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Buy the new Africa (Now with more hope!) - Chris Blattman

Chris Blattman

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Buy the new Africa (Now with more hope!)

After proclaiming Africa the hopless continent a decade ago, The Economist does an about-face:

Much has been written about the rise of the BRICs (Brazil, Russia, India and China) and the shift in economic power eastward as Asia outruns the rest of the world. But the surprising success story of the past decade lies elsewhere.

An analysis by The Economist finds that over the ten years to 2010, no fewer than six of the world’s ten fastest-growing economies were in sub-Saharan Africa.

The newspaper attributes the growth (and its persistence in future) to political stability. I agree. But will it continue?

The situation in Cote d’Ivoire and Sudan would seem to threaten that stability in the West and Central Africa, just as Somalia, Kenya and Zimbabwe are seen as possibly destabilizing the East and South.

Undoubtedly true in the short term, but true in the long term?

One of my favorite quotes from Claude Ake comes to mind: “There is really only one process of democratization,” he writes, “and that is a process of struggle. Democracy is never given, it is always taken.”

One can view the struggle in Cote d’Ivoire less as a setback for democracy in the region and more as a (necessary? inevitable?) step in democratic development. It’s not clear to me how much democracy can be bestowed from the outside–at least how much that is stable and lasting.

The limits of international condemnation and sanctions become clearer by the day. Is this one largely up to the Ivoirians?

5 Responses

  1. I have a problem with the focus on economic growth as the measure of a country… economic growth does not equal health, well-being or lack of violations of human rights. It show nothing other than the ability to yield high market value for the goods and services produced. Why is this always seemingly the most important value of a country? I think global priorities are pretty wrong that this is the value we always judge by.

    I think Liberia is right that Africa is seeing unprecedented growth in the consumer industries and that this is only likely to rise in the future. As s/he also says, there are more Africans educated, and getting healthy than ever before and there are many great leaders being born with the ideals of creating a more just Africa. It’s not all doom and gloom on the continent.

    I think you hit it right on the head as to the Ivorian crisis– the limit of the international response is slowly becoming clear. I feel like it will stop being a topic of conversation very shortly, and everyone in the west will simply forget that anything happened.

    I wrote a piece about some of the proposed solutions (, the likelihood of their usage and some of the risks of each move.

  2. MM Jones, for some answers to some of your questions, please read Vijay Mahajan’s book “Africa Rising: How 900 Million African Consumers Offer More than you Think,” if you have not yet done so. It may also surprise you to know that relative to Asia and other continents, Africa does not have a population problem. Major growth in recent years in Africa has been in the consumer industries—the use of cell phones, for example. True, the extractive industry in Africa is still an exploitative industry as western countries and China continue to plunder the natural resources of most African countries for peanuts but that is changing, albeit gradually. More and more, a new generation of African leaders are rising up to selflessly demand better returns from the extractive industry. Madam Johnson-Sirleaf’s negotiations with Mittal Steel in Liberia makes for one example. Same goes for Atta-Mills, and before that Kuffour in Ghana over oil. True, there are still some bonehead African leaders swiping away the God-given wealth of their countries for peanuts and allowing China to resettle its excess population on the continent but we will continue to draw their attention to that as well. More Africans are educated today, healthier today (in spite of the much hyped HIV/AIDS statistics, wealthier today than ever before. Occurences like Gbagbo’s recalcitrance are but occasional blips in the relentless march towards a more JUST Africa. Notice my emphasis on JUST instead of democracy because we have seen what the inequalities present in the much-hyped western variant of “democracy.” Africa has no way to go but up…it is truly the continent of the future. Potential future Cecil Rhodes-like exploiters should increase their game because African people are rising to claim their rightful place in the world.

  3. I’m a complete novice at economics, and I also tend to get swept up in the recent trend of African boosterism, but I also wonder how these ‘fast growth’ rates should be understood when rapidly increasing populations are also considered. In addition, how much of this economic growth is from foreign extraction deals. My question is, to what degree can these high growth rates be understood to be actually lifting people out of poverty?

  4. Indeed: democracy is a “ritualised power struggle” allowing regime change without total collapse. Twenty years ago (a blip in history) there was a wide consensus in the field that elections would be a bad idea for Africa. Now the mainstream thinking is that unelected leaders are illegitimate.

    It reminds me of a radio-station in Nicaragua that started in the 90s every news definding freedom of speech: the right to freedom of speech is a right that will be lost if not used…

    Most of the news was gossip about the sex lives of politicians and other public figures.

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