There has been a lot of talk about Africa lately. Yesterday we shared a few of the ignorant things we’ve heard others say about Africa. And while many are afraid of “the dark continent,” others see it as ground zero for the next boom in technology, telecommunications, and business.
Recently, the New York Times ran an editorial discussing whether or not Africa is really “the next big thing” or if the current conversations about “the New Africa” is just hype.
In the piece Ioannis Gatsiounis spoke of Africa’s recent successes, but also highlighted its challenges.
Africa on the whole is emerging impressively from its “lost decades” of the 1980s and ’90s. Whereas just three countries had multiparty systems in 1990, today most do. Africa’s strongmen are fewer. There are armed conflicts in only a handful of African nations. Gender equality is growing.
The long-term trend in foreign direct investment is upward, hitting $32 billion in 2010. Ernst & Young estimates that Africa as a whole will grow 5 percent over the next decade — more than any other continent.
“New Africa” is an attractive sell. As editors have told me over the years, readers are tired of hearing the same sad story coming out of Africa. New Africa is about a miraculous triumph over a tragic past on the world’s last economic frontier, and that makes for vital reading. New Africa is also politically correct and safe: It comes across as sensitive and uncondescending.
But just as the global media tended to hype China’s and India’s prospects a few years ago only to discover that neither is about to take over the world, so the media are overselling Africa.
Gatsiounis lists Africa’s growing poverty rate (from 292 million people in 1981 to 555 million in 2005. I’d wager population growth may play a part), youth unemployment, trade deficits, and the lack of political stability. Despite the dismal numbers he trotted out, Gatsiounis still asserts that Africa is indeed making strides and growing faster than any other time since many of the countries gained their independence from colonial rule, which for me, lies at the heart of Africa’s problems.
While many may see Africa as a continent of dysfunction, others recognize the source of Africa’s problems. Colonial rule, that was more concerned with stripping Africa of its vast resources than governing effectively, led to much of the corruption, conflict, and difficult financial times we see today.
But despite its past, Africa and its people continue to persevere and innovate, and others are taking notice. Six of the world’s fastest growing economies are in Africa, and China is one of the biggest investors in African countries, helping to provide much-needed capital for infrastructure.
In spite of its challenges, Africa continues to prevail, as it always has. Whether or not Africa’s growth will be rapid or slow-moving, doesn’t much matter. Africa is indeed on the rise, and if its people are an integral part of its renaissance then there’s no telling what the continent will accomplish.