Mandela’s legacy – Africa’s rise

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Africa’s growth is one tribute to the former president’s legacy.

The tributes from around the world last month to Nelson Mandela, the late South African former president, mourned his passing and celebrated the political achievements he led and came to embody: a liberal constitution and national reconciliation in South Africa.

Various African leaders have at one time or another had a viable claim to embody the continent’s ideals. Mandela is one. Kwame Nkumah, the first president of Ghana, whose independence preceded that of many other African states, is another, older example.

But the conciliatory approach that made Mandela so universally admired is linked to the reason why Africa is on the up today, in economic terms: policymakers’ recognition of the need to accommodate capital in working towards political and social goals.

In the 21st century, Mandela is a source of pride for the world, a symbol of our desire and ability to live and prosper together, in the post-Cold War era. It is therefore appropriate that in the year he died Africa is more integral than ever to the global economy, with South Africa as one of the gateways.

Coupled with Africa’s favourable demographics and untapped investment potential, deep and widespread recognition in Africa of the need to attract and retain international capital, and keep inflation under control, means the continent now holds the excitement that the Bric economies had for the past decade.

As investors look beyond such countries as Brazil and Russia, Africa is second only to emerging Asia in terms of the pace of its growth. Even bankers with little previous connection to Africa want to get involved – hence former Barclays CEO Bob Diamond resurfacing last month with a new African banking project.

Diamond is a controversial figure and regulators in Africa, as in the UK, need to keep their eyes open where banks are concerned. Also, banks in Africa must pay more attention to accommodating social needs than they might in more developed capitalist systems, as Diamond no doubt appreciates.

African countries still face big challenges. The concerns over governance and inequality that led to jeers at South African president Jacob Zuma during a memorial service for Mandela last month are matched in Nigeria, for example, where armed insurgents in the north of the country have similar gripes.

But in the year Mandela died, there is more economic and financial confidence in Africa than ever before, both within the continent and outside it. Keeping that spirit alive will mean addressing Africa’s problems, partly by harnessing Mandela’s unifying legacy in the world, and the rest of Africa.