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The Fastest Billion
China accelerated the process still further over the past 30 years. Today Africa
has the greatest room to boom on the back of two centuries of global progress.
The take-off in Africa began around the turn of the century, 40 years after in-
dependence. Why not earlier? Because human capital was extremely constrained
by a lack of primary and secondary education, while global capital could find
better opportunities in countries such as China. Political leaders in the 1960s
and 1970s were inexperienced, often self-serving and were offered contradic-
tory advice on how best to develop a country. There were no strong Asian role
models to emulate. International involvement in Africa was too often geared
towards Cold War geopolitics, feeding civil wars and strife, rather than trade and
What has changed? Many governments have learnt from their mistakes and
seen the positive reform examples not just in Asia, but more importantly in
Africa itself, from Mauritius to Botswana and Cape Verde, and now Ghana to
Rwanda. In most countries there has been no single reform miracle, such as Deng
Xiaoping’s first embrace of market capitalism in 1978 or India’s shift in 1991.
Yet by gradually reducing the obstacles to business, the private sector has been
able to thrive and aspirations have grown. Governments have supported this by
using foreign debt forgiveness programmes to put public finances on a sound
footing, and have been able to deliver the essentials of strong primary educa-
tion and wider access to secondary school education. This in turn has provided
higher-quality public administration and better workforces for the private sector.
Higher growth has resulted, reinforcing government finances and providing
funds for infrastructure investment. Stronger growth and good public finances—
Africa’s numbers are far better than those of Europe, the US or Japan—has
helped draw in record levels of foreign private-sector capital. The success of
companies such as MTN has encouraged new foreign investors to seek out the
opportunities in the continent. Productivity has improved as foreign investment
has seen mobile telephony sweep the continent, making business and indeed gov-
ernment easier for all those now able to use a phone. That IT revolution is now
fostering a banking revolution, with Kenya’s Equity Bank a leading example. At a
time when excessive debt threatens to sink peripheral Europe, Africa has begun a
banking revolution that should help the continent thrive.
The additional kicker of higher commodity prices after the 1980–2000 bear
market has undoubtedly helped. Oil revenues that averaged approximately $34
billion per year in SSA in the 1990s more than trebled to $124 billion by 2005