Recently the Foreign Affairs published an article, “Africa’s Economic Boom: Why the Pessimists and the Optimists are Both Right,” by Shantayanan Devarajan and Wolfgang Fengler.
Yet the biggest takeaway in two essential paragraphs:
What should we make of all the contradictory evidence? At first glance, these two narratives seem irreconcilable. It turns out, however, that both are right, or at least reflect aspects of a more complex reality, which neither fully captures.
Whilst the skeptics focus so much on the region’s commodity exports that they fail to grasp the extent to which its recent growth is a result of economic reforms (many of which were necessitated by the misguided policies of the past), the optimists, meanwhile, underestimate the degree to which the region’s remaining problems — such as sclerotic institutions, low levels of education, and substandard health care — reflect government failures that will be very difficult to overcome because they are deeply rooted in political conflict.
“However, even if both narratives are reductive, the optimists’ view of Africa’s future is ultimately closer to the mark and more likely to be borne out by developments in the coming decades. Africa will continue to face daunting obstacles on its ongoing path to prosperity, especially when it comes to improving its human capital: the education, skills, and health of its population. But the success of recent reforms and the increased openness of its societies, fueled in part by new information and communications technologies, give Africa a good chance of enjoying sustained growth and poverty reduction in the decades to come,” wrote the Foreign Policy Association.
A significant factor in the “both are right even if one is more right” conclusion is that old problem with those who refer to Africa — Africa is a vast continent with 54 nation states and innumerable cultures and subcultures, economies and sub-economies, and communities and sub-communities. Speaking of Africa as a whole is something of a myth.
The continent that contains BRICS member South Africa also contains the Central African Republic, the continent that contains densely populated potential regional superpower Nigeria also contains sparsely populated potential regional superpower Kenya. Ethiopia and Madagascar share a continent but not necessarily a whole lot more in common.
Ultimately, Africa contains multitudes, and discussing multitudes in the singular is deeply problematic.