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  • Africa Emerges: Consummate Challenges, Abundant Opportunities by Robert Rotberg
  • Eric Mokube
Rotberg, Robert. 2013. AFRICA EMERGES: CONSUMMATE CHALLENGES, ABUNDANT OPPORTUNITIES. Malden, Mass.: Polity Press. 269 pp. $55.00 (cloth).

The gloom-and-doom narrative about Africa in the 1980s and 1990s slowly shifted to a more optimistic tone in the next decades, and in Africa Emerges: Consummate Challenges, Abundant Opportunities, Robert Rotberg shares particular conclusions about it. Whereas famine, conflicts, diseases, and poverty marred the continent in the early postcolonial years, and structural-adjustment policies then compounded the problem, recent discourse has changed the trajectory so that Africa is now viewed as rising. In this frank but provocative analysis, Rotberg chronicles and combines deep knowledge with common sense. Optimistically, he predicts a possible and plausible future for sub-Saharan Africa that would transform its citizenry.

Recent economic growth patterns have exceeded expectations in some countries, with some featured among the fastest-growing economies in the world and many projected to grow each year by more than 6 percent. In addition, some have seen the emergence of a middle class and civil society, an improvement in labor productivity, increases in trade and foreign direct investment flow, and a decline in inflation. Furthermore, applied technologies (such as cell phones), improved health care, and reduced HIV infection rates have increased life expectancy in many African countries.

Different styles and thematic depths characterize this book, as Rotberg’s background in political science is visible in the wealth of empirical data that he has collected and presented in exploring the key challenges that Africa must overcome in the coming decades. Rather than use social-science methodologies, he shows that Africa may be poised to deliver real rewards to its long-suffering citizens by overcoming critical new crises and capitalizing on the abundant opportunities at its disposal.

The overall thematic goals of this book include highlighting the opportunities and the challenges that exist in Africa at a crucial moment in its political and economic development, similar to those that Asia and [End Page 146] Latin America experienced. The book explores the onrush of positive change in sub-Saharan Africa amid consummate challenges and abundant opportunities for growth, focusing on the new strides that are emerging in the region and how countries are addressing the lingering obstacles and possible stumbling blocks of the coming decades.

The book is divided into eleven chapters, organized by areas reflecting specific developmental opportunities and challenges. The first four chapters elaborate on the challenges, together with a discussion of the economic prospects and the exercising of political voices. It sets out the major unanticipated demographic hurdles over which much of the region must operate by presenting the tropical and geographical legacies, as well as the health and disease challenges. In addition, it highlights the region’s educational weaknesses, especially its paucity of university-trained personnel and the consequences of its brain drain.

One of the highlights is that for African leaders to reach deals and reduce civil conflicts they may have to enlarge the political space. The consensus is that the political space created as a result of democratization and structural adjustment was not capitalized on by many leaders in the region, who for the most part were more interested in staying in power than in transforming their countries. A reason for their lack of enthusiasm can be linked to the cost associated with giving up power: the opportunity cost of giving up power is far greater than that of staying in power, as was recently demonstrated in Egypt during the Arab spring, with Mubarak facing prosecution shortly after giving up power (with the prosecution now halted).

Though this book faults African leaders for not transforming their nations, it does not, as expected, mention the legacy of colonialism. Reading it without that backdrop might suggest that African leaders had all the tools to develop but refused to use them. As a result, for a future edition of the book, I recommend that Rotberg provide a historical context to balance Africa’s emergence. As concluded in an analysis of the determining role of leadership in all developing societies, as well as of a broad understanding of Africa’s history since 1960...


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pp. 146-148
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