How 5 African presidents are working to change the continent’s history

Written by Staff Writer Jacopo Prisco, CNN For more than 150 years, coups and revolutions in Africa have had a devastating impact on the continent’s development, perhaps more so than in any other part…

How 5 African presidents are working to change the continent's history

Written by Staff Writer

Jacopo Prisco, CNN

For more than 150 years, coups and revolutions in Africa have had a devastating impact on the continent’s development, perhaps more so than in any other part of the world.

The African Development Bank’s 2017 Doing Business report was an opportunity to look back at the continent’s greatest moments, and to assess the worst.

To this end, CNN has partnered with business schools across Africa to highlight how more than 7,000 new companies founded in the past decade, and founded by Africans, are proving that it is possible to thrive in a hypercompetitive global market.

A Brutal History

As Westerners, we usually think of Africa as a country or region, but from around 1800 until the early 21st century, it was primarily a huge continent covered by a single empire.

Crucially, the vast majority of the continent’s population didn’t experience the benefits of colonialism. They lived in a political and economic vacuum during decades when France presided over the most brutal genocides and saw the destruction of most of the continent’s modern institutions and infrastructure.

The exploitation of African resources was a recurring theme throughout history: During World War I, oil was sold on the market at a split-second’s notice, along with a huge number of human beings.

Historically, it is only after independence that coups have become a common tool in the hands of regional and global leaders. However, the transitions were often chaotic and violent.

The Aristocrats of Africa

Current President Emmanuel Macron was forced into this position of power. French aristocrats had the power to engineer his family’s exile.

Macron was succeeded by Nicolas Sarkozy who became known for his ruthless take-over of the welfare state and his hugely controversial relationship with the African middle class, despite his own immigrant background.

The Tsar of Africa

In those 17 months, he lifted his own presidential term from 20 months to 23 and also persuaded the Council of Europe to recommend that he be made head of the G8, an illustrious post bestowed upon great European figures.

Sarkozy was succeeded by Francois Hollande, and there followed three strong, brilliant but flawed presidents from the same region, all of whom struggled to assemble and maintain the kind of ambitious reforms necessary to implement economic growth and development.

After them came some of the continent’s best and brightest with a visceral sense of their own role as “little Julius Caesar” (“our Caesar”?) They ran the gamut from the democratically elected to the military leaders with a strong sense of their personal liberation.

The Future

Interestingly, the last three presidents rose to power while embracing development, prompting a particularly meaningful question for the present: Will we see Africa’s fourth generation of leaders adopt the same solutions?

Certainly, I think that the results achieved by the first three in the UK, the United States and Germany offer a valuable case study. But the success of the first three derives not only from the business acumen and political bravery of their leaders, but also from the reputation that they built.

This public record of achievement guarantees that those who follow in their footsteps will be politically untouchable.

I believe that politics in Africa is a luxury that no one is really willing to pay for yet.

Jacopo Prisco is CNN’s Chief Investigative Correspondent based in London. You can follow Jacopo on Twitter here.

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