Africa: how fast is Sub-Saharan Africa growing?

How big is it now, and how important to the global economy is it becoming?

In October 2010, The Economist alerted its readers to the fact that Sub-Saharan Africa had "scarcely missed a beat during the global crisis thanks to improved macro-economic policy".  The newspaper noted the speed of growth in a range of these African lion economies:
Growth in this huge region has been more than merely impressive.  It's grown from around US$3bn in 1980 to circa US$1.9trn in 2010, according to the World Bank.  Regional growth is running at 5.3% in 2011 and projected at 5.9% for 2012, according to IMF figures.  At this stage the region's economy is bigger than Canada's, but smaller than Italy's.  That will change at this rate of advancement.  

Individually, these countries' economies are small.  The largest, South Africa, ranks only at number 29 in the 2010 IMF list of countries as measured by GDP.  Despite it's impressive growth, Ghana sits only at number 100 on that list.

But, as Stephen Jennings, the New Zealander in charge of the Russian investment bank Renaissance Group, said in May 2011, “the continent will deliver the fastest growth in the world, faster than Asia has ever done."  Bloomberg reported that Renaissance "plans to make more investments in Africa as the value of its assets in the world’s poorest continent climbs to more than $1 billion."

Turkey is getting much more deeply involved with the continent.  Chinese investment in Africa is already huge as it scours the world searching for resources.  And other investors are piling in.  Jennings told Reuters “before the crisis, there were probably 40 people or groups establishing Africa funds.  In 3-4 years you’ll have 100 Africa funds and the biggest one won’t be $2 billion, it’ll be $20 billion."  Reuters notes "Fund tracker EPFR reports 43 consecutive weeks of net inflows to Africa equities funds, reaching $484 million in the first half of 2010 - nearly double those to India over the same period. Africa’s advocates say the inflows stand to accelerate rapidly as a dearth of attractive returns in the developed world pulls investors in while a more stable political and economic environment indicates diminishing risks."

While many of these countries fledgling democracies may not yet meet standards akin to western models, elections have enabled peaceful transfers of power and delivered more stable government.  Corruption and inefficency might not yet be eradicated or even hugely reduced, but better management of economies is producing positive results.   

Matthew Parris' asserts in a brilliant piece in The Times in 2008 that "anxiety - fear of evil spirits, of ancestors, of nature and the wild, of a tribal hierarchy, of quite everyday things - strikes deep into the whole structure of rural African thought.  Every man has his place and, call it fear or respect, a great weight grinds down the individual spirit, stunting curiosity.  People won't take the initiative, won't take things into their own hands or on their own shoulders."  Parris argued that Christianity in general, and Missions in particular, liberated people from these constraints and fears.  He concluded, "removing Christian evangelism from the African equation may leave the continent at the mercy of a malign fusion of Nike, the witch doctor, the mobile phone and the machete."

Since 2008 this new scramble for Africa has developed into a phenomenon of global proportions.  Africa might not be perfect, but it's certainly set to become far more significant as an investment opportunity and provider of resources.  Its population density is still relatively small, although that's rapidly changing. The Economist calculated that by 2050, at current birth rates, some of the world's most populated countries will be African.  Nigeria, in 2008 the world's eighth largest by population, will leap from 152m to 289m by 2050.  Congo will increase from 65m to 148m over those forty-two years, Tanzania from 42m to 109m, Uganda from 32m to 91m, and Kenya from 39m to 85m.  Enhanced living standards could temper this growth, but didn't slow India's over an equivalent period.  Indeed, the population of the sub-Continental powerhouse is still expanding at an exponential rate, set as it is to overtake that of China soon.

It's likely that Africa's strategic, economic, political, and environmental impact is set to shift the axis of global power over the next generation or two.  Climate change notwithstanding.  Should the equatorial belt become uninhabitable due to rising temperatures, expect mass movements of humanity out towards the poles.

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