Tuesday, June 26, 2012

13 Ways of Looking at Africa

Stephen Ellis, whose book on Liberia I greatly admired, has a new book out called Season of Rains on Africa's prospects. In a post over at Huffington Post he offers 13 observations on the contradictory state of a continent that "just doesn't fit so many of the categories by which we both organize our world and try to understand it."

Kinshasa's Cite du Fleuve: Not one of Ellis's ideas. But I find 
at work in it a heroic imagination that breaks the heart. There was, after all, 
a time when it was possible to imagine Kinshasa as a city of the future.

  1. More than a billion people live in Africa. This follows several decades of the fastest population growth in the history of the entire world. 
  2. Soon, half of Africans will live in towns or cities. A modest African middle class of some 120 million people, each spending four to 20 dollars per day on average, is comparable to the size of the middle class in Africa [surely he means India?] or China, according to the African Development Bank.
  3. In 2010, Africa's average rate of economic growth was 4.9%.
  4. The rate of return on foreign investment was higher in Africa than in any other developing region in 2010. Africa attracted 4.5% of global foreign direct investment in 2010.
  5. Africa has more than 60% of the world's underused agricultural land.  Most of this is in just three countries.
  6. Nigeria is the fifth-largest exporter of oil to the USA. Angola is the number two supplier of crude oil to China.
  7. There will be over 700 million mobile phone users in Africa by the end of 2012. It is the world's fastest-growing market for phones.
  8. More than a quarter of the cocaine imported into Europe comes via West Africa.
  9. More than a quarter of the world's states are in Africa. Many of these are generally classified as 'fragile' states. Seven of the United Nations' sixteen peacekeeping missions are in Africa.
  10. The combination of economic dynamism, improved communications and political fragility is unprecedented. It does not fit standard models of development. The world needs to understand what is happening.
  11. Africa had few states in a modern sense before the twentieth century.  The great historical polities of old Africa - Ashanti, Ethiopia, medieval Mali and others - coexisted with wide areas with no states and no writing. The British historian John Lonsdale has written that "the most distinctively African contribution to human history could be said to have been precisely the civilized art of living fairly peaceably together not in states."
  12. Africa can be seen as the last great emerging market as easily as it can be seen as a fundamental challenge to the world's political stability.
  13. The title of Season of Rains is taken from a poem by the writer Simon Mpondo, who describes how, when the rains come, farmers scrutinize the behaviour of animals, plants and insects to work out what lies ahead.

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