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Africa's Amazing Rise and What it Can Teach the World (theatlantic.com)
81 points by brianbreslin on Feb 28, 2012 | hide | past | web | favorite | 9 comments

One core difference that I notice between Africa and the West, irrespective of the current development stage, is that people in Africa are mostly optimistic that things are better than the were, and they are expecting things to get much better. So they see the future as being bright and full of opportunities.

People in the west seem to have the opposite viewpoint - the see the past as having been better, and the future bringing doom and gloom. So their outlook is pessimistic.

So there is much more of this lets-work-forward energy in Africa.

And they would both be right. Both cultures are approaching the future from very different socioeconomic positions. In the past (30-40 years ago), things were bad in Africa. At any point 3-5 countries were engaged in civil war, despotic rule or famine. At the same time the west were doing incredible scientific achievements, building wealth and living longer lives.

If you're at the bottom you can only go up. Now that Africa is getting into the resources business in a major way the infusion of cash can only accelerate this.

On the other hand, many western countries are now trying to figure out how to survive in a world they have largely built. The price for information has fallen but the price for most goods have gone up (especially food and oil). There are many that grew up with what their parents had and realized they might not be able to have that lifestyle, and it scares them.

Edit: I'd also like to add that Africa's economy has been growing for years. There are 49-50 countries all moving very quickly but all the western news wants to report about is the few problem areas with wars, dictators and famine. Hardly anything was spoken about the farming commodities market in west Kenya going fully computerized in '05.

I used to work for Mo Ibrahim at his first company, MSI in London, and I'm full of admiration for what he's been doing.

I know China better than Africa, but there are parallels and interesting differences. My wife is Chinese and I've been visiting the country since 2001. Her home city has doubled in size in that time. Back then the few cars you saw on the road were either government owned or taxis, now the streets are choked with traffic. I've been to the countryside in China, and Africa. There are good reasons people queue up for those Foxcon jobs, believe me. I'm not saying their labour practices are perfect, I don't know, but the risks they run there have got to be a world apart from the risks they run from the privation and squalour of country life in China. It's interesting that rural Africa is doing well, but the system in China stacks things against country people too much though.

These countries are going through industrial revolution at fast-forward speeds. That creates risks, but that doesn't mean anyone over there thinks putting on the brakes is a good idea, because the very real costs of doing that are even greater.

After everything that continent has been through they really do deserve a lot. I don't mean to lump 50 or so countries all together, there are African countries that have a lower crime rate than the USA does. And many African countries are just as modern as anywhere else.

But the continent as a whole has been through a lot. The African Holocaust alone has killed 9 million Africans. After all the Colonization, Aids, famine, civil wars, malaria, 2007 land grabs, and slave trade; Africa's puberty is finally coming to an end. America, Europe, and Asia's puberty periods (wars, massive deaths, black plagues, civil conflict, endless conquering and takeovers) ended a while back and our continents achieved stability. Now it's Africa's turn for nationwide stability and growth. And from the looks of it, it's going to be a massive investment opportunity.

The African continent itself has more land than the USA, China, and India combined. Which actually worries me because environmentally their growth is going to come at a high price. I just hope they don't follow in the footsteps of the west and build a dependence on cars, gas, and long distances.

I just wish Africa were united under one currency, one language, and a federal government. Being fragmented like Europe is terrible for growth and business.

Overall, this is great news. The continent where humanity came from and the people whom we're all related to is finally getting the peace and prosperity it deserves.

Having multiple currencies is a good thing; it allows the various nations to offset internal dynamics through the stabilisation of currency movements.

Uniform currencies come at a high cost. Just ask Greece. Or the Australian manufacturing industry, believe it or not.

A baffling article. There are many articles celebrating African success and progress. This article does a poor job, mentioning mostly mobile telephony and natural resources.

Sure, some parts of Africa are developed and some people in Africa are wealthy and there are interesting business models in Africa.

But this article fails to mention some existing severe problems:

Botswana, Swaziland, Lesotho have almost one in four people over 15 living with AIDs/HIV.

South Africa has the highest population of people living with AIDs/HIV - about 17% or 5.6 million people.

Kenya has about 1.2 million children orphaned by AIDs.

Uganda - an African AIDs/HIV success story, has about 1.2 million people living with AIDs/HIV ( several hundred thousand of whom are children) and about another 1.2million children orphaned by AIDs.

Zambia has received millions of dollars of funding for HIV/AIDs programmes, but prevalence has not dropped and rates are stable; as high as 25% in some rural areas. Life expectancy at birth is about 40 years.

There are currently fifteen African countries involved in wars, or with post-war tensions and conflicts.

Africa has the only regional treaty in the world against the use of child soldiers (The 1999 African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child); yet most child soldiers are in Africa.

The article mentions Zambia - Zambia exports much copper, so should be reasonably wealthy. It's not at war. Yet poverty is rife and it has a very low life expectancy. There are human rights abuses associated with the Chinese owned copper mines.

The article also mentions Sudan. Sudan is one of the poorest countries in the world.


I wrapped up a week of meetings in Addis Ababa last Thursday. Attendees were from all over the world - but some of the African presentations were the most impressive. One of the guys from Zimbabwe began with "Internet access is no longer a problem for our staff."

While I was there the hotel internet basically tanked. We just bought sim cards with data for a bunch of phones and turned them into hot spots. It wasn't as fast as I get at home - but that it was even possible was huge in my mind.

Five years ago if someone was writing this article they would talk about the success of capitalism, now using the same evidence the atlantic talks about the success of "wealth equality". This article is as much about changes in American culture as it is about changes in African culture.

A lot of what is happening now in Africa is because of trade with China and Chinese immigrants (textile, construction, manufacturing... even farming). I'm not sure what the long term impact is going to be but I am cautiously optimistic for now.

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