Africa: Here and Now
It's hard to put aside two thoughts when thinking about Africa: The first is to think that Africa is a continent forever sentenced to poverty, illness, starvation and tragedy. Further, Africa is often thought of as a somewhat compact territory where everything is connected. To Western eyes, Africa can look more like a country than a continent, with many failing to realize the colossal size of this continent.
Africa is as big as Europe, the USA, India, China and Argentina combined.
So now you can imagine the diversity that this huge territory must contain.
In 2010, the Economist referred to Africa as the continent without hope. But, as can often happen, things changed rapidly. Since the start of 21st Century, Africa has experienced a significant boost, especially in the poorest countries on the continent. With the exception of South Africa, the countries of Sub-Saharan Africa achieved an annual growth rates of 6.2%. By comparison, that is twice the growth rate seen in Latin America during the same time period. In 2015, five of the ten economies that grew the most in the world were in Africa. These are The Ivory Coast, Ethiopia, Tanzania, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. The growth rate of these countries exceeded almost 7%.
Although, the growth figures were a bit smaller, the situations remained similar in the year 2016. All of this growth has lead to some really significant social consequences. Let's have a look at some of these:
Life expectancy has increased significantly over the last 8 years; child mortality figures and those dying of starvation has been cut to half!
Extreme poverty used to affect 58% of the population in 1999, and now it has decreased to just 35%
It is still true that 420 million people are still suffering extreme poverty, which is tragic but, fortunately the future is looking brighter than ever. Another thing is also certain: Africa is going to have a major global role over the coming decades.
Africa is being urbanized quickly, which allows for both provision of public services and also economies of scale. In the near future, we are going to find many of the world's biggest cities on this continent.
And who knows? Lagos, Nairobi or Accra might become the new Shanghai in just a few decades. For example, the tallest skyscraper in Africa, the Hass Towers (left), are currently being built in Nairobi. In Accra, Ghana's capital city, six malls have been built in only six years.
Foreign investment has grown strongly in the last few years and almost half of these investments operate in sectors which have nothing to do with Africa's natural resources.
This is important because many of the countries in Africa are trying to develop industries outside of raw materials so they start to depend less on natural resources.
These economies are known as the "African Lions"
They include, Kenya, Uganda,Tanzania, Mozambique and Zambia. These are the countries in Africa that are developing the fastest.
I have spoken about Rwanda, and how it emerging out of misery in one of my blogs. Let's discuss two more countries here so that we get a grip of what's going down in Sub-Saharan Africa.
This a much larger country than Rwanda with a population of nearly 100 million people. In Ethiopia, around 20 million people still have nutritional problems. That is not the only problem they have. Their government has also become more authoritarian recently. However, things are changing fast and today, Ethiopia's capital city: Addis Ababa is always pursuing significant construction projects. Infact, about an year ago, Addis Ababa opened the first modern tram system in all of Sub-Saharan Africa.
Ethiopia's economy has multiplied by 5 in the last 10 years and its GDP has grown 10% every year
How did they do it? Well, they were simply trying to be more attractive than their neighboring countries. In to do so the country has established two main priorities: Achieve stable microeconomics and establish attractive taxation.
For example, imports of capital assets such technological equipment like machinery does not have any import duty. Further, companies don't have to pay any tax during their first five years.
Botswana recently celebrated in 2016, the 50th anniversary of its independence. Botswana has been the greatest economic success story in Africa. In fact, it is even one of the most successful worldwide.
At the time of Botswana's independence in 1966, it was one of the poorest countries on the planet. On top of that, the country has suffered severe droughts and has suffered from the second largest AIDS epidemic in the world.
In spite of all these obstacles, the country has experienced development so significant that its GDP in purchasing power parity is equivalent to countries such as, Colombia, Brazil or Thailand.
Here, the key to success can be found in the strength of its national institutions, their healthy public finances and above all, the country's legal certainty. In fact, in the last CPI (Corruption Perception Index) Botswana was in 31st position.
They are lesser corrupt than countries like Spain, Israel or Taiwan!
How about some more interesting facts about Africa?
Africa is home to more than 400 companies with a turnover of more than a billion dollars a year. It really does seem as if the end of Africa being a totally poor continent is coming to an end.
Furthermore, we can also find "Nollywood", the second largest film industry (in terms of films produced) in the world. Only 2500 films less than Bollywood! In Nigeria alone, this film industry employs around a million workers.
And now, just one final surprise:
Africa is the world leader in online banking and mobile phone payments!
Yep, you probably weren't expecting to hear that but it's absolutely true. Today many farmers share information through SMS and in the streets of Rwanda, it is popular to use "Safemotos", which is like a Rwandan version of Uber for motorcycle taxis called Boda Boda.
So the thing about Africa is that it is changing incredibly fast, but the truth is there are still many challenges and difficulties ahead for example, consolidating the rule of law, reducing poverty, and improving their infrastructure. And of course, they need to put an end once and for all to those terrible dictatorships in countries like Angola, Eritrea and Equatorial Guinea.
However, everything does seem to indicate that the future of Africa is brighter than it has ever been and that is why I say that Africa is not emerging, it's here, now.