There is much more going on in Africa besides persistent poverty, disease and political unrest. Foresight Africa, a 2019 report recently published by the Brookings Institution, presents an encouraging but complex picture. Here are a few highlights.
Business and Economic Development
Of the world’s fastest growing economies this year, almost half will be African. There are increasing opportunities for trade and investments throughout the continent spurred on by the African Continental Free Trade Agreement. The growing business opportunities are fueled by a growing and urbanizing population, increased industrialization, improvements in infrastructure, and new innovations in agriculture and mineral resource industries.
Corruption and Governance
Despite persisting concerns about corruption and its impact on institutional stability and economic growth, public governance has been improving consistently throughout the continent over the last decade. Countries such as Cote d’Ivoire, Morocco and Kenya showed the greatest improvements in this area. About 80% of African citizens reside in states that have improved in political participation and human rights. Although Africans continue to be mostly dissatisfied (45%, according to a survey) with the state of democracy on the continent, the organization of elections has steadily improved in a large number of countries. What is yet to be seen is whether these changes result in the entrenchment of democratic governance over time.
Aid and Debt
The report mentioned little about development aid, highlighting instead the growing involvement of China on the continent. One contributor, however, noted that future aid should be used to help “the least successful countries,” with a focus on supporting rather than setting their policies.
Debt continues to have a stranglehold on African states. The costs of servicing debt are increasing and many countries are at risk of debt distress. It is apparent that sustainable financing for the continent’s development will remain a challenge if Africa’s debt is not addressed effectively. Governments and international stakeholders will need to implement better debt management strategies.
Overall, the report presented a mixed and complex picture of the continent. While there are significant improvements in health and other development indicators, youth unemployment remains high as does the need for greater opportunity in education and skills training. The positive economic development trends occur at a time when the World Data Lab notes that this year Africa will be home to 70% of the world’s poor (mostly in Nigeria and the DRC). There are also predictions that by 2030 an additional 13 African states will be among the poorest countries in the world. As dire as these predictions may sound, if the continent takes advantage of the present opportunities, the future may be quite different.