On behalf of your friends and colleagues at the Africa Center, let me extend our best wishes for the New Year.
Africanists know well that forecasting the future isn’t easy. Yet one prediction for 2012 seems safe enough: absent major, unforeseen external shocks, many African nations are poised to experience high levels of economic growth this year. In line with trends begun a decade ago, middle classes will expand, poverty will recede, and the disease burden will lessen in many parts of Africa. In short, Africa will probably see overall development gains in 2012. Lower levels of conflict partly explain these positive trends. Better economic policies and better overall governance are also key factors.
Many of you will have seen the “Africa Rising” cover of the Economist magazine a few weeks ago. This is a signal that investors worldwide are beginning to look at Africa differently than in the past. While it would be an exaggeration to claim that Africa is now the world’s next big emerging market, it is clear that Africa is less and less seen primarily as a humanitarian problem. Africa’s strategic importance and commercial potential are being assessed by outsiders more carefully than ever before.
All of this is good news for the continent – but these gains are still fragile. Hard won progress is reversible. We recall it was less than 12 years ago that the same Economist magazine -- taking stock of raging wars and plunging socio-economic indicators across the continent --– proclaimed Africa “the hopeless continent,” a place where renewal of any kind was hard to imagine.
With this in mind, as the new year begins, the Africa Center is fulfilling its role of trying to anticipate security challenges that could stop or even reverse the progress now underway. Among other things, we are following closely worrisome conflicts in the Horn and in the Sudan, and are analyzing real and potential terrorist threats in the Sahel and in Nigeria. Beyond these immediate worries, we are taking a long-term look at fundamental issues such as democratization and good governance.
As so many of you have noted in our seminars and workshops, improved governance is the one absolutely critical component to achieving lasting peace and stability. Without progress in this area, states will continue to suffer from internal weaknesses and external vulnerabilities. Leadership and governance are topics that will run throughout our programs this year. As always, we will rely on the expertise and experience of our African colleagues – military officers, governmental officials, civil servants, scholars, and of course ACSS Community Members – to help us analyze, present and debate these themes.
As the New Year begins, we invite you to take advantage of the many resources available to community members through ACSS such as GlobalNET, an online community networking tool (formerly known as ACSScommunity.org). We encourage you to log on to the password-protected GlobalNET website, www.acsscommunity.org, to share your viewpoints on timely security issues with ACSS, other community members, or U.S. counterparts. This extraordinary online tool makes it makes it easier than ever to carry on conversations, debates and analysis initiated through ACSS seminars, workshops, and outreach events.
We look forward to renewing old friendships and building new partnerships in 2012.