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Charles Robertson
and have since doubled again. Higher metal prices have seen new foreign direct
investment in mines and infrastructure that has dramatically accelerated growth
from Sierra Leone to Zambia. The stronger balance of payments has helped most
in the continent move away from the growth-destroying uncertainty of bouts
of currency weakness and very high inflation, towards a confidence-inducing
environment of low inflation and higher investment. Yet commodities cannot
take sole credit. Even those without mineral wealth are achieving great gains.
Oil does not explain the doubling of GDP in Ethiopia, Rwanda, Tanzania and
Uganda in the past decade. In these countries as well as the energy producers, the
benefits of better governance, stronger public finances (aided by large-scale debt
relief) and growth in the private sector have made Africa’s fastest billion people.
Why is the world slow to recognise Africa’s story? Partly the problem is
that too many compare Africa today with Western countries or even established
emerging markets today—rather than with OECD countries when they were at
similar income levels. Among existing eurozone member states, there has been
no military coup within the memory of most working-age adults (the last was
Portugal’s in 1974), but we’ve seen two in West Africa in 2012. The corrupt
politics and autocracy in many African countries is condemned without any refer-
ence to the fact that these were once common across Europe. Too many come
to the facile conclusion that Africans are not suited to democracy, or don’t care
about corruption, and this makes the continent un-investable. Such thinking was
wrong in Asia in the 1970s, and wrong in Europe prior to that. France, after all,
is still governed by a system born out of the coup that put General Charles de
Gaulle in power in 1958.
Moreover, there is too little knowledge of what is changing in Africa be-
cause few outsiders ever knew what
The Economist
once dubbed “the doomed
continent.” To be fair, the obvious improvement in Africa is only a little over a
decade old. Global attention has been focused on China’s dramatic rise from the
seventh-largest economy in 1999 to the second-largest in 2010, and the global
financial crisis since 2007. It takes time for us to update our views—where once
Hong Kong produced our cheap plastic toys and could not match the manufactur-
ing skills of Western Europe, now China manufactures the iPad with which you
may be reading this book. While Ethiopia in 1983-85 captured global attention
when autocratic government, drought and war produced a famine that impacted
horribly on 18 million children, no one now reports when it consistently suc-
ceeds in providing far more calories to 34 million children. Even the progress