Africa’s Bright Future

GDP per capita by year for all African states

For all the nay-saying and mud that gets slung at Africa’s troubles, it’s economic indicators signal nothing but a positive future. Economic growth per capita has been rising consistently throughout the past decade, the financial crisis of 2008 and teh more current European economic crisis barely registering a blip on overall trends of growth. The picture is fasinating. I have included China as a reference. Gabon, Botswana, Namibia, South Africa and formerly war torn Angola all have outpaced China’s much lauded growth. In fact, Gabon’s per capita GDP for 2010 was more than double that of China’s.

Fertility has been declining overall for African countries since the 1960’s. Fertility rates are lowest for Africa’s strong performers, such as South Africa and Namibia. Countries which lack commodity exports and rely on agricultural exports continue to experience not only continued low GDP per capita, but also serve as the source of Africa’s population growth. Realistically, as African economies expand, we would expect fertility to drop even more. Regionally, the African continent is one of the few sources of real human population growth on the planet. Europe, the United States and Canada, China and Japan are all experiencing population stagnation or declines.

Percent of population living with HIV

Despite a growing population, the number of people living with HIV has either plateaued or declined in nearly all African countries, though given the bottom heavy nature of African populations, we could conceivably see a rise again within the next decade.. Malaria is on the decline everywhere though reductions in the amount of foreign health aid, most notably in the Global Fund could undermine efforts to control it. Life expectancy is up just about everywhere, and infant mortality is down. Africans are having fewer children and seeing more of them survive to live longer and healthier lives.

Challenges still exist, however. Africa is home to unrivaled inequality as economies depend on narrow commodity exports for revenue, rather than bolstering manufacturing sectors which create jobs. Declines in funding for health initiatives could signal a collapse of health care and intervention programs in many African countries which do not budget for health delivery. Poor education infrastructure could further undermine efforts to create viable manufacturing sectors due to a lack of skilled labor. Wild cards like Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo could see rapidly return to the bad old days of resource fueled African conflict. The recent election rows in the Ivory Coast and the DRC show that at least some African countries aren’t out of the woods yet. Recent upsets in South Africa and an increasingly autocratic government do, indeed, give one pause to consider a political future for Africa’s strongest economy.

The future looks bright, however, and Africa could follow east Asia’s economic miracle to finally earn its place in the world economy. For the present, however, traditional images of a dying continent and an ineffectual population are slowly being proven wrong.

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About Pete Larson

Assistant Professor of Epidemiology at the Nagasaki University Institute for Tropical Medicine

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