Aspiring Africa: a welcome transformation, but still incomplete

Celebrations are in order on the poorest continent. Never in the half-century since it won independence from the colonial powers has Africa been in such good shape. Its economy is flourishing. Most countries are at peace. Ever fewer children bear arms and record numbers go to school. Mobile phones are as ubiquitous as they are in India and, in the worst-affected countries, HIV infections have fallen by up to three-quarters. Life expectancy rose by a tenth in the past decade and foreign direct investment has tripled. Consumer spending will almost double in the next ten years; the number of countries with average incomes above $1,000 per person a year will grow from less than half of Africa’s 55 states to three-quarters.

Africans deserve the credit. Western aid agencies, Chinese mining companies and UN peacekeepers have done their bit, but the continent’s main saviours are its own people. They are embracing modern technology, voting in ever more elections and pressing their leaders to do better. A sense of hope abounds. Africans rightly take pride in conferences packed with Western bankers keen to invest in their capital markets (see article). Within the next few months MasterCard will have issued South Africans with 10m debit cards. Even the continent’s politicians are doing a bit better, especially in economic management and striking peace deals. Average GDP growth is humming along, at about 6%. Governance is improving: our correspondent visited 23 countries to research this week’s special report and was not once asked for a bribe—inconceivable only ten years ago.

This is a welcome transformation, but it is still incomplete. The danger is that Africa settles for today’s pace of change. Only if Africans raise their ambitions still further will they reach their full potential. They need to take on the difficult jobs of building infrastructure, rooting out corruption and clearing the tangle of government regulation that is still holding them back. And they should hurry.

Africa’s citizens are already striving to become more productive. Farmers have started using hand-held gadgets to gain access to weather reports. Slums too are teeming with technology. The internet is changing the way the continent does business. In Kenya a third of GDP flows through a mobile money-transfer system set up by a private telecoms company.

But Africa’s entrepreneurs are often stymied by the state. The bottom third countries in the World Bank’s ease-of-business ranking are almost all in Africa. Their people could easily have better lives; abundant capital and technology offer big opportunities. The infrastructure is improving—only 5% of the 15,800 miles travelled for our special report was on unpaved roads—but the power grid is a disaster. On the whole, government officials should focus less on building things than getting out of the way.

Read the full original article in Economist

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