Economist Doubles Down on Africa Rising Meme

The Economist magazine declared that Africa was rising with a cover and series of articles in December 2011. “Yet against that depressingly familiar backdrop, some fundamental numbers are moving in the right direction (see article). Africa now has a fast-growing middle class: according to Standard Bank, around 60m Africans have an income of $3,000 a year, and 100m will in 2015. The rate of foreign investment has soared around tenfold in the past decade,” they told readers.

The declaration was met by both support and opposition which culminated in a pair of articles in Foreign Policy that were a point and counter point over whether or not Africa is really rising. It started with Rick Rowden who said that it is a myth. The growth is not reaching all people on the continent and policies are preventing the continent from rising as boosters claim.

Though African countries desperately need the policy space to adopt industrial policies, the rich countries are pushing loan conditions and trade and investment agreements that block them from doing so, all the while proffering a happy narrative about “the rise of Africa.”

Charles Robertson and Michael Moran followed up with their own article saying that Rowden is wrong. Africa is really rising. They point to indicators that show things are in fact getting better, but end up arguing for the idea by applying a different definition from Rowden. The conversation continued in the comments section, blog posts were written, snarky tweets followed and so on.

The disagreement over Africa’s rise proceeds onward. That now brings us to the latest from the Economist. Oliver August, the Africa editor for The Economist explains yet another report from the magazine that looks at some 55 countries across the continent. This time around, the focus is on what the people on the continent have accomplished.

Africans deserve the credit. Western aid agencies, Chinese mining companies and UN peacekeepers have done their bit, but the continent’s main saviours are its own people. They are embracing modern technology, voting in ever more elections and pressing their leaders to do better. A sense of hope abounds.

With more reporting on growth in Africa, will the debate over whether it is rising or not finally be put to rest? Looks unlikely.

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Tom Murphy

Tom Murphy is a New Hampshire-based reporter for Humanosphere. Before joining Humanosphere, Tom founded and edited the aid blog A View From the Cave. His work has appeared in Foreign Policy, the Huffington Post, the Guardian, GlobalPost and Christian Science Monitor. He tweets at @viewfromthecave. Contact him at tmurphy[at]humanosphere.org.