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Despite Some Discouraging Headlines, Things in Africa are Actually Looking Up

Sub Saharan Africa has a land mass the size of the United States, China, and India put together, with some left over.

Recent headlines on the tragic violence in the Central African Republic and South Sudan and continued fighting in Mali revive for some the stereotypical view that Sub Saharan Africa will always be a waste of development dollars, a place that will never change.

The atrocities occurring in these three countries are horrific. But they are far from representative of Sub Saharan Africa as a whole and will not alter the broad, positive change that is sweeping the continent.

It’s important to keep in mind that Sub Saharan Africa is a very big diverse place.  It encompasses 48 countries, hundreds of cultures, and has a land mass the size of the United States, China, and India put together, with some left over.  Overall, it is a region on the rise.

Take economic growth, for instance. During the first decade of the 21st Century, Africa’s economic growth was greater than that of East Asia–including Japan. According to the World Bank and the IMF, economic growth in Sub Saharan Africa was about 5 percent in 2013 and is expected to rise to 5.3 percent in 2014. One-third of the countries in Sub Saharan Africa have growth rates of more than 6 percent. This success is due in part to investment by the private sector, and private investment in Sub Saharan Africa is growing.

Conditions are improving for the people of Sub Saharan Africa. In its recent Annual Letter, the Bill and Malinda Gates Foundation noted that the life-expectancy of women over the last 50 years has risen from 41 to 57 years, despite AIDS.  Today, more than 75 percent of school-age children attend school. Just over 40 percent did in 1970.

Certainly many challenges remain.  Almost one in every two Africans lives on less than $1.25 a day. Economic growth has not translated into reduced poverty across the board–inequality remains a problem. Changing weather patterns are negatively affecting food production.  Tourism is threatened by a rise in transnational organized wildlife crime.  Corruption burdens many governments and will continue to impede progress.

But make no mistake: for Africans, change is in the air. More girls are enrolled in school than ever before.  Fewer babies are born HIV positive. More doctors and nurses are being trained. More small businesses are starting and succeeding.  The list goes on.

The challenges of the Central African Republic, South Sudan, and Mali should not overshadow the successes of the rest of the region.

Past blogs about Africa’s economic growth

Will President Obama Find a Rising Africa?
Looking to a Brighter Future in Africa

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