The hidden face of the African emergence

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Not so long ago the message was clear: Africa would, in general, enjoy sustained growth, its young population would guarantee a bright future, technology would allow it to easily scale the hurdles of development, its largely uncultivated arable land would feed tomorrow’s world and a prosperous middle class was being installed.

For many, growth was so self-evident that the new path of sub-Saharan Africa no longer could be categorised as “development” but rather as “emergence.” It seemed only natural that this part of Africa would inevitably attract investors and the emergence so many had predicted would be realized; a new threshold in the global economy would be crossed and the last big market would be open for business.

Does this new concept of emergence, however, accurately represent the path Africa has taken since the beginning of the XXI century? At a time when the benefits of globalisation are questioned and hundreds of thousands of Africans flee the continent, this question has become increasingly difficult to answer. One must admit that since the 2014 crisis in the raw materials sector, the reality of the continent has evolved considerably. In broad terms, growth has slowed down, public dept has increased dangerously, national budget revenues have vanished, and the process of industrialisation has ground to a halt. If we add to that a growing deficiency in the banking system, it is easy to understand why investors are hesitant, why the local elite relocate their capital, and why the concept of “emergence” has been rendered obsolete. Yet, “the emergence of Africa” remains an important concept today and serves a wide range of local authorities, who by legitimising the concept of emergence justify their survival.

Having said that, let’s not be fooled by the tyranny of averages. Many Sub-Saharan countries still show real growth (certainly the agricultural economies). Although others have seen their gross domestic product dwindle because of local conflicts or declining commodity prices (especially oil), the global economic centre of gravity is still slowly shifting to Africa.

To thoroughly appreciate the shift of the global economy towards Africa, it suffices to observe how countries like China, India and Turkey are behaving. Convinced that tomorrow’s world and the highest return on investment belong to Africa, they are economically invading the continent.

That is where the hidden face of this emergence is found. For Africa has two faces: one is represented by the doubters who lag behind and let recent trends blind them to the continent’s tremendous opportunity, the other face is represented by the believers who, despite a short term decline, understand that Africa is the future.

At the dawn of a new year a question pops up. To be on the side of the visionaries and winners, or not? Something to reflect on in 2019.

My best wishes for a prosperous new year!

 

Guy Bultynck
Chairman, CBL-ACP