A jubilant spirit of “Africa Rising” tolls the air. Nationally, the “emergence of Africa” will set the context for President Uhuru Kenyattas second State of the Nation Address.
Continentally, it was the focus of a high-level international conference convened by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in partnership with the World Bank Group, the African Development Bank and the Government of Cote dIvoire in Abidjan from March 18-20, 2015.
Whether the enchanted emergence of Africa is yet another false start or the proverbial white smoke that declares Africas historic rise into a global economic powerhouse was the question that concerned experts, academics and government officials at the forum.
Africas emergence is real, and its future certain. This was the ringing message by those who addressed the conference, including Presidents Alassane Ouatara of Cote dIvoire, Macky Sall of Senegal and former South African President Thabo Mbeki.
Kenya is firmly at the centre of the hopeful story of Africas emergence. It is Africas fastest growing economy, recently ranked third after Philippines and China in the worlds 20 fastest expanding economies. And in its latest Kenya Economic Update (KEU), the World Bank projects the country to expand by 6-7 per cent over the next three years (2015-2017).
Over the past decade, Africas image has changed dramatically from that of a “hopeless continent” to the worlds fastest growing continent. Its economy has expanded at a fast and sustained rise averaging at more than 5 per cent per year. In the next decade, Africas economies are expected to rise by an average of 6 per cent a year.
As such, the continent is no longer the hard-sell that it once used to be to local and foreign investors. The flow of Foreign Direct Investment has increased remarkably from $110 billion in 1998 to $554bn by 2010.
However, Africas FDI remains relatively small compared to other emerging markets such as China or Brazil, which attracted $579 billion and $473 billion respectively. It is estimated that Africa will need $200 per year to realise its vast potential.
Today, 22 African states are categorised as middle income economies and are expected to rise to 32 out of 55 by 2025. And Nigeria is producing more movies than America does.
Africas emergence is not coming by chance. It is a result of bold choices by its leaders. At the dawn of the new millennium, Thabo Mbeki popularised the idea of Africas rebirth or “renaissance,” inspiring the establishment of Renaissance Centres and Institutes in Universities to chart a practical policy path for Africas emergence.
Determined to make Africa attractive as a destination for foreign investment, the continents new generation of leaders adopted a “developmental state” as the engine driving this rise and invested in peace, security and democratic governance.
Today, much of Africa has fewer wars, better policies and decent governments held to account by an increasingly robust media.
Only four states – Eritrea, Swaziland, Libya and Somalia – lack a multiparty constitution, although poll losers have to accept results of elections to avoid violence.
The African Union has outlawed take-over of governments through military or military-backed civilian coup detats. Guns are now silent in former hotspots such as Angola, Chad, Liberia, Mozambique and Sierra Leone. And lingering conflicts in Congo, Somalia, South Sudan and Sudan are less deadly.
Cross-border commerce is on the rise as old political rivalries fizzle out and trade barriers and tariffs are removed. Countries like Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria and South Africa are investing across the continent.
Moreover, Africa is healthier today than ever. Malaria deaths are down by 30 pc and HIV/Aids infections by up to 74 pc, although Ebola continues to devastate African populations. Life expectancy is up by 10 pc and child mortality rates down significantly.
Chinas new presence in Africa, new booming international prices for commodities, and the spread of communication technology form are the new “three Cs” driving Africas rise – replacing David Livingstones “three Cs” of Christianity, Commerce and Civilisation that ushered in British colonialism a century ago.
China is now Africas biggest trading partner, with trade expected to exceed $300 billion in 2015. But Africa supplies less than 5 per cent of Beijings imports.
Beijing is Africas new source of foreign Direct Investment (FDI). Over 1,500 Chinese companies are already operating in Africa, especially in gas, oil, minerals, construction and transport. China plans to invest a further US$1 trillion in the continent within a decade.
Over 600 million Africans are using mobile phones – more than America and Europe. Kenyas innovative system of electronic money transfer known as M-Pesa is improving access to resources for the poor in rural areas.
A booming global commodities market is generating more than a quarter of the continents revenue. However, dependence on exports of such natural resources as minerals and hydro-carbons exposes Africa to the volatility of global commodity prices.
Finally, Africas rapidly expanding middle class is boosting consumption. About 100 million Africans are expected to earn $3,000 a year by 2015. Africas middle class is soaring on access to an expanded education sector.
For Africas emergence to have concrete meaning, Africa has to redeem millions of its poor from poverty, joblessness and despair, and slay the hydra of corruption and insecurity.