Truth Or Myth, Is Africa Truly Rising?
In May 2000, the Economist labeled Africa “the hopeless continent”. Although the name tag was supposed to describe the continent’s political crises, it did avail itself to be aptly applicable to the continent’s socio-economic woes. However, after over a decade later, Africa has witnessed superb transformations and developments. In 2013, the same Economist published a special report capturing the continent’s giant strides, calling Africa “the hopeful continent”. But despite the unusual growths, the belief that Africa is rising remains debatable, and for good reasons too. In this article, I’ll sift the facts from the hype, and present a balanced view about the state of Africa and whether or not the continent is truly rising.
Yes! The belief that Africa is rising is not superficial, and neither is it speculative. Facts, figures, and developments point out that Africa is better off today than it was in 2000, the dawn of the century.
Today Africa is one of fastest growing regions in the world. Between 2000 and 2011, six of the world’s fastest growing economies were African, one of which was Sierra Leone. Seen as one of the world’s poorest nations, Sierra Leone has grown steadily since the year 2000, and its GDP growth rates were 15% and 20% in 2012 and 2013 respectively. In 2015, more than 12 African nations had GDP growth rates of over 3%, with Ethiopia growing at 7.5%.
African economic growth is, however, connected to the rise in commodity prices between 2000 and 2008. This helped to fuel the growth of resource-rich states such as Botswana, Nigeria, South Africa and Angola. When prices declined in 2008, African economies were able to either that storm through reasonably sound economic policies. And again, following the drop in oil and other commodity prices since 2014, African economies are proving resilient and have coped just fine, albeit some austerity.
1. Social Change Is Getting Momentum
Socially also, Africa is looking solid. In 2015, nearly two-third of the countries on the continent had the life expectancy of over 60 years; meanwhile, in 2005 the continental average was 55.8%. Infant mortality rates had been slashed in half across half the continent. All these testify to better healthcare delivery.
Transportation and communication infrastructures are much better and developed than previous decades. In Nigeria alone, total telecom subscribers hit 154 million in 2016. Roads and railways are being constructed across Africa, thanks to the government and external actors like the Chinese business interest.
Population too is also growing rapidly, but most importantly, the number of young people is rising relative to seniors; thus improving the dependency ratio.
Politically, Africa is very more mature today than it was in previous decades. The continent is more peaceful and democracy appears to be spreading. Countries which were hitherto hotspots for crises, like Angola, Sierra Leone, Liberia and even Somalia, are better off today. Sierra Leone and Angola are the most impressive, with high GDP growth rates and a stable political system.
Meanwhile, in places like Ghana, Nigeria, and Kenya, democracy is being more powerful and advanced. In 2015, millions of Nigerians trooped out to cast their votes and power transferred from an incumbent to the opposition for the first time in the country’s history.
Likewise, the number of coups and successful attempts by incumbents to extend their rule has fallen, and is being met with strong opposition from within and without. In 2013, Senegal’s president was trying to go on for an illegal third term was met with stiff opposition, and he eventually caved in when he lost the elections. In Gambia in 2016, President Jamal’s rejection of election results, after originally conceding defeat, was vehemently opposed by Nigeria and other regional players. So yeah! Things do look better for Africa.
2. How solid Are the Foundations
But, in spite of all this progress, it must be said that Africa’s growth rests on an extremely fragile foundation.
Firstly, its economic growth has been buoyed by high commodity prices between 2000 and 2008 and again between 2010 and 2014. Thus, African economies reliant on commodity exports for growth are extremely vulnerable if and when prices swing. For instance, Nigeria’s growth dipped, and the country fell into a recession less than a year after oil prices took a beat down.
It must be said that Africa is much better at handling its resources now than previous times. Robust monetary and fiscal plans have been put forward by African economies to manage the economic tide. Additionally, East African economies, lacking many resources and vulnerable to climate, provide an excellent example to show just how mature Africa has become. As said before, Ethiopia grew by 7.5% in 2015, but it did this without oil or any important commodity.
Also, several African states have made reforms to the way their economies operate. For instance, it is now easier to set up a business than before. Infrastructure is now better to support enterprises than before, among many other things.
Second, security issues remain a problem. Although wars have reduced, the continent is still not entirely peaceful. South Sudan is war torn, Mali had to get support from Nigeria and France to push back separatists and Islamists in the Northern part of the country, and Congo still suffers from the activities of the M-23 rebels.
But the most important security issue is terrorism. Two groups constitute the biggest threats: Al Shabab in Somalia and Boko Haram in Nigeria. These groups are responsible for the death of thousands in East Africa and West Africa.
However, African countries are becoming more adept in tackling these challenges. Nigeria is working with other countries in the region to stem Boko Haram, which is a success so far; While Al Shabab has been severely weakened in recent years by the AU-led mission in Somalia.
Third, democracy is not yet fully entrenched in Africa. Although elections are being held periodically in many African nations (22 in 2012 alone), many countries lack real democracy. Aside from this, corruption is still too widespread in most African countries. And worse still, very little has been done to tackle it.
3. Why Hopefull Continent describes Africa Best
One cannot rule out that Africa is not doing something about these issues. And thanks to several civil society groups, democratic principles are being introduced into various African states. Likewise, corruption is being tackled gradually among various countries, as anti-graft laws are being re-enforced.
Summarily, Africa is a continent filled with challenges, some of which exacerbated thanks to colonialism and the cold war. Some persons hold doubts about Africa’s potentials in lieu of these difficulties. They are skeptical about any progress the continent has made. However “factual” their arguments, they miss the fact that Africa’s development in recent times is more transformative and impressive than previous periods. Africa is rising! And this time it looks set to sustain the momentum it has gathered since the turn of the century.