the misfortunes of Africa linked to this phenomenon are not peculiar to it but are widely observed in other countries or continents! This being the case, we will not contradict the alarmist and dismayed words of Professor Kako Nubukpo on the coldly applied Structural Adjustment Programs, but we hope that the alternative to Bretton Woods will not consist in throwing ourselves into the arms of Marx… Of course, we can only agree with the affirmation that the three pillars of African life are “reciprocity, redistribution and exchange”, but how can we give flesh to these beautiful principles?

The False Pretenses of Emergence” will win the reader over. The temptation is great and dangerous – as in other parts of the world once again – to opt for development without democracy. But how to truly involve the populations in a world where the indicators for economic and even political conduct are dictated from outside (the famous SDGs – Sustainable Development Goals) with complicit leaders, where the absence of reliable statistics skews all decision-making and where the “anthropological factor” is often ignored?

Can African agriculture survive?“. The question is pertinent but, curiously, the author concentrates on a few subjects, which are certainly emblematic (cotton, the predation of agricultural land in favor of uranium and gold mining in Niger, the drop in prices, etc.), whereas one would like to see more structured developments on major questions, which the author evokes or touches upon but which are absolutely central: (i) how to give a deliberately “local” response to the danger of no longer having an agriculture whose main purpose is nevertheless to feed an ever larger and ever more urbanized population (and not, as a priority, to feed an export market). In this respect, more detailed reflections on village/family farming intended for vital self-consumption, which is still very much alive but is becoming more fragile, are desirable; at the same time, (ii) the exponential urbanization of African countries, the difficult question of land tenure, and the multiple degradations of the environment that are so penalizing to the rural world are subjects that are becoming more significant and deserve to be addressed.

The unavoidable topic “Demography and migration: the fear of the “Black“? “lists some useful truths in a rigorous manner: it is not poverty that pushes people to migrate; development aid does not serve much purpose in many areas; the impact of remittances is real and much more important than that of development aid, it seems…

Moreover, the author is right to point out that the projections to 2050 of the African working age population and the employment prospects “induce an unprecedented challenge in terms of jobs and [that] the current responses do not seem to be at the level of the volume and quality of jobs required by the demographic situation. And he surely discerns that one should be wary of the dangerous concept of “demographic dividend”, which borders on a sham when brandished as an almost magical exit solution to all the problems induced by the staggering increase in the share of youth in the African population. A hot topic that so few leaders are really addressing yet…

The myth of the great African market” pertinently raises the question of resources – numerous and fruitful for states – from customs and the existence of strict borders… This shows the difficulty of bringing about a truly open African market at the same time as free trade becomes an inescapable issue due to the now official launch of the African continental free trade zone (AfCFTA).

And the vast subject of the “CFA franc, the last days of a condemned man” will certainly not be closed any time soon! Here, moreover, we are once again entering a particularly controversial area.

There is only one question, one real problem: how to ensure the credibility and therefore the convertibility of a new purely African currency? It would perhaps be a pity to replace the supposed tutelage of France with the overwhelming power of Nigeria… And besides, is Nigeria ready to enter a vast monetary zone? Remember, however, that Nigeria is once again the largest economy in Africa (ahead of South Africa) with a GDP (Gross Domestic Product) of nearly 450 billion US dollars!

The question of “Structural transformation: towards a rainbow economy in Africa? ” It opens up the more precise and less graphic question: “What industrialization and, moreover, is industrialization indispensable? “.

Beware of the incantations around the “digital wonder”, but this is an area where the young Africa can emerge powerfully.

We end with the inevitable “France-Africa: is there an economist in the room?” where a certain anger towards the President of France can be surprising and risks diminishing the significance of the remarks made. Of course, France has made mistakes and even errors. But, finally, how can we not recognize that it is still a very “polite” and benevolent country compared to many others?

In Conclusion, we can only hope that Africa will have pragmatic leaders, concerned with the common good and courageous, so that this continent “imposes itself” in a natural way.

Professor Kako Nubukpo’s book is a useful reference point for the outstanding questions, without claiming to provide absolute answers to the problems of the moment in all the areas explored. Of course, this overview, which is meant to be general, does not address all the subjects. However, the liveliness of the remarks forces reflection and exchange (even healthy controversy!).


Jean-Pierre Listre


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