Is this Africa's decade?

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:


Alice Ajeh
international relations manager - Nigeria, Shell

Angus Kennedy
convenor, The Academy; author, Being Cultured: in defence of discrimination

Mariéme Jamme
CEO, SpotOne Global Solutions; co-founder, Africa Gathering; blogger and social entrepreneur

Sam Mendelson
co-founder, Social Performance Advisory; contributing writer, Prospect and Africa Investor

Christine Thompson
manager, UK government relations, SABMiller

Joel Cohen
communications manager, BeyondMe

Produced by
Joel Cohen communications manager, BeyondMe
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