In 2000, the editors of the magazine saw Africa as a continent trapped in a spiral of violence and despair. The editorial read, “Mozambique and Madagascar have been ravaged by floods, famine is resurfacing in Ethiopia, Zimbabwe has succumbed to government-backed violence, poverty and epidemics are rampant. And above all, war continues to rage across the continent.” This bleak picture concluded with a fatalistic touch: “Brutality, despotism, and corruption exist everywhere, but African societies are particularly prone to them, for reasons deeply embedded in their culture.”

What’s the difference ten years later? “From the day I took office, I’ve constantly heard about this famous cover of the ‘Hopeless Continent’,” says John Micklethwait, editor-in-chief of The Economist since 2006. Here are his reflections on this cover, and on the highly contrasting “Rise of Africa” cover in 2011:

Some have gone to great lengths to draw my attention to the fact that someone who invested in an African stock portfolio when Africa was said to be a ‘hopeless continent’ would have made a handsome profit. In 2011, as our journalists were writing articles about the growth of many African countries, we began to wonder if there was a real story there. When you headline on an important issue, there’s always a handful of people telling you, ‘We’ve known this for years’; the majority will feel like they’re discovering a new phenomenon and then realize it’s a long-term trend. I think that’s the case here.”

John and his team acknowledged that The Economist’s predictions at the beginning of the decade were terrible. In 2011, their editorialist visited the same countries and found the continent transformed:

From Ghana in the west to Mozambique in the south, African economies regularly record higher growth rates than almost anywhere else. A good dozen countries have grown by more than 6% per year for six years or more. This year, Ethiopia’s growth will be 7.5%, with no oil exports. Once synonymous with famine, it is now the world’s 10th largest producer of livestock… There are still serious income disparities on the continent, but a real middle class is emerging.

Numerous indicators showed that the continent had been moving in the right direction for over a decade. Inflation, budget deficits, and debt have decreased, while productivity and GDP have increased. Across the continent, estimated medium-term growth rates have risen by over 5% on a $2 billion base (slightly less than Brazil and slightly more than India or Russia). Among the ten fastest-growing countries between 2001 and 2010, six were African countries. Looking ahead to 2015, this number rises to seven.

Exogenous factors such as Asian demand for raw materials are often cited, and indeed they are significant drivers of growth. I will mention some of them in Chapter 7.

However, they are not sufficient to explain the growth of countries that are poor in natural resources or export little. African business leaders highlight other, endogenous factors that have played a key role in development over the past decades. Even those who have succeeded in highly export-dependent sectors, such as oil or minerals, attribute Africa’s growth so far to three primarily internal dynamics:

  • the governance revolution;
  • the evolution of education;
  • the transformation of communication means.


This text is an excerpt from the book “These Companies Bringing Together In Africa” written by Jonathan Berman.

We invite you to read the following article “UNDERSTANDING THE DIFFERENT AFRICAN REGIONS“.

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