Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Africa Rising?

Fast cars, luxury yachts, champagne glasses. This isn't the French Riviera, but Luanda, the capital of Angola. It's not just Luanda. From million-dollar mansions dotted along Mozambique's coastline, to high-end shopping emporiums in Nigeria's metropolises, oases of affluence have sprung across the continent which has been home to seven of the 10 fastest-growing economies in the world. The numbers of multimillionaires in Africa are predicted to rise by 59% in the next 10 years -- the highest growth of any region in the world. Nigeria is now one of the top markets for champagne and the purveyors of luxury goods increasingly look to Africa as their next frontier. Many have dubbed this reversal in fortunes "Africa Rising."

Yet, almost forgotten in this narrative of “successful” capitalism, is that almost one out of every two Africans survives on $1.25 a day or less, and the continent hosts six out of 10 of the world's most unequal countries. Africa's population is projected to triple to 1.25 billion by 2050, but youth prospects remain dire across the board. In Ethiopia and Nigeria, the continent's largest economy, the majority of young people get by on less than $2 a day.

"On the one hand you hear glowing stories of growth and prosperity, shiny new buildings being built, big cars, nice homes, and lots of consumption. But Africa is producing bigger and bigger numbers of poor people, so poor so desperate" says Ali Mufuruki, CEO of Tanzania's Infotech Investment Group and member of the International Monetary Fund's Group on sub-Saharan Africa. He adds that the growth statistics measure only those who are active participants in the economy, leaving out the marginalized masses who often find themselves in sporadic, informal employment. 

Rakesh Rajani, a Tanzanian civil society activist, says that a lot of the growth has been driven by industries like mining, oil and gas and, to some extent, tourism -- all of which don't employ a huge number of people. "You can grow by 7 or 8%, but it's not a broad-based growth, so most people don't benefit from it. So at the same time that you have growth, there is also a growing inequality between a small elite which is benefiting from this -- sometimes literally only a few thousand people -- and millions of the population who are stuck," he adds.

Colonial legacy has long cast a dark shadow over the continent, and in South Africa, the world's most unequal country, it continues to cause lasting damage to its prospects.

"Everything was skewed racially -- education, access to finance, access to land," says Haroon Bhorat, professor of economics at the University of Cape Town. "When we tried to encourage growth post 1994 [end of apartheid], it was only those who already had capital and good education that gained from it," he adds.

With Africa predicted to be home to nearly 40% of the global population by the end of the century, the pressure is mounting to find employment for the millions entering the labor market every year.

"Africa's population boom can be an asset or liability depending on the way it is managed," says Adejumobi. "If carefully planned, it would be Africa's greatest resource of economic transformation," he explains. "However, if poorly managed, they can be foot soldiers for deviant groups like Boko Haram and other anti-social forces on the continent."

When it comes to the much trumpeted "Africa Rising" term, Rajani says the reality is much more complex: "It doesn't make sense to speak in generalities, people who do that take Africa as one country. Africa has some amazing things happening and some awful things happening all at the same time."

No comments: