Landry Signé, senior fellow in the global economy and development program and the Africa Growth Initiative at the Brookings Institution and executive director and professor of the Thunderbird School of Global Management at Arizona State University, leads the conversation about Africa on the global stage.
FASKIANOS: Thank you and welcome to today’s session of the Fall 2023 CFR Academic Webinar series. I’m Irina Faskianos, vice president of the National Program and Outreach here at CFR.
Today’s discussion is on the record and the video and transcript will be available on our website, CFR.org/academic. And, as always, CFR takes no institutional positions on matters of policy.
We’re delighted to have Landry Signé with us to discuss Africa on the global stage. Dr. Signé is a senior fellow in the global economy and development program and the Africa Growth Initiative at Brookings Institution. He’s also a professor, executive director, and the founding codirector of The Globalization 4.0 and Fourth Industrial Revolution Initiative at Arizona State University’s Thunderbird School of Global Management, and distinguished fellow at Stanford University’s Center for African Studies. He serves as chairman of the Global Network for Africa’s Prosperity and is also the author of numerous scholarly publications and several books. His most recent is entitled, Africa’s Fourth Industrial Revolution. And it was published by Cambridge University Press this summer.
So, Dr. Signé, thank you very much for being with us today. I’m going to throw you a very big question, and you can take us in the direction you would like, by talking about the important challenges and opportunities facing countries across Africa.
SIGNÉ: Hello, everyone. And thank you so much, Dr. Irina, for so kind an introduction. It’s a pleasure to be with all of you today.
So when it comes to Africa, I want to highlight a few key trends why Africa is playing such an important role in the global sphere. So the first thing that I want to share to everyone is Africa’s transformation is more substantial than what most people will think. And this is for many reasons. One is that, especially pre-pandemic, trade and in and with the rest of the world have grown for about 300 percent, which exceeds the global average of a little bit less than 200 percent. So that is a key dimension to highlight. And this is also driven by the competition between emerging countries, such as, of course, Russia, Indonesia, Brazil, China, and more established and industrialized nations such as the United States, France, and others. So that is one of the key trends that I want to highlight. So Africa is richer and is transforming much more than what most people will be thinking.
So the second trend that I also want to highlight, why Africa is so important in the global sphere, is that by the end of this century Africa could reach about 40 percent of the global population. Listen, I said 40 percent. So this is incredible, especially as the continent represent now only about 17 percent of the global population. So that is a key dimension to take into consideration when speaking about Africa, how Africa engages with the rest of the world.
A third trend that I also want to highlight is really the rise of global partnerships and the competition, as I highlighted, between emerging and established powers. So, as a matter of fact, between 2006 and 2016, for example, China trades with Africa surge with imports increasing by 233 percent, and exports increasing by about 53 percent. This is a substantial growth in engagement. And if we compare—so with Russia, for example, it was about 142 percent of change in imports from Africa and about 168 percent change in exports with Africa. So in comparison, and with the rest of the world was only about 56 percent for change in imports and 18 percent for change in export. So this is another key trend. And a country like the United States still needs to expand and to do much more in terms of those engagement. This also apply with—to the countries in the European Union in general.
So another trend that I want to highlight is really the, let’s say, fast urbanization that we see on the continent. So the continent will be growing from about five cities—will reach about five cities of more than ten million inhabitants, in comparison of only three in 2015. And will exceed fifteen cities of more than five million inhabitants, in comparison of about five to six in the recent year. So another point, when people speak about Africa, I want to speak about industrialization in Africa. Of course, we have to acknowledge the diversity of the continent. Some would say fifty-four member states, because we have about—those other ones recognized by the United Nations. But don’t be surprised if you also hear people mentioning instead fifty-five countries, because the Western Sahara is also consider as a member of the African Union.
So when speaking about industrialization, people may—some people may consider Africa as deindustrializing. But that is because they’re not looking at one of the things that we call at the Brookings Institution industries without smokestacks. Those industries are important because they have similar characteristic when they compare to traditional manufacturing. And those similar characteristics include, for example, the tradability, they are labor intensive, and the store—they absorb a high quantity of moderately skilled workers. But they are also—they also have a high level of productivity.
Irina, you mentioned my book on the Fourth Industrial Revolution. I want to connect, because when people speak about digitalization, innovation, they will mostly think about the Silicon Valley. They will think about some of the emerging nations—Israel, India—in addition to the U.S., of course. A key dimension to highlight is that in the 1990s New York City had more mobile phone subscribers than the entire continent of Africa, where now the continent has hundreds of millions of mobile phone subscribers. So in addition, we have disruptive innovations such as mobile banking, with M-PESA, for example, which is a digital application allow—which allow to provide banking services, digital banking services, to African citizens. This is another illustration of the important dynamics with Africa.
Let me finish with about two or three additional points, and I’m looking very much forward to the conversation. I will highlight the critical importance of regional integration. We have, for example, the African Continental Free Trade Area, which was adopted in 2018, ratified by a sufficient number of country in 2019, and was officially launched in January 2021. And that is an incredible speed from the signing to the coming into force of the second-largest trade organization in the world, or let’s say trade area in the world, after the World Trade Organization, of course, in terms of number of countries. So this is a key dimension. And another trend to highlight, despite some of the challenges that we see in many African countries in terms of democratic retreat. The overall trend is that African citizens want democracy. So they want accountability. But they also want democracy to deliver.
And let me finish with a trend related to business. The combined consumer and business spending in Africa will reach or exceed $16 trillion U.S. dollars by 2050, and about $6.7 trillion U.S. dollars by 2030. So Africa really is a place with phenomenal opportunities, despite the challenges that we see. Climate change affects Africa more than other regions, for example. Some of the most vulnerable countries in terms of state fragility. We have, as I also mentioned, some democratic recession. But despite those challenges, the continent is really growing and is really transforming at a very important pace. And I enthusiastically look forward to engaging, to answering your many questions. Thank you so much.
FASKIANOS: Thank you very much. That was a great overview. Obviously, this is such a big topic.
So now we’re going to go to all of you for your questions.
(Gives queuing instructions.)
Alright, so the first question we’re going to take is from Pearl Robinson. Pearl over to you.
Q: Hello. Very pleased to meet you. I have a question, something I’m going to ask you to do. I’m at Tufts University.
FASKIANOS: Thanks, Pearl.
Q: Can you use this wonderful, optimistic introduction, and connect it with a discussion of the wave of coups in the West African Sahel? Because I find myself having to talk about both. And I thought that you began with the last decade’s narrative of Africa’s growth and opportunities. And today, everybody is talking about democratic decline and all of these coups in the context of everything. So I’d like you to put your talk onto an introduction for me to talk about the coup situation.
SIGNÉ: Absolutely. Thank you so much for the question.
So I have studied the—also the democratic situation in Africa from the—from the independence to the last decade. And one of the reasons, of course, when you have democratic interruption, there are serious reasons to be concerned. And this is mostly related to the ability of democratic governance to deliver. Typically when democracy is promoted with many of the Africans, one of the key argument which was chose is that democracy allows citizens to have a better standard of living, deliver economic outcomes, education, health, security, good governance, less corruption, among others.
And many of the countries which have faced a coup are countries—when you think about Mali, we think about Nigeria, Burkina Faso, Chad, among others—there are countries where citizen are facing serious economic—a serious economic situation, deteriorated by the pandemic, of course. They are not the only country but deteriorated by the pandemic. You also have a question—the security question in the Sahel especially, with violent extremism.
But I want to put things in perspective because democratic development is a slow-moving process. And although it is very unfortunate some of the development that you are seeing in terms of coups, when you look at Africa in the long-term perspective, when I was looking, for example, in the 1980s, almost the entire continent was red. Red, meaning authoritarian. But now the majority of African countries have elections. More than half of those country have free, fair, and transparent, meaningful elections. They are able to choose their government.
And this so I’d just highlight those point, to say I classify those countries—I had them in four categories. So one was the uninterrupted democracy. So the countries which once they become democracies, they remain uninterrupted democratic. And those countries are outperforming overall, economically speaking and with many of the other benefits of democracy that I’ve mentioned. But the countries which are interrupted are mostly the countries where democracy is not necessarily delivering wealth. But will that change the broader trend on the continent? I don’t think so.
So I think, yes, we have to acknowledge those challenges. We have to act vigorously to address them to reduce the negative impact. But those are not necessarily—I don’t think that that makes Africa a hopeless continent, as depicted by the Economist in the early 2000s, as discussed before. I’ll pause there.
FASKIANOS: Thank you.
I’m going to take a written question from Tanisha Fazal’s student Jack Drouin, and they’re at the University of Minnesota: Will Africa as a whole ever compete at the same level as the United States and China in international trade and production?
SIGNÉ: So the idea behind the African continental trade area is to make Africa stronger internationally when dealing with the rest of the world, while unlocking also the potential of trade within Africa. For example, when African countries trade with one another, more than 40 percent of products exported are manufactured products. Which mean that they create jobs and opportunities for young people, for women, for the economy. They accelerate industrialization. And when African countries trade with the rest of the world, about only 17 percent of those countries—of those—of the products exported are manufactured products.
So the idea really behind the African Continental Free Trade Area is not just to grow African trade with—and improve countries’ trading with one another. But it is also really to make Africa stronger when engaging with other countries. As a matter of fact, Africa still represents less than 3 percent of global exports. So this the reason why when I engage with some leaders, some are wondering if whether the AfCFTA was really needed. There is no doubt that the African Continental Free Trade Area was needed, because partnering and coming together to engage with them makes the continent stronger.
FASKIANOS: Thank you.
I’ve never seen so many questions. So I’m going to go next to Fordham IPED. They have their raised hand. It’s the International Political Economy and Development Program at Fordham.
Q: Hi. My name is Julisha. I’m a student here at Fordham in the IPED Program. And thank you for your presentation, Landry, if I may call you that—I’m sorry, Professor.
My question is—and I come from the continent. My question to you is, you seem very optimistic about Africa, as we call it. But why exactly? What gives you this optimism, given the fact that different countries have varying problems, and also we’ve got different levels of infrastructure and productive capacities? And then also, we haven’t had that much success in relation to the regional FTAs. So why optimistic specifically about this one? Should we focus more on maybe building stronger regional bodies and then come together as one consortium?
SIGNÉ: Thank you so much for your question. I don’t think that it is either/or. And you have to put in perspective also, again, when—I like to look at things from a historical perspective, putting things in context. And when we put things in context—again, I mentioned, for example, before, in less than a couple of decades Africa went from being a continent almost full of authoritarianism, to a continent where in perhaps the past six, seven years you have had an incredibly important number of countries which where the incumbent lost the election or was changed through an electoral process. So those are important gains not to overlook.
When we also speak about poverty, for example, so we are also seeing positive—although, and I published an article at Brookings about it—why, despite the fast economic growth just before the pandemic, the continent had an important number of poverty. The key dimension here was poverty in terms of percentage of the population went down, but the continent is also growing at a fast rate, the population of the continent. So which means that even if you’re in relative number you have a reduction of poverty, in absolute number we can still have an important number of poor. But if you also put that further in context, by removing—of course, you could not remove them—but by considering Nigeria and Democratic Republic of Congo, which are countries with the highest concentration—not the highest, but an important number of poor, the picture related to poverty on the continent will be very different.
Another reason of my lucid optimism is that Africa—more than 50 percent of the African—close to 60 percent of the African population is below the age of twenty-five. So what this means, that everything is possible in an incredibly short duration. You probably know what we have named the Cheetah—what George Ayittey has named the Cheetah Generation. So the generation of young Africans who are dynamic, they are innovative, in opposition to the elephant who are moving slowly. So this is also another characteristic. When you look at innovation and you look at entrepreneurship, the general entrepreneurship survey globally, when you compare Africa to the rest of the world, the percentage of optimism, of interest in innovation, in entrepreneurship, of willingness and of respect for the field is also higher in general.
So, again, I understand why most people will be focusing on challenges versus opportunity. But you also know, like me, that when in 2000 the Economist wrote that article about a hopeless Africa, in 2011 they wrote another issue about Africa rising, apologizing about their previous assessment. Because six to seven of the world’s ten fastest-growing economies in the first decade—the first fifteen years of the twenty-first century, were located in Africa. So yes, we have numerous challenges. But most countries, which were at the level of development of many of the African countries, have also had challenges.
So. yes, we have to address those challenges. And that is also part of what my work does with the Brookings Institution—identifying how to bridge the gap between the policy intentions and the implementation outcome. And a part of doing that is also to shift the mindset from looking exclusively at the challenges that Africa is facing, to also think about what are the opportunities? How can we identify those opportunities? How can we transform those opportunities into reality, into positive outcomes? Because the young generation in Africa deserve it.
FASKIANOS: Thank you.
I’m going to take the next written question from Dayanara Miranda, who’s an undergraduate student at Lewis University: My question is, besides agricultural and mineral resources, what other markets can African countries enter to grow their economies?
SIGNÉ: So, that is another extremely important question. And let me say, overall Africa—so, it depends as to whether we are speaking about the consumer spending, household consumptions, or whether we are speaking about business spending. In terms of household consumption, by 2030 the continent will receive about $2.5 trillion U.S. dollars of household consumption or consumer spending. And some of the largest sector include food and beverage because people need to eat, but also include housing, healthcare, financial services, transportation, and education. So to put things in perspective, African countries will be growing faster in some of those sectors compared to the growth of other developing economies.
Now, if I also think now about the business-to-business spending, so the continent will be home of about—of more than $4 trillion U.S. dollars by 2030. Of course, the largest area for that spending will include agriculture and agri-processing. But we will also have manufacturing, construction, utilities, transportation, wholesalers, and retailers in terms of resources. So, yes, a place—Africa is an important business destination for people who are, again, open to identify opportunities and to manage the risk. Of course, have risk, but those risks also exist in Latin America, exist in the Middle East. exist in the broader—in the broader Asia, and also in the—in some of the advanced economies. So, again, I think, like, a change of mindset is important.
One of the reasons why China become the first trade partner of Africa, the first investor in infrastructure amount order, is because while other countries were looking at the challenges that Africa is facing, China and other emerging countries were looking at opportunity and how to manage their risk amount order. Of course, that is not to say that the Chinese model of engagement is necessarily the right one, but it’s just to say that the difference of mindset may explain why some country may be identifying more opportunities than other. But I’m also very happy to highlight the fact that recently, the U.S. administration has also been very much active—much more active in terms of engaging with Africa from an economic perspective, from an opportunity business perspective, including the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act. Thank you.
FASKIANOS: Thank you. Thank you.
I’m going to take the next question from Dorian Brown Crosby.
Q: Yes. Hello. Thank you, Professor Signé, for this discussion. I’m from Spelman College.
And I do have a question regarding remittances. Can you speak to the current impact of remittances that those in the diaspora are sending to African countries? And how is that affecting Africa’s economic trajectory? Or even speak to a specific country. Thank you.
SIGNÉ: Absolutely. Thank you very much for the questions. Remittances are playing a key role in Africa. In some of the countries they are exceeding even, let’s say, the official development assistance. So that is a key point to highlight. Perhaps the nuance that I want to bring is that most of the remittances are sent for consumption, for family consumptions, among others. A shift that we may want to see happen is to turn—(inaudible)—to increase perhaps those remittances, and especially the category of remittances, shifting only from consumption, for productive use, for economic use, for entrepreneurial activities, as well on the continent.
But, yes, remittances are key for development. They are extremely important. They are making a difference. And I connect with that question with the notion of diaspora. The rising role of the diaspora is also one of the key trends. Of course, I didn’t—I wanted to be brief in my preliminary comments, but diaspora are really playing a key role in fostering the relations between Africa and the rest of the world. They play the role of investor. You have also the remittances, as you have just mentioned. They are diplomat. In addition of the higher representation that we are also seeing of people of African origin in international organizations, whether we speak about the World Trade Organization, the World Health Organization, the International Finance Corporation, among other. So there’s really a trend where the diaspora playing a key role, both financially to remittances and have an increased demand, also for investment.
FASKIANOS: Thank you.
I’m going to combine two questions, two written questions, because they are along the same lines. One from Thomas at Oklahoma State University and Kihoa from Adelphi University, and it has to do with China: China’s trade with—China’s aid to Africa, is it purely altruistic? Should African states be receiving Chinese aid? And should Africa be giving aid to historically authoritarian regimes? And then the second question is to have you talk a little bit about the Belt and Road Initiative, and how that initiative is influencing trading partners with other Western countries.
SIGNÉ: Absolutely. Thank you for the important question. So let me—to further speak about China in Africa, some key trends to highlight is that, first, you have an exponential growth of exports to Africa, increase imports from Africa, substantial lending to African countries. So China is already one of those, the major lending on transport, power, and mining, the Ex-Im Bank is really leading the way in terms of loans. I do prefer to speak about development versus assistance, development finance instead of developing assistance, or on the longer term, a growing trend in terms of FDI. So China is dominating also the important investment on the continent. You have an important presence of Chinese workers, and forgot—not to forget the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation, which remains critical to an action of the multiplication of the of the Confucius Institutes on the continent.
Despite that important presence, a key element you mentioned is that per Afrobarometer survey, African citizen still prefer the U.S. model of development to the Chinese one. So this is an important dimension that I want to highlight. And whether China is altruistic, it’s important to mention when we speak about the commitment, they are not necessarily—China is a country with its own national interests. Perhaps the way of doing business is different, but they are not acting toward Africa, from my perspective, from an altruistic perspective. They’re really looking to achieve interest, whether from a geopolitical dimension, economic interest to secure especially energy, power, mining, oceans, agricultural lands for food security in China, among others.
And many of the other countries in the world are doing the same. So I’m not—so, of course, we are speaking more about China, but most of the countries when they’re acting globally they are acting in alignment of their interests. And probably Jentleson, for example, has mentioned when we speak about the U.S. foreign policy as some of their drivers, which include what are the—of course, we have power, we have peace, we have prosperity, and we have principles. So foreign policy decisions are usually, let’s say, the result of a tradeoff between either power consideration, peace consideration, or security consideration, economic consideration, and principle consideration, which could include democratic development, and, of course, humanitarian intervention, and so on. So it depends on which country we are talking about.
And to just connect it to the broader Belt and Road Initiative, I think that, of course, it is part from my perspective of China ambition to become the next global power. And in my conversation with many of the African leaders, their main concern—including head of states and head of governments—so their main concern is given the gap, the infrastructure gap that we have on the content, financing gap that you have on the continent, China is providing an alternative and China is acting quickly. However, many of the leaders with whom I’m engaging will prefer to deal instead with, for example, the United States. The United States is probably acting slower than some of the other players. But this is also because of the democratic process and the compliance mechanism, among others.
But despite that, I think that there are still tools which can allow to be compliant, to respect the democratic principle, but also act faster, with more agility. And we are having conversations. I testified before the Senate on some of those questions, before the House of Representatives, before the U.S. International Trade Commission, sharing perspective on how the U.S. can further leverage its strength and the alignment to advance U.S.-Africa prosperity.
FASKIANOS: Thank you.
I’m going to take the next oral question from John O’Toole.
Q: Well, thank you, because my question directly kind of follows off of that. So that’s very fortunate.
Q: So my question was related to, like, Africa on, like, the global security scale. So, like you said, like, Russia and China are investing heavily, are—and becoming, like, major players, some might argue, in an attempt to be, like, first to market, in a way, in terms of being, like, colleagues with Africa. And you can’t really pick and choose who your partners are, especially if the people you want to work with, like the United States or the EU, aren’t moving as fast. But is there a concern that growing relationships with China and Russia could morph into a global security conflict? And that some African leaders might be afraid of becoming perhaps the next Lumumba where they’re characterized as, you know, perhaps a communist pawn, or something? Is that part of the thought process?
SIGNÉ: Thank you for the important question. So it’s important to highlight a few considerations here. Typically, when many of the more established powers, whether you’re speaking about France, the United States, UK, when they are engaging with many of the African countries they take into consideration the principles that I mentioned before, whether we speak about democratic principles, human rights consideration, humanitarian consideration, among other. So those are really key dimensions that are taken into consideration with more traditional African partners, although it is not uniform.
So you will also have the same country which will be trading both with some of the authoritarian countries. But when doing so, they will often bring the question of democratic governance, of human rights in the conversation. And the difference there with countries such as China or Russia, is they are decoupling trade, investment, and principle quotient of democracy—democratic quotients, human rights quotients. For obvious reason, when you look also at your level of democratic development, or at the situation of human rights in your—in your countries.
So now, what are the potential risk for the continent? I think that the—many of the—we have seen the presence, whether in an official capacity or in an unofficial capacity of foreign forces in Africa, including from Russia. So to what extent are they influencing the political sphere? To what extent are they fueling or contributing to fuel some of the insecurity and conflict that we have, as we say, in the Sahel? Or to what extent are they helping those country to address some of the challenges faced? I think the growing support that we have seen for Russia, or China, or for some of the emerging countries is related to a narrative, which may not always be founded, but a more appeasing and more respectful narrative that they have when engaging with some of the African countries.
But that doesn’t mean that they are acting in a way which better advance the interests of those countries. And African leaders are often in a complex situation where they don’t necessarily—some of them, of course, will be very clear in terms of their preferences for Western countries. And others, in between, where they want to be certain that they will not be dropped, if I can use the terms. And this is because historically, even some of the best partners of the West—and we look at the case of Niger, when the military coup happened, so despite some political discourses the West was not able to do much. So those are elements which create also a certain level of insecurity on the continent.
So yeah, your question is extremely important. And I think that there are risks which are associated with the—with the growing involvement of those emerging powers, like China, especially as it is shifting or has shifted from the economic quotient to a more security, military quotient and cooperation. But some of the countries with which they are cooperating, or perhaps even most of those countries in terms of military engagement, are not necessarily countries with their reputation or leaders with the reputation of—or with the best record in terms of democratic progress or in terms of human rights.
FASKIANOS: Thank you.
I’m going to take the next question from Zachary Billot, a student at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas: How will increased environmental challenges related to climate change impact institution and governmental efficacy in Africa? Can Africa be expected to transition to green energy if there isn’t substantial foreign investment?
SIGNÉ: Absolutely. It is extremely important. Thank you for the question. It’s extremely important to highlight the consequences of climate change on the continent, especially in the fragile countries, in the fragile regions, especially also when combined with governance challenges. So many of the conflicts in the Sahel—and I publish a—I co-published a report with Brookings on the question on how—on the nexus—on the climate change-security-development nexus. So many—if climate change doesn’t necessarily—the relation between climate change and conflict is not necessarily causal, but there is a strong correlation at least when it comes to exacerbating initial conditions in regions where you have poverty and where governance is already quite weak.
So the question is, yes, climate change is increasing the likelihood of conflict, especially in an area where we already have bad governance, or poor performance. And how to address some of those questions? Of course, we have involved also in drafting the human development—the Sahel Human Development Report, where the topic is on using energy to unlock Africa potential to contribute to sustainable development, how we can leverage in a sustainable way.
And, yes, I do believe that the continent has a path. So of course, I will not necessarily disclose the findings, because they will have to be officially launched by the United Nations Development Program later this year, early the next one. But there is a clear path for Africa to achieve a greener future, especially as the continent has, I would say, the luxury of learning from what has been done on the negative experiences of some of the advanced economies. But also on capitalizing on technology to achieve those goals.
Now, you mentioned about investment. Yes, that is an area where global partners who have committed, including the United States, France, Canada, among others, to support a greener revolution, economic revolution, energy transition, industrial development on the continent also have to play their part. Of course the global community, the World Bank, the International Finance Corporation, among others. So Africa has the potential to achieve it, but not alone. With the collaboration of global partners, including some of the biggest polluters.
FASKIANOS: Great, thank you.
I’m going to go next to Alicia Hoffman.
Q: Hello. How are you?
I have a question regarding some previous legal agreements that were put forth between the ACP countries and the European Union. So my question is, I would like for you to highlight and discuss the role of the comprehensive legal agreements such as the Rome Agreement, that is now defunct, the Lomé Agreement, the Cotonou Agreement and now the post-Cotonou Agreement, which was just finalized last month, and get some of your opinions or your thoughts about the post-Cotonou Agreement in fostering the economic development of African countries. And also mitigating the issues dealing with migration and even human trafficking that kind of were not really addressed clearly in those earlier agreements, such as the Rome, and Lomé, and the Cotonou.
SIGNÉ: Thank you so much for the extremely important question. So I think that to put things in context, as you mentioned, the Lomé Agreement, the Cotonou Agreement, and other agreement, when we look—again, I like to look from an historical perspective. So we clearly see that if a single agreement was almost having the impact of a magic stick, Africa will be in a different position now. So all those agreements, of course, and some of those agreements are benefiting, at least per the perspective of some of the African countries, they are benefiting more the European Union countries and France than perhaps, per se, in the absolute term, the African countries. Because many of the key players in those countries in industrial development, among others, are foreign corporations, which are originating from those countries.
But let me instead speak in a in a broader perspective. I think that the responsibility for Africa’s development really lie primarily with African leaders and citizens. So it’s a notion that I think we should really come back to. Of course, when we discuss then the relation within Africa and the rest of the world, Africa has been historically in a situation where it was abused—from slavery, to colonization, and so on. But as you have seen in in my permanent record, I’m also part—most of my work consists not only at looking at those structural asymmetries that we can see on the continent, but at giving back the responsibility, accountability of the African leaders, despite the asymmetrical relation they may be having with some of the other part of the world, still have the power and the responsibility to better deliver for their citizens.
So, yes, I think that the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), as I mentioned, also represents an opportunity to address some of those challenges. But, of course, some countries will—we also have the political economy of the AfCFTA, in the sense that some country—and the ones which are the most advanced, economically speaking—the most enthusiastic about accelerating the implementation. But the beauty of the AfCFTA is that they also acknowledge some of the country we may potentially be left behind and have specific growth or special and differential treatments allowing the countries with more challenges to be—to be developed. So, again, I think that, yes, it’s extremely important for Africa when engaging with the European Union to really find a configuration which would unlock the industrial development of the continent, and not necessarily just rely on the primary goods, among others.
FASKIANOS: So, thank you.
I’m you’re going next to Charlotte Langeveld, who’s a lecturer at Ocean County College: To which identity do the young African people prefer to be associated with, ethnic or national identity? While national identity is superficial and ethnic is real, it has consequences for the future of the continent.
SIGNÉ: So yeah, so that is probably a specific survey should be developed and in a systematic way to provide a definitive response to that question. But we have different, again, multiple belonging. Like some African citizens, especially young people, will want to be presented as African, even beyond your nation, or as global citizens. But it is clear that ethnic—the ethnicity continues to play a role on the continent, because although younger Africans speak less than the previous generation local dialects and languages, so it is important to also highlight that it is part of a broader cultural system.
So I don’t think that it is either/or. So if you think also about citizens of the Africa—of the European Union, are French people considering more French than European, or more European than French? I would say it probably depends, but that multiple belonging remain valid. And although the comparison is slightly different, are Californians believing that they are more Californian than American or are more American than Californian? So, but understanding also the potential implication of the question is that it is extremely important to keep—in nation-building to go beyond the questions or the notions which are dividing, to focus on the common values, and systems. So I don’t think that’s a problem for young people to have multiple belongings or ideas of belonging. What is—what could be a bad thing is to use those differences for discrimination, for poor governance, among others.
FASKIANOS: Thank you.
I’m going to go next to Kimberly Pace.
Q: Hello, Landry. It’s nice to see you. I have—my question is—hi, University of Alaska, Anchorage.
My question is regarding women and girls. My question is, you know, given the role that violent extremism has had in Africa, what is the effect—what do you think is the effect on the economic and political opportunities for girls and women across African countries? Would love to hear your response.
SIGNÉ: Absolutely. Hello, Kimberly. And so great to see you. And so I’m looking forward to following up after this session.
So this is an extremely important question. There is no future of Africa without a full acknowledgement of the critical importance of women and girls, and not just economically speaking, politically speaking, in all the spheres of society. Just speaking economically, the gross domestic product of the content in some country could be increased by more than 50 percent with the full—or, about 50 percent—increase from 2 to 48, 49 percent with the full integration of women in society, in the economy, among other. So, and it is incredibly painful to see how in some countries, especially in situations of conflict, some of the first victim—the main victims, are girls, are women, or young people in as well, in general.
So it is therefore extremely important, I think, to further empower women. But when you speak about empowering women, most people will think about empowering them politically, in particular. But for my conversation with many heads of state—former head of states, including President Banda or President Gurib-Fakim, so in our conversation it appear clearly that one of the best way to empower women politically is first to empower them also economically. Because when you’re empowered economically you can organize a campaign, you can be a fully contributing member, and you can be independent.
So, yes, addressing conflict, human rights challenges, will be a way to further protect women, because when you have war, when you have civil conflict, they are typically the most vulnerable people and they are often the one who are the most abused by a protagonist. So yeah. So I fully concur to the fact that we have to act in a more vigorous way to protect women, to create opportunities for women, and to empower women. And some of my best models, not to say most, are women. And starting with my mother, my sisters, and yeah. So I couldn’t agree more with you.
FASKIANOS: Thank you.
I’m going to take the next question from William Decourt, who’s at Hamilton Lugar School at Indiana University: You mentioned surveys indicating widespread support for democracy across the continent. How have you seen public opinion in Africa responding to or shaping norms of liberal governance on the continent? And has it been affected by other challenges, such as the recent coups, influence from Russian mercenaries, and perhaps from increased Chinese investment too?
SIGNÉ: So, just to be certain that I understand, and thank you so much for the important questions, is also about some of the trends on the continent related to democratic support, and the overall political situations. One of the reasons, and please, Irina, feel free to engage and follow up as needed.
So one of the reasons why we have seen coups, of course, some—you have to put things in context. I mentioned that before. Many of the African citizens really want democracy to deliver. And not just democracy to deliver—if you live in rural contexts. At the origin of modern states is the social contract, which require that while a citizen will be giving up some of your fundamental—some of your rights, you will receive in exchange from states basic public services and goods, including security, economic opportunities, among others. But when those are not delivered, whether in a democracy or in a nondemocratic regime, that is when you have more challenges.
Which could lead in some cases to a military coup, as we have seen, because then coup leaders may justify that—may justified their action by the imperative of restoring security or bringing about economic opportunities. So I think that is a point that I first want to highlight, to insist on the fact that, yeah, so the—those surveys show that on one hand, Africans want democracy. On the other hand, they want those democracies to deliver. And sometime even in democratic countries, some leaders are not necessarily governing in the way which is aligned with accountability. And those are the reasons why some coup leaders will also be supported by some citizens as an alternative, not to restore a long-term authoritarian system, but perhaps organize a transition.
But from my perspective, it’s one of the reasons why I think that—for many reasons. But one of the key reasons why I think coups even in a very contested context are extremely bad is one of the best predictors of a coup is a previous coup. So once military got involved in politics, even after a successful short-term transition and return to power to the civilians, the likelihood of having another coup is high. So that is one of the reasons why I think it’s very important to invest in citizen, and invest in democratic development, and also invest in making democratic countries, African democracies, African democratic countries, deliver better for their citizens.
FASKIANOS: Well, Landry, we are unfortunately out of time. And I apologize to all of you who had wonderful questions, we could not possibly get to them all, and raised hands. So we will just have to continue the conversation, and organize another conversation around these important issues. But, Landry Signé, thank you very much for being with us today. We really appreciate your comments and your analysis. And you can follow Landry on X, the app formerly known as Twitter, at @LandrySigne. It’s spelled S-I-G-N-E.
And our next Academic Webinar will be on Wednesday, October 25, at 1:00 p.m. (EDT) with Stephen Biddle, who’s an adjunct senior fellow here at CFR and professor at Columbia University, to talk about military strategy in the contemporary world. And in the meantime, I’d encourage you to learn about CFR paid internships for students and fellowships for professors at CFR.org/Careers. Please visit CFR.org, ForeignAffairs.com, and ThinkGlobalHealth.org. We have been posting a lot of content there in light of the Israeli-Hamas conflict. So there are a lot of resources on our homepage that I commend to all of you.
And again, Landry Signé, thank you very much for being with us today.
SIGNÉ: Thank you so much, Irina. And thank you so much for the wonderful questions, conversation, and to the incredible team which has put everything together.
FASKIANOS: Thank you.