Global Issues TEDTalks

Why Africa is booming: Further watching and reading on the economic turnaround of the continent

Posted by: Kate Torgovnick May

Economic growth in Africa is about to climb off the charts, says Charles Robertson at TEDGlobal 2013. Photo: James Duncan Davidson

In today’s talk, economist Charles Robertson turns up the heat on an idea that’s been simmering for several years: that Africa is seeing rapid economic growth. Charles Robertson: Africa's next boomCharles Robertson: Africa's next boomLooking at statistics and at the precedents set by China and India, Robertson brings this idea to a full boil, saying that economists haven’t been nearly optimistic enough in their predictions for the continent. While Africa is currently a $2 trillion economy, by 2050 it will be a $29 trillion economy, he says — bigger than Europe and America combined. It’s a bold talk, full of inspiring graphs all pointing up, up, up.

Africa has, for a long time, conjured up images of famine, disease, poverty and war. But increasingly, entrepreneurship, technological innovation and investment in education are becoming part of the outsider’s mental picture.

Here, a selection of TED Talks fueling that shift:

Euvin Naidoo: Why invest in AfricaEuvin Naidoo: Why invest in AfricaEuvin Naidoo: Why invest in Africa. Kicking off TEDGlobal 2007, themed “Africa: The Next Chapter,” South African investment banker Euvin Naidoo takes a data-driven look at the investment opportunities in Africa. The signs he sees that the economy is in a turnaround: decreasing inflation, currencies stabilizing and a growing middle class.
Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala: Want to help Africa? Do business hereNgozi Okonjo-Iweala: Want to help Africa? Do business hereNgozi Okonjo-Iweala: Want to help Africa? Do business here. At TED2007, the first female Finance Minister in Nigeria asked the audience to focus on the less-told story about Africa, the one of business opportunity.
Juliana Rotich: Meet BRCK, Internet access built for AfricaJuliana Rotich: Meet BRCK, Internet access built for AfricaJuliana Rotich: Meet BRCK, Internet access built for Africa. While tech is booming in Africa, the sector is continually challenged by one thing: internet outages, says Juliana Rotich. In this talk from TEDGlobal 2013, she shares an invention that could make spotty internet a non-issue.
Neil Turok: My wish: Find the next Einstein in AfricaNeil Turok: My wish: Find the next Einstein in AfricaNeil Turok: Find the next Einstein in Africa. Physicist Neil Turok grew up in Kenya and Tanzanaia, and taught in Lesotho, and the kids he encountered along the way were extremely bright. Accepting the TED Prize in 2008, Turok encourages investment in math and science education across the continent.
Andrew Mwenda: Aid for Africa? No thanks.Andrew Mwenda: Aid for Africa? No thanks.Andrew Mwenda: Aid for Africa? No thanks. Africa is not simply a country of despair, and portraying it as such creates a narrative of pity, says journalist Andrew Mwenda in this blistering talk from TEDGlobal 2007. Here, he points our attention to the challenge beyond aid: wealth creation.
George Ayittey: Africa's cheetahs versus hipposGeorge Ayittey: Africa's cheetahs versus hipposGeorge Ayittey: Africa’s cheetahs versus hippos. Ghanaian economist George Ayittey takes on the issue of corrupt leaders at TEDGlobal 2007. In this talk, he introduces us to the “Cheetah generation,” who feel deep accountability, who take charge and who innovate — creating a whole new Africa.
Jacqueline Novogratz: Invest in Africa's own solutionsJacqueline Novogratz: Invest in Africa's own solutionsJacqueline Novogratz: Invest in Africa’s own solutions. At TEDGlobal 2005, Jacqueline Novogratz tells a hilarious story of a sweater, which shows how traditional aid can have unintended consequences. The founder of the Acumen Fund, Novogratz advocates for a businesslike model to approaching poverty in Africa.
Eleni Gabre-Madhin: A commodities exchange for EthiopiaEleni Gabre-Madhin: A commodities exchange for EthiopiaEleni Gabre-Madhin: A commodities exchange for EthiopiaMost Africans are small farmers, points out economist Eleni Gabre-Madhin at TEDGlobal 2007. Could supporting them increase wealth and create a surplus of food at the same time? A plan for a commodities exchange in Ethiopia.

And below, resources where you can read much more about what’s happening in Africa now:

Charles Robertson is the chief economist of Renaissance Capital and a co-author of the 2012 book, The Fastest Billion: The Story Behind Africa’s Economic Revolution. Written by a panel of African economists, this book is great stop for anyone looking to read more about the economic explosion in Africa. Even better, the book’s regularly-updated website, which has detailed reports on African agriculture, the middle class in Nigeria, and how China is influencing Africa through investment.

In which country does Guinness sell more of its flagship beer than any other? The answer, as of two years ago, is no longer Ireland — it’s Nigeria. Check out this article in The Telegraph about how the multinational alcohol brand has seen compound annual growth of 13 percent on the continent since 2007, and how it is rebranding Guinness as a result.

The Economist first began to notice change in Africa in the 2008 article “Booming Africa,” noting that the Sub-Saharan region was bucking the global trend and appeared unaffected by the U.S. economic slowdown. Three years later, in the story “Africa’s Hopeful Economies: The Sun Shines Bright,” the magazine reversed its infamous diagnosis that Africa was the “hopeless continent” with the revelation that 6 of the world’s 10 fastest-growing economies were in Africa. Most recently, in March of this year, the magazine ran a package titled “Africa Rising: A Hopeful Continent,” and declared, “African lives have already greatly improved over the past decade. The next ten years will be even better.”

The May/June issue of Foreign Affairs took a more tempered look with the article, “Africa’s Economic Boom: Why the Pessimists and Optimists are Both Right.” Authors Shantayanan Devarajan and Wolfgang Fengle write, “At first glance, these two narratives seem irreconcilable. It turns out, however, that both are right, or at least reflect aspects of a more complex reality, which neither fully captures. The skeptics focus so much on the region’s commodity exports that they fail to grasp the extent to which its recent growth is a result of economic reforms (many of which were necessitated by the misguided policies of the past). The optimists, meanwhile, underestimate the degree to which the region’s remaining problems — such as sclerotic institutions, low levels of education, and substandard health care — reflect government failures that will be very difficult to overcome because they are deeply rooted in political conflict.”

Another indication of growth in Africa—a booming travel industry. This summer, Bloomberg News shared that Starwood, Hilton and Marriott hotel groups were all greatly expanding their presence in Africa. (Marriott, for example, increased the number of hotel rooms it planned by 55 percent over the course of a year.) Meanwhile, noted that tourism in Thailand grew from non-existent to employing 15 to 20% of the workforce in just a few decades, and predicted that the same would be true in African countries. “In 50 years, Africa will be talked about with the same fervor that global hotel groups and tourism marketers now use to fawn over Asia,” the article predicts.

In July, Yes! Magazine declared an “African economic renaissance” in an article titled “What the US Can Learn from Africa’s Booming Economy.” The lessons here that the West can take, according to the author? Provide local service for local communities, use technology to level the playing field, and consider creativity a major strength.

In January, Jake Bright of The Daily Beast noted a major shift in how Africa was being discussed in global investment circles in the article “Africa is Rising: Inside the Continent’s Great Economic Leap.” The piece begins: “In corporate boardrooms and global-investment seminars, more CEOs and business leaders are talking about Africa. That much was evident at a recent New York Stock Exchange investor conference, where along with references to Africa as the ‘new Asia’ or ‘home of the next Google’ there were forward outlooks by Wall Street analysts, representatives of the continent’s 29 stock exchanges, and presentations on Africa’s tech industry, now claiming mobile-banking innovations outpacing the United States and Europe.”

Others have also noted that Africa is fast becoming a source for technological growth. Check out the Businessweek slideshow, “Digital Innovation is Booming in Africa,” published in May. It looks at the continent’s mobile phone banking technology, cheap solar paneling for villages, and touchscreen tablets’ increasing presence in schools.

Last month, the International Business Times took a look at the latest in Africa and identified “Seven Drivers That Could Transform Africa into the World’s Economic Powerhouse.” Among them: the prevalence of cities on the continent, increased stability, growing trade, the world’s biggest workforce, increased spending on education, the explosion of cell phone use and loads of uncultivated cropland.

And finally, BBC News takes a deep dive look at, “Africa Rising — but Who Benefits?”