Most of the world’s fastest growing economies are in Africa.
If you were to guess which countries were growing at the most rapid pace, I bet almost everyone on this list would leave out some of the strongest performers.
Of course China is there. Post-war Iraq is also bouncing back. But most of the world’s fastest growing economies are in Africa.
Ethiopia’s economy is expected to grow by more than 11 percent for the second year in a row. Not only is double digit growth continuing, but the government there has roaring inflation under control at less than seven percent – from as high as 25 percent a few years ago.
So what is fueling this boom on the continent formerly known as “dark” not only for the color of the people’s skin, but also due to its culture?
Modernization is slowly coming to the continent. Technology is making the world smaller – even in the world’s poorest places. That technology allows better access to education, economic advances and even government.
Not too many years ago, European countries were in a race to colonize the continent and control the vast reserves of natural resources. But country by country, the continent has pushed out the influence of its European colonizers. The African Union celebrated 50 years of work to improve Africa. That meeting was held in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
I have a special place in my heart for the African Union. When my wife and I first traveled to Addis Ababa to adopt our son, the African Union was meeting in the city. We arrived late at night. Our driver from the hotel where we were staying was very helpful and everything was going great.
Then we hit a roadblock. At 11:30 p.m., heavily armed military police blocked off the road so the leader of Nigeria could get from the airport to his embassy under superior security. That was nice for him, but we were sitting in an old Volkswagen sedan surrounded by dozens of machine guns.
All that week, anytime one of the major players in the African Union meetings was moving around the city, similar measures were followed.
The Ethiopians are serious about security when they host these gatherings. They don’t take chances. Because of that, we spent a lot of time sitting and waiting for important people to travel on vacated roads.
Also during these trips, we saw first-hand where a lot of the growth is coming from. Ethiopia is home to Africa’s commodities exchange. This mechanism for trade was added in 2007 and has meant an explosion in agricultural economies in the region.
But much of the other growth is coming from two outside sources. Muslim investment from northern African includes low or no interest small business loans. Most of these loans are based on a conversion to Islam – a religion that has almost divided the previously Orthodox Christian culture.
Another leading source of growth in Ethiopia and much of Africa is from Chinese investment. The Chinese aren’t colonizers. They don’t want to govern countries. They want to do business on their own terms.
Chinese investment can have a mutual benefit because of their investment in infrastructure with electrical power plants and locally sources cement and concrete companies.
They create jobs and make life better for people who might never see those benefits if they waited on local businesses or governments to develop them.
But the Chinese don’t have a great record with employee relations or environmental policy. There is a price to be paid for their investment.
Don’t worry that these economies are going to surpass America’s anytime soon. They are growing fast. But that is usually a function of small, stifled economies finally beginning to recover.
Iraq was controlled by a despot before enduring a very damaging war. Now they are growing but that country has a long trip back to prosperity.
In the same way, many other African countries on the list of fastest growing economies like Ghana and South Sudan are tiny economies that are benefitting from independence and modernization. They are growing at rapid rates, but on a very small scale compared to their western counterparts.
But if the African Union can continue to mobilize and modernize people for the next 50 years, we could see a shift in the balance of world power.
America needs to make the investment in the continent that China and other nations are if we want to be a part of the new, rapidly expanding economies in that region of the world.
Kent Bush is the publisher of the Augusta Gazette, the El Dorado Times, and the Andover American newspapers. He can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org