Africas Economic Star Set to Shine Brighter

Africa’s economic future looks bright, although environmental and political problems will continue to cloud that forecast in the coming years, frustrating efforts at reducing poverty and ending inequality, experts have said.

In presenting the key findings of the Institute for Security Studies’ “African Futures 2050” report, director Jakkie Cilliers cautioned that its projections are based on the assumption that “things will carry on as they are now.” But unforeseen developments are certain to occur.

“The current underlying trends are quite positive,” he said at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies, a leading US think tank.

Africans, on average, will probably be much richer in 2050 than today, the study suggests. It calculates that per capita GDP will nearly double, as measured in constant purchasing power — from $900 now to $1,760 in 40 years’ time. By then, African countries, including Tanzania, will account for seven of the world’s 10 fastest-growing economies. Africa’s economic growth rate will, on the whole, have surpassed Asia’s by 2050 .

Such a take-off will occur “despite government rather than because of it,” Mr Cilliers said. He likened Africa’s trajectory to that of India, in that development will take place “from the bottom up. Africans will no longer accept the quality of leadership that they have had for the past 40 years.”

A greater degree of assertiveness will pose major threats to many countries’ political leadership, especially due to the expected “massive growth of uneducated or poorly educated” sectors of society, he said.

Africa’s total population is projected to increase from about one billion today to 1.5 billion by 2050. The continent will then account for 23 per cent of global population, compared to 15 per cent now.

That rise in human numbers may be seen as positive because of “the robust relation between population, urbanisation and economic growth,” Mr Cilliers said. At the same time, Africa’s population expansion is contributing to a gain in global economic output– from $60 trillion to $110 trillion by 2050 — placing “an immense burden on the planet,” Mr Cilliers warned. Climate change is already starting to present impediments to Africa’s prospects, he noted, citing water shortages, decreasing yields and increasing food prices.

Stimulating trade among African countries is “a precondition for economic growth,” Mr Cilliers said, noting that only 12 per cent of Africa’s trade currently takes place within the continent. Africa must also intensively develop its manufacturing sector and bring about a green revolution in agriculture if its economic growth is to be translated into job creation on a large scale.

East Africa seems more likely to make progress in reducing poverty than does either West or Central Africa. The absolute number of people living in abject poverty — less than $1.25 a day — will actually increase in Central Africa in the coming years, while “things don’t look so good in West Africa, either,” Mr Cilliers said.

He called attention to the demographic pre-dominance of both East and West Africa in comparison to the continent’s other regions. East and West Africa will each have about 700 million people by 2050.