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Africa’s Boom

Africa's Boom

Africa is growing. Sometime two years ago the continent’s population surpassed a billion people. But this is not simply some sort of phenomenon of Malthusian proportions. For as Africa’s population grows, so too does its economy, in ways that most people probably do not realize. Howard French explains:

Africa, with a population expected to roughly double by mid-century, has become recognized as the world’s fastest growing continent. But the less-told story is of Africa’s economic rise. In the last decade Africa’s overall growth rates have quietly approached those of Asia, and according to projections by the IMF, on average Africa will have the world’s fastest growing economy of any continent over the next five years.

Seven of the world’s 10 fastest-growing economies are African. The continent is famously resource rich, which has surely helped, but some recent studies suggest that the biggest drivers are far less customary for Africa, and far more encouraging for its future: wholesale and retail commerce, transportation, telecommunications, and manufacturing.

A recent report by the African Development Bank projected that, by 2030, much of Africa will attain lower-middle- and middle-class majorities, and that consumer spending will explode from $680 billion in 2008 to $2.2 trillion. According to McKinsey and Co., Africa already has more middle class consumers than India, which has a larger population. Goldman Sachs recently put out a report, “Africa’s Turn,” making similar points.

American media have largely failed to pick up on these trends, hewing instead to their long-running traditional narratives of African violence and suffering to the exclusion of most other news. Corporate America, though, is proving itself increasingly attentive to Africa as a big new growth story. Big companies, from retail to technology, are approaching Africa as a promising new growth frontier. Many are already investing heavily there.

These are vital trends too because their meaning is still in flux. Who will benefit from such growth? How can political leaders help the most people benefit from such economic growth? Can this economic expansion help to obviate Big Man syndrome, or will some of the continent’s kleptocrats find a way to line their pockets at the expense of their populace still? That the growth is happening is undeniable and holds a great deal of promise for the continent, both in terms of its own development but also, perhaps, to give it a greater role and status in the world. But promises of growth are nothing without promises of the development of human capital. This is the sort of development that we have to hope accompanies the continent’s economic boom times.



Derek Catsam

Derek Catsam is a Professor of history and Kathlyn Cosper Dunagan Professor in the Humanities at the University of Texas of the Permian Basin. He is also Senior Research Associate at Rhodes University. Derek writes about race and politics in the United States and Africa, sports, and terrorism. He is currently working on books on bus boycotts in the United States and South Africa in the 1940s and 1950s and on the 1981 South African Springbok rugby team's tour to the US. He is the author of three books, dozens of scholarly articles and reviews, and has published widely on current affairs in African, American, and European publications. He has lived, worked, and travelled extensively throughout southern Africa. He writes about politics, sports, travel, pop culture, and just about anything else that comes to mind.

Areas of Focus:
Africa; Zimbabwe; South Africa; Apartheid