Sub-Saharan Africa’s history, since being dominated by Colonialism, has been marred by slavery, war, corruption, intrigue, terrorism, genocide and mass poverty amongst other heinous unpleasantries. Few associate it with prosperity, growth and even less so innovation. However, the evidence is suggesting that Africa might just be a place that could become an economic giant and this is actually something the world needs. If we are going to access this untapped market and develop it into what it could be, we need alter our views, interactions and actions on the continent.
We need this part of Africa to succeed; it will be a major provider of foods, increase international competition and unleash more goods, services and ideas into the international markets and systems. Europe is currently importing just over the equivalent of 1/3 of the produce of our combined agricultural land output – if the rest of the world is to grow at the rate it’s due too (India’s population could to grow up to as much as 25% by 2050 to over 1.5 billion people and according to the World Economic Forum Africa may double to 2.3 billion people) then food shortage is going to become a serious human security risk globally if large parts of it could rely upon food imports. Africa’s farms currently only perform at around 40% of their potential, have only irrigated 5% of their cultivated land compared to 41% in Asia, 90% of their rural land is undocumented and perhaps most amazingly around “up to 50% of African fruit and vegetables spoil before reaching markets.” All this shows that it is a region that has an unprecedented agricultural potential and, unless we promote African agriculture which is stifled by European and US subsidies equal to $360 billion per annum and poor development, we run a real risk of food shortages across the globe, let alone Africa.
The size of the international market could be significantly increased if it were to grow and succeed which would help develop bring money into the world economy, increase international trade and human development. For example, “South Africa is the world’s 7th largest wine producer. Its vineyards account for 4% of global wine output, and volumes have increased 20% over four years to about 420 million liters annually.” and Kenya is due to grow 5.9% this year and 6.1% next year. South African wine growth is beginning to affect the market, increasing the competition against other wines, and Kenya and South Africa are both examples of how how there is a strong chance for prosperity to come out of developing the African economy. PwC is beginning to see Africa’s potential as the “the largest provider of professional services” and the World Economic Forum as well with pieces titled “6 reasons to invest in Africa” and “Africa’s potential is sky high”, but more needs to be done to truly harness it. If African countries had the money from better developed and prosperous economies; there would be more for us to buy from them and more importantly more money for them to buy from us. Europe has averaged 1.67% growth since 1990 which is hardly phenomenal – we need more people to buy our goods and boost our economy and 2.3 Billion Africans would be a big market to sell to.
While it is undeniable that development can thus be seen to be highly desirable, to access it we have to significantly alter the way we interact with Africa now. “The old way of doing development, where the rich world gives and the poor world passively receives, is out of date” as Tony Blair argues. We rarely look to it as a serious place to do business as we too often associate it with corruption and the like. We need to look at more than charity and aid and to real economic investment and development promotion. The continent is making huge leaps and bounds forwards; “Rwanda recently completed East Africa’s largest solar power plant, adding 6% to their grid.”, they now have 4G and using mobile money which are beginning to propel their economy forward. We need to abandon the “teleological view, which defines “progress” exclusively as development along western lines” and see that, while Africa is developing differently to the rest of the world in using mobile money rather than developing a banking industry which would massively inflate its GDP, it is not necessarily developing poorly and could become a brilliant place to do business. Of course, it is undeniable that some parts have a long way to come – but we need to start seeing it as an equal partner as opposed to a struggling, poverty ridden, post colonial mess that needs charity first and foremost.
We also need to do more to ensure that there is the stability to develop and this does involve the more traditional aid structure I have admittedly criticized. However, this is justifiable as I would argue we should view it less as charity and more as economic and human investment done via cooperation as opposed to lump sum donations. We recently showed just how successful we can be when we help in Africa with good intentions; our help in controlling Ebola was incredibly successful and has helped stopped a disease that could have wrecked global, let alone African, health. Norway funded the creation of a vaccine which proved to be 100% effective and if we could work across the developed world in Africa we could make major leaps forward. Disease is an undeniably major issue in Africa; 13.6% of the black population in South Africa (perhaps Africa’s most developed economy) have HIV/AIDS and In 2013, there were 528 000 deaths from malaria across the continent. If we can work, as we did with Ebola, to help control and ideally cure these diseases, we will significantly help the human situation in Africa and aid its turning into a serious economic giant by removing setbacks.
Sub-Saharan Africa has a long way to go, with or without our help, and each individual country faces its own unique set of cultural, political, economic and humanitarian issues. However, it remains within our interests to wake the “Sleeping Giant” of a continent which could become a major boost to the world economy, food security and significant business partner. It will require hard work from both the West, Africa within itself and some major investment. But to use a generic term; ‘Rome wasn’t built in a day’ and Rome was one of the most impressive Empires on this Earth. Africa may not develop in a day, but it could become one of the most impressive continents on Earth.