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Looking to a Brighter Future in Africa
When thinking about Africa, the facts that come to mind are often not good. Most Africans live on less than $2 a day. The average life span in many countries is only 50 years. Famine and starvation persist. The list goes on and on.
In an article at the end of last year, The Economist reviewed the future prospects for Africa, but highlighted some different facts. Over the past decade, The Economist wrote, six of the world’s ten fastest-growing countries were in Africa. In eight of the past ten years, Africa’s economic growth was higher than in East Asia, including Japan. Even allowing for the economic slowdown in northern counties, the International Monetary Fund expects Africa to grow by 6 percent in 2012, about the same as Asia.
Surprising? Not to three African ambassadors to United States, who discussed the future of their countries at a recent Africa Studies Association Annual Meeting. The ambassadors from Sierra Leone, Kenya and Rwanda were bullish on the economic future of the continent. What is the basis of the surprising optimism of the ambassadors and The Economist? As we begin 2012, we might well focus on some facts that provide another way to view Africa and its prospects for the future:
- Africa’s middle class includes some 60 million Africans today, and is expected to grow to 100 million by 2015.
- Foreign investment in Africa has grown tenfold in the past decade.
- There are more than 600 million mobile-phone users—more than in America or Europe. Thus providing the majority of Africans with access to communications and mobile banking.
- The health of many millions of Africans has improved in recent years because of wider use of mosquito nets and advances in HIV/AIDS identification and treatment.
- Worker productivity has increased 3 percent a year, compared with 2.3 percent in the U.S.
- Since 1991, some 30 democratic national elections have been held and the movement toward democracy is growing.
- Sierra Leone, a country known more for its decade-long civil war, “blood diamonds,” and corruption, has sustained an economic growth rate of 6 percent in recent years, fueled by iron ore and bauxite trade. Its government has focused on reducing corruption and reforming its government institutions. (Ambassador Bockari Kortu Stevens)
- Despite political setbacks, Kenya has set out to become a middle-income country by 2030. It has rewritten its constitution and built more roads in the last six years than it did in the forty years between 1963 and 2003. (Ambassador Elkanah Odembo)
- In Rwanda, women comprise 56 percent of the legislators in parliament. Malaria is on the verge of being eradicated. The government’s poverty reduction strategies are wisely focused on local economies. (Ambassador James Kimonyo)
Let there be no misunderstanding: the challenges are great, and corruption and bad government will not disappear overnight. But the African continent is moving forward even in these times of world economic hardship.