Africa matters. Yes, media coverage of the continent tends to focus on the bad news like civil wars, coups, corruption, poverty, and disease. And, much of Africa suffered a kind of lost decade in the 1990s, as many of its most brutal post-colonial regimes finally fell from power and civil strife engulfed them. Think Rwanda, the Congo, Liberia, Sudan, and Sierra Leone. Chaos and war and famine reigned in the 1980s and earlier in some countries.
But Ali asks, is Africa poised to turn it all around and be the next big global success story? Could it one day command as much of the world’s attention and respect (and trade and investment) as Asia does now?
It’s a little hard to generalize about such a vast and diverse continent. As this striking map shows, the United States and China and India and Western Europe could all fit inside of Africa, with room to spare. The Congo alone is about as large as the USA west of the Mississippi. Africa contains one-fifth of the world’s population (1.2 billion) and will hold one-fourth of it by 2050. In terms of diversity, how about 54 countries, some thinly-peopled desert nations, others tropical, others mountainous. Africa possesses vast natural resources, a rapidly-growing young labor force, and a lot of recent industrial and technological success to brag about. The links below give more details.
the continent has a long list of problems, as well. Civil wars, communal violence, and terrorism still plague some African nations. There is enormous rural and urban poverty, corrupt governance and weak civil societies. In many countries, institutions essential to economic/social development are underdeveloped, like infrastructure, K-12 education, agriculture, and public health.
Yet…so was East Asia’s! Maybe the real underlying issue here is one we have discussed before: What’s the secret sauce of economic, social, and political development? What can African nations do (individually, since “Africa” doesn’t do anything, and together, since regional cooperation is underdeveloped too.) to help themselves turn the corner? How long will it be before centuries of foreign exploitation and decades of local misrule are a memory? Finally, what can we (the United States, the West, whoever else) do to help?
Africa is a yawning gap in my international knowledge. I will cook up a brief intro to our topic and then we can discuss. I hope we can take a stab at answering Ali’s question and coming up with factors might determine if Africa’s rosy future ever comes true.
DISCUSSION QUESTIONS –
- How has Africa fared in the 21st century? In general, big anchor countries, smaller nations?
- Reasons to be optimistic? People, leaders, institutions, economies, etc.
- Pessimistic same. Worst problems and emerging problems.
- What needs to be done: By Africans? By outsiders?
SUGGESTED BACKGROUND READING –
About Africa –
- 3 anchor countries: Nigeria, Kenya, and South Africa.
- Smaller ones matter to overall picture, too.
- FYI, BBC country profiles.
Africa’s immense prospects – and problems.
- Good overview. Recommended.
- 6 numbers that show the future is African. 9 charts showing Africa is the demographic and economic future. Either/both.
- 6 big priorities – and challenges. Recommended.
Some specific problems –
- Political leadership they need most. Recommended.
- Colonial-era borders will always be a problem.
- Electrifying Africa is alone a huge challenge.
- Automation and AI could put Africa’s exploding labor force out of work. Recommended.
- Climate: Africa is very vulnerable but there’s a lot we don’t know.
Specific Countries –
- [Maybe I’ll add some this weekend.]
NEXT WEEK: Does history have a direction or goal?