Are rumors of Africa’s growth greatly exaggerated? ”The myth of Africa’s rise” by Foreignpolicy.com thinks so. Recent high growth rates and increased foreign investment in Africa have given rise to the idea that the continent is rapidly developing. What’s wrong in this positive narrative of Africa’s development prospects, the article argues, is the problematic way national economic development has come to be understood in the age of free market globalization. Unhelpful indicators are used to gauge Africa’s development, which
look to Africa’s recent high GDP growth rates, rising per capita incomes, and the explosive growth of mobile phones and mobile phone banking as evidence that Africa is ”developing”.
Other factors, such as tourism, retail, growth in Africa’s trade with the rest of the world, new discoveries of oil and gas reserves have also been used as indicative of Africa’s rise.
However, the article continues, these indicators only give a partial picture of how well development is progressing. There is something wrong with the very understanding of what development is. Like with so many mainstream terminology (”democracy” also being in a definition crisis of ranging depth),
rich countries figured out long ago, if economies are not moving out of dead-end activities that only provide diminishing returns over time (primary agriculture and extractive activities such as mining, logging, and fisheries), and into activities that provide increasing returns over time (manufacturing and services), then you can’t really say they are developing.
There is often little (if any) mention of manufacturing in the ”Africa rising” scenario, which would provide us with a more precise picture of how well Africa is developing. This indirectly confirms the
extent to which the idea of development as industrialization has been abandoned in recent decades.
There has been little movement towards the increased manufacturing of labor-intensive job creation that is needed for Africa to ”rise”.
Africa’s growth tends to be concentrated on a limited range of commodities and the extractive industries. These sectors are not generating the employment opportunities that would allow the majority of the population to share in the benefits. Furthermore, a widening divide between rich and poor, sends a warning of growing inequality as Africa’s “progress” continues (see previous post “Dynamic development – Dual realities as the African economic boom continues”).
There are definite merits to the arguments laid out in this article, and the need for industrialization is true for the same reasons that it was true for nations that have industrialized successfully. There is a reason that countries in the West are often referred to as ‘the industrialized countries’. However, it is unproductive and inaccurate to maintain a skewed picture of a helpless, war-torn continent. Even if Africa’s growth is exaggerated and perhaps based on a skewed analysis of free market factors, let us continue to support small businesses and help them expand, giving them the means to create employment in the local community that will improve societal conditions to further the social development that we value as the core of development.