Recently, the New York Times carried a story titled “Africa on the Rise”, by one of its leading columnists Nicholas Kristof who is on an Africa tour. He writes:
“Generations of Americans have learned to pity Africa. It’s mainly seen as a quagmire of famine and genocide, a destination only for a sybaritic safari or a masochistic aid mission. So here’s another way to think of Africa: an economic dynamo.”
It’s remarkable how quickly Africa’s image has soared across the globe in the last few years, especially among investors and the world media. It is a sharp contrast to what one would hear about Africa only a decade ago when the Economist described it as “the Hopeless Continent”. Last year it hailed Africa as “the Hopeful Continent”. Africa’s new brand as a rising economic frontier is of course well deserved. It has become more democratic and is currently among the fastest growing regions on the planet.
But Kristof thinks most Americans still don’t get it:
“Africa is becoming more democratic, more technocratic and more market-friendly. Yet Americans are largely oblivious to the idea of Africa as a success story.”
American investors, he believes, have a lot to learn from their Chinese counterparts:
“While America may largely misperceive Africa as a disaster zone, China does get the promise on the continent. Everywhere you turn in Africa these days there are Chinese businesspeople seeking to invest in raw materials and agriculture. But American businesses seem to be only beginning to wake up to the economic potential here.”
Mr. Kristof thinks the American media may be a big part of the problem; and that it needs to catch up with a changing Africa:
“One of the problems with journalism is that we focus on disasters. We cover planes that crash, not those that take off. In Africa, that means we cover famine in Somalia and genocide in Sudan, terrorism in Nigeria and warlords in Congo. Those are important stories — deserving more attention, not less — but they can also leave a casual reader convinced that all of Africa is lurching between genocide and famine”
It is good to see that the New York Times is itself catching up with a changing Africa. More of the American press should do same.
In a recent keynote speech to the 2012 Diageo Africa Business Reporting Awards in London, president of the African Center for Economic Transformation (ACET) Dr. K.Y. Amoako spoke about this “positive loop” of good news about Africa – where one good news begets another – and praised the journalists who have helped to create this virtuous circle. But he also warned about the risk that this optimism about Africa could collapse if the recent encouraging economic growth that underpins it is not sustained. He said:
“Economic growth is necessary, but it’s not sufficient. If it’s not sustained, if it’s not shared, then it can trigger a negative loop. So how do we sustain it? How do we share it? How do we keep from blowing another opportunity? The answer, in my view, is economic transformation – to shift the structure of our economies from low value and volatile commodities to high value products and services so as to compete in global markets and to grow rapidly for shared prosperity.
So here is truly another way to think about Africa: as an economic dynamo. But there is an even more crucial way we should desire to see Africa – as an economic dynamo on the path to real economic transformation.