Will sub-Saharan Africa prosper?

A piece in the Financial Times this week says that the focus on the bad news stories in Africa is distracting from more positive developments across the continent. Francis Beddington says a combination of economic stability, new technology and the African entrepreneurial spirit is fuelling economic growth and creating a business environment ripe for investment. He concludes his article by saying “Ignoring Africa today is like failing to invest in emerging markets in 1990s, in south-east Asia in the 1970s and 1980s or in Japan in the 1950s.”

Is this really the case — will sub-Saharan Africa be the next tiger economy? Or is the world’s focus on the chaos in Zimbabwe and Sudan a fair reflection of reality? Let us know what you think, we’ll be discussing the issue on Sunday morning on the World Today.

Piers, output editor

39 Responses to “Will sub-Saharan Africa prosper?”

  1. 1 Colleen
    June 13, 2008 at 16:36

    The world needs to forgive all debts to such impoverished nations if they have a chance of gaining any prosperity. These countries pay more in intrest to the world bank than the aid they recieve each year from weathly countries running the world bank — something does not add up.

  2. 2 Colleen
    June 13, 2008 at 16:40

    The world should forgive debts to the impoverished nations of Africa if they have a chance at prosperity. These countries pay more in interest to the world bank than they recieve in aid from the wealthy countries that run the world bank. It is a global tragedy…

  3. 3 Zak
    June 13, 2008 at 16:54

    They will have to follow the Aby Dahbi model if they’re going to. They will need all the solar power those great days of sun can bring. They’ll also have to reclaim water in as many ways as possible.

    Point being, the physical restrictions will limit the economy; geologists have now determined that the water shortage will increase drastically in the next 30 years. If these countries are to survive they will need to create the jobs of installing solar panels, mining aqueducts and so on.

    I agree with Colleen; if the countries are not run by dictators like Mugabe. If a country shows that it’s not squandering the resources of the government then they should be forgiven for debt. But likewise until Sudan and Zimbabwe get their governments in line with the people they should be held accountable. Hunger and thirst will always be a bigger incentive than any aid from the West.

  4. 4 Will Rhodes
    June 13, 2008 at 17:03

    China is investing in these nations – with significant financial incentives to sell everything to China. Are the people of these nations seeing the benefits of such incentives, or just members of the governments trade dept’s?

  5. 5 Colleen
    June 13, 2008 at 17:38

    (oops! didnt mean to send the same thing twice before…)

    it seems as though foreign direct investment usually benefits the investing company/country first… then the elite members of the countries receiving investments… i’m guessing not much is left for the rest of the population especially if the country is relatively unstable to begin with

  6. June 13, 2008 at 17:54

    Africa has all the potentials to be a prosperous continent. It is a mine of all possible treasures. But following the years of its independence, it was the scene of military coups and dictatorship. Africa now is relatively more stable than what it used to be except for very few countries like Sudan and DR Congo which need peace in all their corners.

    Now as it seems Africa is becoming a destination mainly for the Chinese who can prove more malignant to its economy than beneficiary. There are complaints in countries like Malawi where the local see little benefit from Chinese investments in their country as Chinese projects are carried out by the Chinese workers without employing the locals: http://allafrica.com/stories/200805270011.html

    Africans can prosper if they can have successful governments that can manage Africa’s resources well and educationally prepare its young population for a real take-off. Africa doesn’t need to waste its riches in waging wars as it was the case in the past. There is the example Angola. During the civil war in this country, the militias fighting the government were holding a land rich in diamonds. The government was holding the land containing oil fields. Both sides used a large portion of these revenues to purchase arms to fight each other. Billion of dollars were wasted, which could have improved the livelihood of Angola’s population.

    Without stability and good management, Africa will remain a land, at best, providing foreign economies with the commodities they need from raw materials to agricultural products, while its population seeks to live in the countries that directly or indirectly benefit from their countries’ riches.

  7. 7 Zak
    June 13, 2008 at 17:56

    It’s alright Colleen do you want to get rid of one? 😉

    The money will have to come from lucrative interests within the country no doubt. Sometimes you can get companies to donate materials for the exposure of their product- the key is putting the jobs on the ground.

  8. 8 Colleen
    June 13, 2008 at 18:07

    @ zak

    nah — i’ll live!

    i agree that creating jobs can be good… but what kind of jobs and who is qualified to do them? and what about benefits (healthcare, education, etc) to the employees… and what is the wage structure? “exploitation” can often be disguised as “employment”

  9. 9 Zak
    June 13, 2008 at 18:25

    A couple of examples: in Rwanda they are mining methane from Lake Kivu to produce 700 megawatts of electricity a day to share between Rwanda and Congo.

    Also solar panels, wiring circuits is very easy, and there are constantly ways to refine and build more infrastructure such as adding battery power.

    I’m sure if there were forward thinking countries looking for these solutions they would find them for free, and the jobs would be plenty.

  10. 10 Pangolin
    June 14, 2008 at 03:06

    Africa should look to concentrating solar power as that is a way to create a power surplus and desalinate water. They also need to create internal institutes that attempt to replicate the Cuban revolution in organic farming. Africa should seek to keep their resources at home to improve their own lives.

    Instead there will be mass confusion as their farmland is sold to the chinese while local people starve. There will be dismay as urban dwellers discover that the prices of water, cooking fuel and grain are such that they only can afford one option on any given day. Forget health care.

    If there is a leader in Africa of great moral strength he needs to step forward now. There really isn’t time to wait for the cargo from the North to save you.

    Don’t sell your pantry for offshore paper. The paper won’t feed you.

  11. 11 Tom
    June 14, 2008 at 15:46

    Even though some of the Chinese investment projects are run by Chinese workers, how will the improved infrastructure benefit Africa in the long run? eg: the new roads, railroads, ports, hospitals, schools, mines, etc.

  12. June 14, 2008 at 16:04

    Thanks for your thoughts on this.. one of the points the author of the FT piece makes is that it’s African businessmen who are starting to come through, often due to investment in small businesses. Putting aside the admittedly enormous investment from the Chinese, do you think there is hope for the African entrepreneurial spirit, or is corruption and mismanagement still too widespread on the continent?

    Piers, World Today

  13. 13 Vernon
    June 14, 2008 at 17:01

    As a born and bred South African it grieves me to think of so much wasted potential in Africa when it has all the makings of prosperity. It’s a shame for the settlers in South Africa not to have entered into some kind of partnership and mentorship with the local population from the start instead of keeping all the gains for themselves. Now with Zimbabwe in the state that it is and President Mbeki tacitly giving consent to Mugabe, the fear is, what of South Africa and the region’s future too? It’s not too late to agree on some strategy for mutual survival and much more – achieving an acceptable standard of living for all Africans!

  14. June 14, 2008 at 17:02

    Africa needs good governance guarded by strong democratic institutions more than sinful dollars. Aid money corrupts, and most of it is looted by so called experts from donor nations. It is a tool designed to the benefit of corrupt officials in the developed world, spearheaded by USA. Rather than building healthy democracy the West mould a waek institutions in the developing world then siphons in a soft cash with highly contangious disease.

    That disease spreads so rapidly that it entangles the whole nation instantly. Traders issue false invoices to unaccoutable officers from both the donor nations and its receipts. Every person with a the tinniest authority takes his part of the loot. illions spend to fictitious projects, build by shadow companies and manned by ghosts.

    Africa can develop without aid. It can build its institutions if left alone, without interference from those whose sole aim is to put foundation for a weak and sick instiutions, that attracts wicked and selfish tyrants. That cycle must be broke. No nation can prosper on aid money.

    Ahmed Arwo

  15. 15 Syed Hasan Turab
    June 14, 2008 at 18:08

    Africa is full with natural resources & fully dependant on EU countries. China is trying to open African economy in competation of IMF, as these nations have limited education & funds but lot of sun shine may resolve energy crises through solor techinology.

  16. June 14, 2008 at 20:12

    Sub-Saharan Africa will only prosper if it admits that, at this stage, it still requires foreign supervision of its economic entities, and, in some cases, even of its bureaucracies and, in other cases, even of its governments.

    This does not yet apply to South Africa.

    The admission of China into Africa is, essentially, sub-Saharan Africa allowing itself to be supervised. The problem here is the nature of the supervisor, or maybe it is just the kind of supervisor that is needed.

  17. June 14, 2008 at 21:55

    The Chinese are leaders in developing the photo-voltaic solar cells that use many time less silicone than the average and have a gel component which allows them to gather more than double the light of older versions. China will no doubt want large testing grounds to implement theses systems and where better than Africa. The issue will be before the AU and the individual governments to form a business model and not let the Chinese just walk in and walk out with their investment deals.

    Reclaimed water is a better model than desalinization for one thing because not all the countries border the sea, also desalinization is a constant cost due to the rigor of the process. Systems in place to treat and reclaim waste water however are simple and many date back to ancient times in Africa. These models can also employ many more people.

  18. 18 Omunyaruguru
    June 14, 2008 at 23:40

    Very interesting points of discussion that you guys have raised. Here I go:
    1. Sub-Saharan Africa was never meant to ‘prosper’ in the first place. It was seen as a source of whatever was needed to make Europe prosper. that is well known history and that is what colonialism was all about.

    2. The colonial masters demarcated Africa to their convenience with no thought of building nations out of whatever they were making.

    3. At independence, these new entities called states were expected to run on a model imposed on them by the colonialists; a model that had no historical precedent for most of the societies. Up to today, most Africans do not understand the meaning of democracy and still live in the old dispensation. That is why Mugabe will still rule Zimbabwe until someone puts a bullet in his head.

    4. The only interest that the richer states have in sub-Saharan Africa is the resources to serve their own ends!!!!! Period. There is no developed nation with an ounce of Altruism for Africa.

    5. The single most important factor that can drive Africa to prosperity is mass wholesome vissionary education of the heads and the hearts of Africans that will cause us to desire to advance at whatever cost – to the shedding of blood.

    More to come

  19. 19 Omunyaruguru
    June 15, 2008 at 00:03

    The keys to solving the economic woes of Africa are in the hands of the Africans themselves. The major vehicle of development is the psychology of the people. Today Africans are beggars because of the phenomenon of learned self helplesness. The great Havard Economist (what is his name again?) said last year in his lectures on BBC that all that Africa needed was AID to buy mosquito nets, tackle HIV, TB etc. That is skewed thinking and I took offence. WE do not need mosquito nets. We need wholesome education that liberates the hearts and minds of the people and causes us to desire revolution. We need education that causes us to grow our own repellants instaed of importing expensive nets from wherever. We need education that makes us realise how beautiful Africa is and we cease to desire to go to Europe and America. We need education that liberates us from the shackles of hopelesness and low collective self efficacy and low collective self esteem. Education that helps us know that our leaders should be accountable to us.

  20. 20 Jeff Minter
    June 15, 2008 at 00:10

    How annoying, it’s turned into another “bash the chinese” discussion. Ooh, mustn’t let them do this, they’re just walking in and taking over blah blah. Please, get a grip. They don’t just waltz in through privilege (unlike some countries in the past, hint hint) they get through with the best offers in making deals, being highly competitive and making themselves the best option.

    As for Africa becoming prosperous on its own… imagine a world in 30 years where Europe and the US will have to contend with not only China, India and South America for oil… but also Africa. If it’s bad now…

  21. 21 Jeff Minter
    June 15, 2008 at 00:15

    Just to add, do you really think we in the west invest in China “for the benefit of the chinese people”? No, we do it for growth in our shares, to see a substantial return on our investments, getting influence in the new land of opportunity… the top jobs don’t go to chinese people, they are just the factory workers.

    We are doing to the chinese what they are doing to the africans, simple as that.

  22. 22 Omunyaruguru
    June 15, 2008 at 00:29

    Piers, The African entrepreneural spirit is alive and well. Corruption cannot kick it out. Most investments that would pay off well require big capital. The banks in my country (Uganda) give loans at an interest of 20% and above. I have seen genuine investors loose their businesses because they underestimated the longterm implications of these bad rates. The Indians then come in with their money, invest and plough the profits back to ‘Bombay’ after a ‘good kill.’ Yes corruption exists in Africa, but in my experience it is not the rate limiting factor for growth of African entrepreneurs.

  23. 23 Omunyaruguru
    June 15, 2008 at 00:44

    One last one before I jump into my bed.

    Sayed, Donovan and a few others have alluded to China. All china is looking for in Africa is raw materials to feed its hungry economy that has an excess of growth hormone in it. The approach of china and much of the orient to Africa does not foster development. That is why Darfur is still a crisis.

    The issue for Africa is not projects, power, sunshine, jobs – forget about that!!! What we need is a shift in paradigm!!!!!

    Because we can no longer run away from this global village, we have to face up to it or we die. No body is on our side. They are only interested in our beautiful daughters (sometimes they rape them on the way to the well) and our sons whom they pay peanuts to dig in their shambas (typical rich man/poor neighbour scene here). ARISE AFRICA!

    Now to my bed.

  24. 24 Omunyaruguru
    June 15, 2008 at 02:12

    And lastly to answer your question Piers. Yes Africa could be the next tiger economy. When it will be is the pertinent question. With the present situation, it will be several decades before we are there.

  25. 25 Pangolin
    June 15, 2008 at 04:57

    @Omunyaruguru- There are bats in Africa that eat mosquitos and give high grade fertilizer. I there are enough bats in an area of the proper type there will be very few malarial carrying mosqitos and fewer crop pests.

    The resources are in Africa but people do not have access to the knowledge needed to use them. You mention imported, fragile, nets when the bats would do the work for free and feed your gardens. A little powdered charcoal tilled into those gardens would increase their yields.

    Likewise simple solar concentrators would be of great use to Africans simply to heat water for cooking, washing and sterilization. Simple rocket stove designs would improve the lives of millions of African women and give the forests a break from charcoal cutters. Ceramic water filters can be readily made that will give people clean drinking water. Small solar icemakers could reduce food waste and disease due to spoiled food. Cargo carrying bicycles like the Big-Boda can get crops to market and people to work. None of these designs are difficult but the information doesn’t have a channel to get to the people.

    The one item I think every African needs is a cheap, solar-powered laptop that can communicate wirelessly with other laptops in a distributed node fashion. Then Africans would have the knowledge of the world at their fingertips and could communicate solutions with each other.

    Political communication would also be possible and it would have a chance to root out corruption. The biggest corruption is marketing. Somebody with a factory wants to sell you mosquito nets but nobody wants to tell you precisely how to build a bat house because the bats work for free. We will sell you condoms but neglect to research herbal methods of birth control.

    Use our information, be wary of our products, flee from our bankers.

  26. 26 Bob in Queensland
    June 15, 2008 at 05:31

    I think Ahmed Arwo has hit the nail on the head.

    In terms of natural resources of most kinds, sub-Saharan Africa is one of the richest parts of the world but has never managed to benefit from these resources.

    Historically, the area was plundered by outside powers which took the vast majority of the revenues, leaving a pittance for the local people. However, nowadays the problem is much more the lack of competent , honest government. As long as corruption and old rivalries run rife, progress in the area will be slow.

  27. 27 alnoah
    June 15, 2008 at 06:17

    To be honest, westerners shouldn’t have to miss the chance to invest here in Africa, YES! We are the next tiger economy, but not, of course soon.

    Am from Ethiopian and i really really amazed by Botswana. Keep it up!

  28. 28 Omunyaruguru
    June 15, 2008 at 08:29

    Pangolin, amazing ideas you have there. Which country are you from? I love every sentence you have written. Now, all these appropriate technologies are vital, but most of all the minds of the people need revamping. With the right mindset we can properly use all forms of technology. We can even pirate knowledge like the orient is believed to have done/is doing. Personaly the only thing I ever steal is knowledge. I value it so highly and that is all I need from the West. “My people perish for luck of knowledge.”

    Most of our cultures historicaly are not long sighted. We think of today and never about next year. We do not build for the generations. Just come and see the roads in my country that were repaired last year and you will understand what I am saying. In our traditional mindset, all that I needed to do was ensure that my genes go on to the next generation. An so we made sure we had herds of children who were our tomorrow. It is because building for the generations to come is an alien philosophy that you find people like Mugabe, Museveni, Kibaki and many others clinging onto power. There is a cord from the collective unconscious that they have not severed.

    The money, technology, goodwill and all else that could ever come to Africa from else-where need to find the fertile gound of a proper mindset.

  29. 29 djim
    June 15, 2008 at 16:33

    what africans luck is the tecnology-tecnocrates-funds and political descipline.look at our elections -half of our president wont butdge how does the economy- leadership should involve more of the new breed than the old papas-unless we change our way of thinking we wil tail the millenium objectives-iwant to see an africa that developes its own tecnologies -feeds its self-treats its polices without screaming for help.

  30. 30 Omunyaruguru
    June 15, 2008 at 20:33

    Bravo djim!!! Hear Hear!!

  31. June 16, 2008 at 03:34

    Africa can jump start its’ growth by a 50 billion dollar “donor” grant to a Non Profit Institution that will administer these funds for the rehabilitation of the Sub-Saharan Trade Routes… the study has already been done for the world bank by David Wheeler and has been quantified as to the cost benefit analysis.

    Seems like a lot of money except when you think that the tiny country of Israel gets almost 3 billion dollars a year from the USA alone… and that the G-8 has “pledged” 60 billion dollars for Aids and there seems to be no discussion on HOW the aid will get to the areas outside the Airports and Seaports of these countries.

    Jeffery Sachs has said… Roads bring Peace and Jobs and ultimately prosperity and political stability follow. He was specifically talking about peace in Darfur… but the analogy translates to ALL of Africa and EVERY undeveloped country int he world

    While the talk of Chinese (Africa is already finding that relationship difficult) and Solar Power (and don’t forget the availability of Hydro) is good… the real need is basic infrastructure and that should start with Roads.

    Yes, the BAD parts of Africa seem to bring out the news hounds and reporters and the advances that have been made are overshadowed by these events… while they are serious they do not reflect a continent almost 3 times the size of the USA with between 800 and 900 million people….. FT is more reasonable about Africa then the US Media… and the Economist is a far better source of facts and figures and the actual events throughout the continent.

    It is sad we seem to only want to focus on a few countries where the “democratic process” and Political instability and resulting chaos happens… but most of Africa is in much better shape than these few bad examples.

  32. June 16, 2008 at 04:22

    Until political stability at least at the level of Uganda is more widespread and corruption is reigned in (not eliminated, but consistent and controlled), the infrastructure cannot be developed sufficiently. Debt forgiveness will NOT solve the problem; just start another cycle of dependency, theft, and waste.

    Investment can work, but only in a bottom up approach until ifrastrucutre improves.

    Myself, I’m contemplating of retiring to Uganda to start up a small software shop to outsource work away from India as that nation continues to get more expensive. Payback’s a b**ch, ain’t it?

  33. 33 BigPapa
    June 16, 2008 at 06:51

    I agree with you Mr Craig on two point.

    1) Roads and infrastructure would be a big boost for Africa. Unfortunately the World bank and the IMF who are the most imperialistic and damaging tools for the Westerh imperialists would do anything to divert attention towards less productive and inefficient development projects which are really a way to further increase the level of debt of African nations.

    2) The bad publicity has a negative impact on teh development of Africa. You need to understand that there is a profit behind bad publicity. The whole goal is to reduce Africa into a Safari land, and not the land of great intellectuals and great policy makers.

    I have said it all along that Africa does not need the benevolence of World Bank or the IMF. Please check your facts and give me one success story. The structural adjustment plan which is the biggest financial genocide really gave birth to a mouse. Africa has become more vulnerable as a consequence.

    I can not really expect anything from institutions which have been led by Paul Wolfovitz (one of the architect of the Irak war), Robert McNamara (one of the guys behind the Vietnam disaster and the assassination of early African freedom fighters). One reason is that building infrastructure is one of the most obvious tools in any development project; it is ignored and discouraged on purpose.
    Ask yourself how people can starve in Darfur when there are regions like, Rwanda, Cameroon and the Nigerian South which are amongst the most productive in Africa. There are areas in Africa where no technics of Agriculture are needed, just throw a grain of corn and the next day, you have a growing crop.This is known. For instance it is known in Central Africa that Cameroon provides for Gabon, Guinea and the sub-region.

    Africa would emerge only if a) the West stop sponsoring coup d’etats, 2) Africans resort to homegrown systems of governance 3) Africa exposes itself less to the fluctuations and biases of the World economy via the adoption of its own currencies 4) Political Unity.

    The US. were able to go through the aforementioned steps, Africa could do the same if there is no interference.

  34. 34 Tom
    June 16, 2008 at 07:16

    Bravo Jeff Minter for telling the inconvenient truth of world economics.

    Even though the Chinese presence in Africa may seem colonial, with some even going as far as describing it as potentially genocidal (https://worldhaveyoursay.wordpress.com/2008/06/06/blank-page-no-10/#comment-30151), they have stimulated levels of business activities that for too long the region has been deprived of while much of the world advanced around it. These activities will expose the locals to vital technical and entrepreneurial skills that will enable them to stand on their own feet in the future. In fact, the article referred to by Abdelilah Boukili above mentioned deals being struck between African entrepreneurs with their Chinese counterparts. These entrepreneurs will very well shape the future of the continent.

    With social and political stability, combined with sound management by the African governments, foreign investments will continue to roll in. The result could be that in the next decade more Africans lifted out of poverty than any other decade before it. Failure in maintaining these conditions, however, will easily revert Africa back to square one.

    In the end, the opportunities currently presented to Africa are great and it’ll be up to the Africans themselves to realise and manage them in a sustainable manner. If the Chinese are wise, they’ll learn from their own experience that a strong Africa will benefit them more than a weak and unstable one. Past bitter memories will likely to ensure that the Africans will never allow themselves to be colonised by foreigners again.

  35. June 16, 2008 at 07:50

    Thanks to the BIg Papa mindset, sub-Saharan Africa will not prosper through helpful intervention by the West. So, as I’ve said above, it’s up to China.

    Definitely it is not up to Africa though. The continent just cannot move beyond the ongoing ravages of Western Imperialism.

  36. 36 Robert in Angola
    June 16, 2008 at 08:05

    I moved to Angola about 8 months ago and I can say that I have seen a massive improvement in this country even in such a short space of time. The secret has been, Chinese investment in infrastructure. This will be what ultimately saves Africa, not Western aid for one off supplies of food and drugs. Many critises China for stealing African resources, however those resources are being traded for improved infrastructure. With this Afria will be in a good place to propser over the coming decades. It is simply the extension of the story about give a man a fish vs. give a man a net.

    People forget that it took western Europe 300 years to move from middle age Monachy to industrial democaries, yet we expect Africa to do the same in less than 50 years!

  37. 37 EM in Cleveland
    June 16, 2008 at 14:00

    I think a lot of people forget that prior to colonialism Africa was self-sustainable. It was due to structural adjustment programs across the continent by the the IMF/World Bank that ruined Africa. The West’s need to “modernize” and exploit African resources ruined the continent’s ability to feed and care for their own people.

    Will more Western aid end Africa’s suffering? Highly doubtful, because those aid dollars always seem to come attached to one string or another that take away Africa’s ability to make decisions that could aid their own people.

  38. June 16, 2008 at 18:50

    To Tom, Robert in Angola, EM in Cleveland.

    I am thrilled by your prospectives. I think the blogosphere should give you an Emmy. What should we call it?

    To Donovan Roebert.

    Africa will move beyond the ravages of Western imperialism sooner or later. Please Robert in Angola’s last paragraph. It took several hundreds of years plus too many ongoing genocides to enjoy the illusions of today.

    Most African countries have been “independent” since 1960. We have achieved a great deal of progress despite the negative forces of destabilization that you and I know.

  39. 39 Dennis :)
    June 25, 2008 at 19:42

    I hope that Sub-Saharan Africa will prosper. Because they have had many problems over the years.

    Onondaga Community College
    Syracuse, New York
    United States of America

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