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There are no tigers in Africa,
but the lions are coming



Jonathan Power
TFF Associate since 1991

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December 6, 2006

LONDON - In a speech the other day one of Tanzania’s new breed of remarkable entrepreneurs, Ali Mufuruki, chairman of Infotech Investment Group, made a withering public attack on African defensiveness about its appalling economic record:

• “If the excuse is colonialism then compare the experience of Africa with that of Korea, which after decades of the most brutal form of colonial oppression, exploitation and humiliation, plunged into a civil war that killed more than one million of its people and split the country into two parts. Today South Korea is the tenth biggest economy in the world.”
• “India was long colonised by the British. Today Indians are the third biggest investors in the UK.”

• “If the excuse is civil war or liberation war then look at Vietnam. Three decades ago it was split in two, its infrastructure completely destroyed and millions killed. Today it is one of the most influential players in global trade.”

• “If your excuse is bad weather then compare your fate with that of the Arabs living on a desolate piece of desert called Dubai. How in twenty-five years did they transform this piece of desert into a vibrant and thriving metropolis of global proportions?”

• “If your excuse is living too far away from sea ports or navigable rivers then how do explain the success of landlocked Botswana when ideally located Somalia is teetering on the brink of self-destruction?”

Bully for this honest African self-criticism. But you should only believe half of it. Yes it’s true of Somalia and the Congo and perhaps another dozen African countries. But it is rapidly becoming an outdated caricature, as Mr Mufuruki should know from the rapid progress of his own country since it turned its back on the socialist ideals of its founding father, Julius Nyerere.

Last month John Lipsky, the ex Wall Street banker and now the International Monetary Fund’s deputy managing director, whilst visiting Mali, said he expects the average rate of growth for sub-Saharan Africa to be 6% next year.

In fact we have had an inkling of this good news for over twenty years now - that’s when the Ivory Coast hit 7% growth and stayed there- until its president, the grand old man of Africa, Felix Houphouet-Boigny, died in 1993 and the country fell apart into ethnic feuding. Botswana was also a great success, becoming for a while in the 1990s the world’s fastest growing economy. It spent its money well and still does. Alas, the tragedy of AIDS hit it harder than elsewhere and knocked an enormous hole in the growth rate. Gradually it is now pulling itself out of it.

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The IMF’s latest “Regional Economic Outlook” makes the point if African countries can achieve an annual rate of growth of 7% they should be able to halve poverty by 2015. Tanzania itself is well on the road to such progress. In Nigeria, the continent’s most populous country, growth is a firm 7%. Despite the press reporting the country as an ongoing disaster with political feuding and deeply embedded corruption, it is getting on top of many of its problems- its macro economy is in balance and there is strong growth in the non-oil sector. In Angola, not very long ago the country on the continent most devastated by war, growth is nearly 16% a year and an increasing proportion of that growth is likewise coming from the non-oil sector and rising agricultural output. In Mozambique, another war-ravaged country where growth is now over 10% (without an oil sector), Tony Blair’s Commission for Africa report noted that poverty has been reduced from 80% of the population in the 1990s to around 50% today. Even in the war-torn Democratic Republic of the Congo the IMF believes now that the elections have been held and if the country can avoid a new round of civil war growth will be over 7% next year.

Although South Africa’s growth is a modest 4.2% it is an impressive rate by the country’s historical standards. It is Africa’s largest market, an increasingly important source of investment and a major driving force in the region. Its entrepreneurs have spread all over the continent- in Tanzania, for example, running telecommunication and airline companies. Its young black executives have been turning heads in Dar es Salaam.

It’s true that Africa has spent too much time since independence arrived making excuses and wasting its resources. But this laid-back, self-indulgent, attitude is undoubtedly metamorphosing into a something very different. There are no tigers in Africa, but watch the lions. I believe they will soon be roaring.


Copyright © 2006 Jonathan Power


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