Saturday 29 October, 5.15pm until 6.30pm, Lecture Theatre 1
Following the successful 2010 World Cup in South Africa, the new decade is looking bright for Africa. In recent years, Africa’s share of global trade has reversed a six-decade pattern of decline; the discovery of exportable natural resources and increased competition between the EU and China for African markets have, in the eyes of many, produced a new age of optimism for the ‘dark continent’. In fact, over the past ten years, six of the world’s ten fastest-growing economies were in sub-Saharan Africa. Angola beat China to the top with annual average GDP growth of 11.1%. In the next five years, African countries are predicted to outperform their Asian counterparts. Of course, Africa still only accounts for 2% of world output – and it’s easy to grow fast when you are small – but nonetheless the lion is on the move, along with the elephant and the tiger. And it makes a huge difference to people’s lives: the African Development Bank reports that one-third of Africans are now ‘middle-class’, having between $2 and $20 a day to spend. 10 years ago nearly two-thirds were living on less than $2 a day.
While the situation has undoubtedly improved, though, some worry Africa has replaced its long-standing dependence on aid with other forms of dependence. Much growth has been based either on foreign – principally Chinese – direct investment, or on high commodity prices and overseas demand for Africa’s natural resources. Is there not a bitter irony, in a continent that has seen so much famine, that China, India, South Korea and the Gulf States are buying up vast tracts of fertile land to allay their concerns about food insecurity? Does Africa face subjection to new colonialist powers? Does it still labour under a ‘resource curse’ - the perennial downside of natural wealth - or is it different this time? And what about political as well as economic progress? Angola’s Jose Santos has been in power for 32 years, Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe for 31, Uganda’s Yoweri Museveni for 25. Will growth also bring democracy, or must there be an African Spring first?
Elections are still a fragile process and politics is still dominated by urban elites to the exclusion of rural citizens. How long can the colonial legacy reasonably be blamed for Africa’s problems? Does the new optimism reflect a self-sustaining dynamic, or is foreign aid and intervention still the only solution to Africa’s problems? Could Africa prosper without overcoming its political limitations? Or does its economic development offer new hopes for social change across the continent?
Listen to session audio:
international relations manager - Nigeria, Shell
head of external relations, Institute of Ideas; convenor, The Academy; author, Being Cultured: in defence of discrimination (forthcoming)
CEO, SpotOne Global Solutions; co-founder, Africa Gathering; blogger and social entrepreneur
co-founder, Social Performance Advisory; contributing writer, Prospect and Africa Investor
manager, UK government relations, SABMiller
politics student, SOAS; freelance journalist and reviewer
“Historically the Angolans worked for the Portuguese, but now it’s the Portuguese who are working for the Angolans,” says Paulo Pimenta, a Portuguese lawyer based in Mozambique. “People have to get used to it.”Economist, 4 September 2011
Africans are relishing something of a reversal in roles. The former colonial powers in Europe are wrestling with debt crises, austerity budgets, rising unemployment and social turmoil. By contrast much of sub-Saharan Africa can point to robust growth, better balanced books and rising capital inflows.William Wallis, Financial TImes, 18 August 2011
China’s oil trade with Africa is dominated by an opaque syndicate. Ordinary Africans appear to do badly out of its hugely lucrative deals.Economist, 13 August 2011
There is no controversy in saying that shoddy infrastructure is holding the continent back. But how to finance more of it? Some want to divert aid money. Suggesting that an engineering firm might make better use of charity than Oxfam or Save the Children sounded like heresy once. But the terms of the debate have shifted—for several reasons.Economist, 22 July 2011
Africa is now one of the world’s fastest-growing regionsEconomist, 6 January 2011
Two-way trade between Africa and China from January to November this year was worth US$114.8 billion, that is a 43.5% increase over the same period last year according to Beijing. These figures reinforce China's position as the single biggest trading partner with Africa, and one that is catching up fast with the entire European Union.Patrick Smith, Africa Confidential, 29 December 2010
Is it really true that underground riches lead to aboveground woes? No, not really.Charles Kenny, Foreign Policy, 7 December 2010
Economies are growing, émigrés returning and attitudes towards corruption beginning to change.Jonathan Dimbleby, Daily Telegraph, 31 May 2010
China’s relationship with Africa is no threat to the West - all the major economies are gaining from a continent that is no longer a ‘basket case’.Stuart Simpson, spiked, 5 December 2007