Twenty-five years ago, I lived in a fishing village, Tanji, on the coast of The Gambia. The village came alive before sunrise: if you got up early, you could see the brightly colored "pirogues" pushing out to sea, with six or seven brave young men sailing their precarious wooden dugout canoes. This was no mean feat. The Atlantic was unforgiving and sometimes treacherous.
I worked with the fishermen as part of a European Union fisheries project and, with time, we became friends. We spoke Mandinka, drank atyre, and shared our struggles and hopes. They told me how over the years catches had declined dramatically, forcing them to sail farther and farther out; how the trawlers were creeping closer to the shore, often mangling their fragile nets.
The Africa Progress Panel (a group of the great and good, chaired by Kofi Annan) recently launched its 2014 Africa Progress Report. It’s an excellent, and very nicely written (heartfelt thanks) overview of some key areas: agriculture, fisheries and finance. Some highlights:
‘For more than a decade, Africa’s economies have been doing well, according to graphs that chart the growth of GDP, exports and foreign investment. The experience of Africa’s people has been more mixed. Viewed from the rural areas and informal settlements that are home to most Africans, the economic recovery looks less impressive. Some – like the artisanal fishermen of West Africa – have been pushed to the brink of destitution. For others, growth has brought extraordinary wealth.
There is much cause for optimism. Demography, globalization, new technologies and changes in the environment for business are combining to create opportunities for development that were absent before the economic recovery. However, optimism should not give way to the exuberance now on display in some quarters. Governments urgently need to make sure that economic growth doesn’t just create wealth for some, but improves wellbeing for the majority. Above all, that means strengthening the focus on Africa’s greatest and most productive assets, the region’s farms and fisheries. This report calls for more effective protection, management and mobilization of the continent’s vast ocean and forest resources. This protection is needed to support transformative growth.