Wed, Oct 11, 2017 - Page 9 News List

Despite certain setbacks, Africa continues to rise

By Brahima Coulibaly

Between 2000 and 2014, Africa grew at a strong clip, fueling belief in the narrative of an “Africa rising.”

However, since 2015, growth across sub-Saharan Africa has weakened and the poor outlook for commodity prices has cast doubt on Africa’s economic promise, leading many to question the “Africa rising” narrative — and some to pronounce it dead.

Such skepticism is, to some extent, understandable. The 2014 oil-price shock hit several African economies especially hard, and played a role in pushing aggregate growth down from 5 to 6 percent in the period from 2004 to 2014 to just 2.5 percent in the years from 2015 to this year — a rate that barely keeps up with population growth.

Moreover, the continents’ three largest economies — Angola, Nigeria, and South Africa — have experienced major declines in performance.

Last year, Angola and South Africa’s economies stagnated, while the Nigerian economy actually contracted for the first time since 1991. The latest projections suggest that these economies will experience tepid recoveries in the coming years.

However, Africa’s skeptics have overlooked a number of important factors. For starters, when one sets the three largest economies aside, sub-Saharan Africa’s aggregate growth rate for this year rises from 2.5 percent to almost 4 percent.

That is faster than the 3.5 percent rate at which the global economy is growing. Five of the 10 fastest-growing economies in the world are in Africa and over the next five years, about half of all sub-Saharan economies will expand at an average rate similar to or higher than that which prevailed during the “Africa rising” heyday.

Furthermore, high commodity prices were just one factor in the region’s strong economic performance between 2000 and 2014. Many African countries have made vast improvements to macroeconomic management, governance and the business environment, and entrepreneurship is on the rise. Even with lower commodity prices, these developments will continue to bolster many African economies.

Today’s skepticism might reflect lasting memories from a darker period, and fears that Africa’s progress has not been sufficiently consolidated. From the 1970s to the mid-1990s, dictators ruled in many African countries, and the institutions necessary for sustaining strong economic growth were fragile at best.

With civil wars constantly shredding the social fabric in many countries, the continent experienced decades of tepid economic growth. By 2000, it had been reduced to what The Economist called “Hopeless Africa.”

However, those days are gone. Policymakers across the continent have sustained the 1990s-era reforms that set the stage for the subsequent period of high growth. Although there is still much work to be done, the economic and business environment in many African countries has continued to improve, and institutions and governance have grown stronger.

Owing to new information and communication technologies, Africans, particularly young Africans, are better informed, more engaged in civil and political discourse, and increasingly capable of holding their leaders accountable.

Information and communication technology has also unleashed a wave of innovation and entrepreneurship across the continent.

These positive trends are not likely to be reversed, and will continue to improve the economic conditions in Africa, even if commodity prices do not rebound. After all, the region’s economic growth averaged 5.6 percent between 2000 and 2004, before commodity prices had begun their rapid ascent.

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