Africa’s Year of Opportunity

Africa’s Year of Opportunity


In many corners of the world, 2018 is shaping up to be yet another disappointing year, with inequality and poverty continuing to fuel anger and populism. While Africa will not be entirely immune from such developments, its inhabitants have at least eight good reasons – far more than most people elsewhere – to be optimistic.

GENEVA – We are still near the start of 2018, and already it feels like tension and disorder will be the year’s defining characteristics. From anti-immigration policies in the United States to flaring geopolitical hotspots in the Middle East and East Asia, disruption, upheaval, and uncertainty seem to be the order of the day.

But at least one metric offers reason for cautious optimism: economic growth. The International Monetary Fund estimatesthat global growth will reach 3.7% this year, up from 3.6% in 2017. As Christine Lagarde, the Fund’s managing director, put it in a speech in December, “The sun is shining through the clouds and helping most economies generate the strongest growth since the financial crisis.”

It was fitting that Lagarde made that observation in Addis Ababa, because it is in Africa where the rays of prosperity are shining brightest. In fact, I predict that 2018 will be a breakout year for many – though not all – African economies, owing to gains in eight key areas.

For starters, Africa is poised for a modest, if fragmented, growth recovery. Following three years of weak economic performance, overall growth is expected to accelerate to 3.5% this year, from 2.9% in 2017. This year’s projected gains will come amid improved global conditions, increased oil output, and the easing of drought conditions in the east and south.

To be sure, growth will be uneven. While nearly a third of African economies will grow by around 5%, slowdowns are likely in at least a dozen others. Sharp increases in public debt, which has reached 50% of GDP in nearly half of Sub-Saharan countries, are particularly worrying. But, overall, Africa is positioned for a positive year.

Second, Africa’s political landscape is liberalizing. Some of Africa’s longest-serving presidents – including Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe, Angola’s José Eduardo dos Santos, and the Gambia’s Yahya Jammeh – exited in 2017. In South Africa, Jacob Zuma’s resignation allowed Cyril Ramaphosa to become president. In January, Liberians witnessed their country’s first peaceful transfer of power since 1944, when former soccer star George Weah was sworn into office.

*former chief adviser to the International Commission on Financing Global Education Opportunity, is a senior fellow at the African Center for Economic Transformation. This piece was originally published in Project Syndicate




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