Why This is Africa’s Century

Why This is Africa’s Century

Africa is vast. It is vast at a level very few can ever fully comprehend. Crossing Africa at its widest part, even East to West, is further than flying from London to New York. The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) is comparable in many ways to Brazil. The population of Kenya is not much smaller than that of England. The fastest growing economy in the world is owned by Ethiopia–itself a vast country comparable to the size of the American midwest.

Africa has, in its time, produced wine, gold, timber, diamonds, spices, rubber, bamboo, iron, titanium ores, oil and thousands of other goods. Many suggest it will soon be a breadbasket to the world–especially to an industrialising India. It has endured colonialists but also benefits from their technologies and cultures; thus, it can manufacture and produce with a talented and nimble workforce.

The soil is so fertile in Uganda that the joke is that if you throw a tin can on the side of the road, a vending machine will grow. Nairobi is blessed with day after day of near perfect weather… as are many other African cities. It is also positioned as a short international flight to Dubai or India. The continent has a vast, nearly-untapped resource–the great rift–when considering the huge geothermal capacity it holds. This is perhaps the greatest single clean energy asset on dry earth waiting to be tapped. Of course all this is to say nothing of the massive wildlife and natural beauty of an unparalleled bastion of natural diversity and strength that is unique on the globe.

What went wrong?

Slavery sapped millions of men from the West and broke down civil order and the formation of whole societies. Tribalism and migrations have destabilised centuries of history–but so too did they in Europe. The lack of natural ports is a challenge–as is the incredibly difficult presence of insect-borne diseases. There are far too few railroads and roads in general. But these challenges are now positioned to be overcome. The Gates Foundation and others have shown that Malaria, for instance, can be conquered.  There is a path.

Other challenges include dictators and rather base corruption–filling bank accounts in London and Switzerland with the wealth that should have flowed into infrastructure and investment. But now, the flow of funds has reversed and those nations are often investors in factories and technology that will take hold and grow. The worst of the corruption and plunder seems past.  Africa is growing legitimate billionaires in areas like cement and food production. There is even a new patriotism that recognizes history will now judge those who do not help build a future worth living. It is unlikely Africa will be overtaken by global brands without building its own. This growth is just beginning.

There are no perfect democracies and Africa is unlikely to be the source of one given the stability of colonial-era borders and pastoral lifestyles that tie families more to their clans than to their geographically named places.  Again, this is not unique and has been overcome before.

What is going right?

Africa has had a diaspora that took its people by force and by choice around the world–to China, the Caribbean, the US, Europe and South America. Many now feel a call to their roots and have taken educations and ideas learned abroad and brought them back to bear on problems on the vast continent.

China is now a major partner and investor building roads and railroads. NGOs have switched from showing swollen bellies to raise monies toward pushing ideas of de-risking investments in local energy and growing export-led businesses owned and run by Africans. Several of the fastest growing economies on earth now sit in Africa. The people are fantastically diverse, motivated, and mobile. They embrace technology and learning and have several start-up ecosystems that look very promising. Africans have perhaps found better ways for Christianity and Islam to sit side by side than virtually anywhere else, and they do this while respecting traditional and local faiths as well. Africa and India are more integrated than perhaps any two great continental-sized locations in history–and doing business in India is increasingly common even for black African businesses. When considering the cultural history of the North–for example Egypt, Africa contends with any great ancient culture–but much about Sub-Saharan Africa and its history remains to be discovered.

The future is bright

Trade between African states is real, and things like multinational electricity grids are being built or discussed. The continent is now a major hydrocarbon producer. Ecowas is as sophisticated a trade agreement as any, and no continent works more closely with the United Nations on a range of inputs.

Further, more and more African nations are in tune with natural resource exploitation that is in harmony with the planet rather than rapacious and destructive as other continents have endured. No one is seeking to deforest Africa in any meaningful capacity–and its forests are incredibly vast. There are huge sources of solar and geothermal power just now beginning to be tapped. And beautiful and modern cities with businesses and institutions fit for purpose are developing.

We feel this is only just begun. Much more is coming. This will be Africa’s century because it is the last great location on earth where mankind will shape the future but has yet to do so in a fully modern way. This is the chance to get it right. Our future is in Africa. We’re all in.

Paul Flynn