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  • Advocates for Change: how to overcome Africa's challenges
  • Xolani Tshabalala (bio)
Moeletsi Mbeki (ed) (2011) Advocates for Change: how to overcome Africa's challenges. Johannesburg: Picador Africa

Advocates for Change is a welcome addition, not least after a candid diagnosis of the ills that weigh heavily on African governments, economies and society as articulated in Architects of Poverty The earlier book has as its main focus the causes of Africa's poverty in the last 50 years and its likely culprits. The current collection offers, and refreshingly so, ways in which Africa can dig herself out of the political, socio-economic and developmental quagmire in which she currently sits. The volume achieves this through 12 different voices (framed respectively as chapters) not only of accomplished scholars, but also of individuals who have over the years gained experience and perspective through, inter alia, association with research institutions and other think-tanks, leadership in corporate sectors and in governments, and as heads in regional organisations and supra-national institutions, from COMESA (Common Market for East and Southern Africa) to the UN. While regions like Asia and South America are learning to maximise successfully their potential by tapping into economies of scale, utilizing technological advantages to surge ahead and improve the lives of citizens and developing the productive sectors of their economies, Africa still grapples with the same problems (poor health, underdevelopment and unemployment, illiteracy) the continent was facing two decades ago. This volume, however, stands out from the cynicism that accompanies many debates on Africa's development and progress. If the volume's central idea is that something can still be done to set Africa on a path to socio-economic and political progress, its main strength lies in its coverage of a spectrum of fields that are also part of the [End Page 174] millennium development goals. Of value, though, is that the antidotes suggested are neither based on possible scenarios, nor from some purely theoretical standpoints If the solutions being proffered for Africa's problems are to carry any credibility, then those that suggest such solutions must speak from a pragmatic perspective, and Advocates for Change provides this through an array of contributing specialists who have considerable research and work experience on Africa's problems (and progress) in their respective fields. As such, leaders of Africa, and all those that are interested in change, will do well at the very least to examine what the volume has to say about existing problems, and about some yardsticks of measurement for much needed change.

The prescriptive nature of Advocates for Change, however, highlights some of its limitations. Many of the solutions that have been applied to African economies, for instance, have failed because they have been prescriptive in nature. At the heart of previous failure was the assumption that what Africa needs to change was well-known. This volume at times evinces similar overtones. As a result, notions of leadership and possible change appear to be top down in outlook, so suggested solutions appear to be directed at the top echelons of politics, economics and society. This appears deliberate and a little disconcerting, since it is generally agreed that leadership and power, much as they cannot be ignored, are a big part of the problem that faces Africa. Moreover, any change can only take root if the powers that be consent. As a result, the volume appears to labour under the weight of an albatross.. The suggested solutions may thus appear to carry with them a ceteris paribus undercurrent, where many of them may read as mere suggestions. The volume thus succeeds more in initiating a debate, rather than offering concrete solutions.

There is a contribution from L Amédée Darga describing Mauritius' socio-economic success, which begins to detail what had to happen on the ground for political and economic decisions to be embraced and to bring success. This is instructive, but almost all other contributions are silent on what the communities themselves need to change in order for decisions to breed success. Whereas there is recognition, for instance, of the role played by the second economy as well as the Small and Medium Enterprises (SME) sector...


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pp. 174-181
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