The Dark Continent: Increasing potential as a global economic power

Nineteenth century Europeans labeled Africa “The Dark Continent” — not, as many think, because of the color of the natives, but because in that era it was mysterious, unexplored, a harsh, dangerous place that only the bravest dared go.

Today’s news reports — deadly Ebola disease, genocidal dictators who have brutally slaughtered and maimed hundreds of thousands of their own citizens, piracy on the seas, rampant government corruption — only compound the impression that many have of a continent on the bottom rungs of world civilization and progress.

Yet, analysts predict that an increasingly urbanized Africa can be a $1 trillion food market by 2030, leaps and bounds ahead of the current $315 billion.

A 2013 World Bank report noted that Africa has more than half the world’s fertile, but unused land, and it uses only about 2 percent of its renewable water resources, compared to a world average of 5 percent. But after-harvest losses are as high as 15-20 percent due to inadequate storage and farm infrastructure.

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Africa is the world’s largest importer and consumer of rice, and many of its countries can’t even meet their own food requirements. In some countries, poverty is endemic; in Angola, two-thirds of the population subsists on $2 per day.

Demographers project that, because of higher life expectancy, half the world’s future population growth will come in Africa, with an adult population of 800 million by 2030 (almost double the 460 million in 2010), and an astounding 2.2 billion by 2100. They also predict that by 2100 every continent will have large populations of aged — except Africa. In Sub-Saharan Africa now, 43 percent of the population is under age 15; contrast that to 15 percent in Europe and 20 percent in the U.S.

Many of the world’s fastest-growing economies are in Africa: Sierra Leone had an annual GDP growth of 18.2 percent in 2012, Niger 11.2 percent; Ivory Coast 9.8 percent; Ethiopia 8.5 percent. In some ways, Africa has leapfrogged past its decades of lack of development; for example, many countries went from limited telecommunications directly to cell phones. With more than 600 million cell phone users, Africa ranks ahead of the U.S. or Europe. It has a middle class larger than India, and it’s expected — as was the case in China and India — that increased capitalism will spur a large percentage of the next generation’s global business executives.

But all this potential is not without weighty challenges: fostering economies that will create jobs for all those young people, attracting investment from other nations (China now leads that pack), building infrastructure, and quelling the problems of unrest, disease, poverty, lack of education, and governmental repression/corruption that have so long been endemic there.

 

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