African business, politics and lifestyle
Now more hopeful in Africa
There is still barely an investor conference on Africa which goes by without someone making negative reference to The Economist’s famous article from more than a decade ago which dubbed it the “Hopeless Continent”.
The article caused great offence to many and while the numerous and horrific civil wars of the time could alone have appeared to justify it, Africa was in fact heading into the greatest decade of growth since most of its countries became independent.
“A more hopeful continent” is the subtitle to an article in The Economist this week, which points out that six of the world’s 10 fastest growing economies over the past decade were in Africa and that the future looks even brighter.
Although the overall picture may be better than it has ever been, nobody could say Africa is out of the rainforest.
Just when Ivory Coast appeared to be setting an example for the way things could improve towards the end of last year, it managed to turn it into an example that might fit better with the old “Hopeless” theme.
African countries are now rallying round to try to sort out the impasse, but there is no obvious solution in sight and the longer it drags on, the more questions may be raised about how far and fast the continent can change.
As this week’s article points out: “Formidable obstacles to Africa’s continued progress loom, among them political instability, the weak rule of law, chronic corruption, infrastructure bottlenecks, and poor health and education. Without reforms, Africa will not be able to sustain faster growth.”
The largest number of elections since the independence era is a sign of change, but will also be a particular test for Africa in 2011.
Sudan’s referendum starts this weekend. Ballots are scheduled in Nigeria, Uganda, Cameroon and Democratic Republic of Congo among others with varying (but generally limited) degrees of freedom, fairness and respect for the rule of law likely to be on display.
While the overall picture in Africa may be very promising, there is ample opportunity for African countries to surprise in a negative way too. One lesson from that original article in The Economist may also be the need for caution in making sweeping assumptions on Africa.