Africa Rising?

One of the recurring themes of global political development is the inability of sub-Saharan countries to “get things right.” From corruption to anemic economic growth, to political instability and civil war, sub-Saharan Africa suffers to a degree unrivaled by other regions of the world. A recent article in the Boston Globe reports on some apparent successes in this part of the world.

Here are some snippets:

“The state of Africa is a scar on the conscience of the world,” Tony Blair, then prime minister of England, famously said in 2001. “But if the world, as a community, focused on it, we could heal it. And if we don’t, that scar will become deeper and angrier still.”

“But it’s not the whole story. By many standards, Africa is doing better than it has in decades. The number of democratically elected governments has risen sharply in the past decade, and the number of violent conflicts has dropped. African economies, and African businesses, are starting to show impressive results, and not just by the diminished standards the rest of the world reserves for its poorest continent. The runaway inflation that crippled African economies for decades is on the ebb, and foreign investment is rising. Last month, the World Bank reported that average GDP growth in Sub-Saharan Africa has averaged 5.4 percent over the last decade, better than the United States, with some countries poised for dramatic expansion.

“For the first time in a long time, you have the potential that a handful of countries could break from the pack and become leopards, cheetahs, or whatever the African equivalent of an Asian Tiger would be,” says John Page, the World Bank’s chief Africa economist, referring to the nickname given East Asian nations like Taiwan and South Korea because of their double-digit growth in the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s.”

It all suggests that much of Africa, after decades of sclerosis and strife, may have turned a corner. Economists believe that several African countries have made the sort of fundamental changes in governance and economic management that could buttress them against swings in commodity prices and the other global economic shocks that in the past have been so devastating.

“The turnaround has been pretty stunning, and there’s something deeper going on than just a surge in oil and commodity prices,” says Edward Miguel, an associate professor of economics at the University of California, Berkeley. “You’re seeing more responsible governments, more democracies, and better economic policies.”

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