I’m getting somewhat tired of the world’s business elite touting Africa as the ‘new engine of growth’. It’s crock. The whole of Africa’s GDP, including Africa’s larger economies of South Africa, Egypt and Nigeria, is comparable to the GDP of Holland, Belgium and Luxembourg. Sure, particularly east and west Africa are seeing decent annual economic growth, at least on paper, of around six percent, but virtually no one, not even the vast majority of Africans, will actually benefit from this growth.
Sure, there is plenty of money to be made and, particularly in the last few years, with the discovery of new oil and gas fields under African soil, there are plenty of opportunities, at least for the Shells of this world, but little of that wealth trickles down, besides more jobs being made available for car washers and the like, for the fleets of Mercedes and Hummers that the business and political elites will acquire through their murky kickbacks. At least in the short run. There *are* opportunities that can benefit the common man, but as long as these countries don’t invest in education, infrastructure and healthcare, the best that can happen is for the diasporas of these countries to return to their homelands and invest their foreign cash in products and services that will benefit the elites. And, perhaps, changes resulting from those investments will trickle down more readily, though that will take many years.
And, no, China, too will not be Africa’s savior. Sure, they are investing, but only to benefit themselves, as they have been doing for many a decade, the Zambia to Tanzania railway, built by the Chinese in the 70s being one of the first examples; in the public’s eye unlocking the ability to travel fairly reliably and comfortably from the Swahili coast to the heart of the butterfly of Africa, China’s sole ambition was to unlock the mines of Zambia’s copper belt, to more easily transport the goods from the north west of Zambia to the east coast of Africa at minimum transport costs and times.
And, of course, more modern Chinese infrastructural ventures are little different. If the Chinese don’t benefit directly from the infrastructure they create, it’s because they’re building them in exchange for concession rights on mining natural resources.
Sure, there is growth in Africa, but only because there is still so much to exploit. The only difference between now and, say, seventy years ago or so is that the money made with this exploitation is calculated as economic growth for the countries that are losing their resources, because now this profit is routed through internationally recognized business entities. In the past, all that money disappeared in colonial state coffers.
Then again, if enough people claim Africa *is* the new economic engine, this bubble will obviously keep on growing for a while. With the global economic bubble having been popped, the economic elite needs to explore other venues.
Meanwhile, in Dar
After not even a week in Kampala, I was whisked away to Dar es Salaam. Building a rather straightforward website for the National Audit Office of Tanzania (not live as I write this), Twaweza was so kind as to fly me in for a few weeks.
Dar is treating me well. Lots of activities have kept me busy on most nights, including a decent Francophone month, organized by the Alliance Francaise and an amazing night with live bands and dancers at Nafasi art space.