Editor’s Note: This piece was contributed by Eve Pearce.
Past generations, both domestic and international, have asked, “how do you solve a problem like Africa?” Yet now, in 2016, the mindset is beginning to shift. With many of the biggest problems on their way to being overcome, the world’s second biggest continent is facing a future of prosperity and increasing improvements, with investments continually pouring money into the continent. While momentum remains a case of “slow and steady” rather than “rapid, unparalleled success”, optimism is high that the continent is entering a new dawn, economically, socially, and culturally.
What drives the optimism?
It’s not always the first thing mentioned when Africa is discussed, by the continent’s economy is in pretty excellent shape, especially when compared to elsewhere in the world during recession periods. When things were tough in the rest of the world, it was only Asia and Africa with economies that continued to grow.
Part of this is down to Africa’s appeal with foreign investors. There were times, recent times, when few thought of investing in a nation that was blighted with many social and logistical issues – but those issues are slowly being swept away. Social reforms and an infrastructure overhaul has enabled Africa to become a much greater part of the world economy. There’s also the matter of improved domestic productivity and wealth; Africa now has a middle class that is 300 million+ strong, with, and an overhaul population that spends more than $1 trillion each year. Whichever way you look at it, this resembles an exciting business environment.
Africa is a continent that hasn’t yet experienced the population boom that occurred elsewhere in the world. As the economy and resources continue to improve, this will begin to change, and within fifty years it could be the case that Africa represents the largest workforce of any continent. This is going to coincide with a shrinking workforce elsewhere in the already developed parts of the world, which experienced their population boom many decades ago and are now starting to plateau. If Africa can provide the jobs required to employ the large workforce in coming years, then it could be looking at a huge economy, which won’t just bring it up to speed with other areas of the world – but may even start to rival them on their own.
Historically, it was the case that there was no economy if things didn’t grow in the ground. That was the bedrock of success. But now? Not so much. With the advent of technologies, these problems are becoming surmountable, and Africa may just be the one that benefits. Agriculture, once a thorn in Africa’s side, might become a staple of its economy. With the problem of how to feed seven billion people – especially with climate change affecting crops elsewhere – Africa will become an important player on the global agriculture scene. Already, 45 firms have invested billions of dollars into Africa’s agriculture, the effects of which we will see in the coming decades. Tourism, too, is set to explode in Africa. For too long, it has been one of the few places on earth where international tourists have feared to tread. With an increasingly progressive society – and, perhaps most important of all, less wars taking place – tourists will slowly but surely start visiting Africa as they do elsewhere. Kenya has already seen a lot of growth on its own, with first rate resorts and tourism venues being built, and this will spread to other countries too.
It isn’t all plain sailing for Africa, which is still dogged with many innate issues that will have to be overcome. While the continent is mostly at peace, civil war and corruption are never too far away – and definitely can’t be treated as relics of the part just yet. Similarly, while business opportunities for foreign and wealth domestic business people may be good, there are still some major obstacles for the everyday citizen. Nineteen of the top 25 countries with poor water access are in Africa. Even when it comes to modern “problems”, Africa can lag behind – it falls well below the global average for internet access, and one study also suggests that only around 10% of African citizens have access to the insurance services that can ensure that things can be OK when they go wrong. If the economy is to grow for everyone, rather than just a few at the top, then these will need to be rectified.