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Africa and the fastest billion: Charles Robertson at TEDGlobal 2013

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Photo: James Duncan Davidson

Charles Robertson, co-author of The Fastest Billion, is the second speaker in the “Forces of Change” session this afternoon at TEDGlobal 2013. His message is loud and clear: Africa’s future is bright.

Africa is booming: Per capita income since 2000 has doubled; life expectancy has increased by one year every three years; and HIV infection rates are down 23 percent. In the next 30 years, if anyone can do what China has done in the last 30, says Robertson, it’s Africa. But why now?

For one thing, African leadership, which has cut sub-Saharan debt by half in the last few decades. For another, foreign investment. People tend to think that China is Africa’s main investor, but in fact in recent years 60 percent of African investment has come from the West, and even 10 percent is coming from India. And Africa has oil — the same amount as Russia or Saudi Arabia.

Demographics are also a large contributor to growth in Africa. Ten years ago, China was the place to go to start a factory, with its 200 million young people; but this decade there’s going to be a 20 to 30 percent fall in the number of 15- to 24-year-olds in China. Today people are turning to Africa, where the number of young people is going to continue to grow until 2050. But more young people need more, better education. That’s improving in Africa, too. In 1975, 9 percent of kids in sub-Saharan Africa received secondary school education. Today, those levels are at 25-30 percent.

But what about corruption? Many cite rampant corruption in Africa as a reason not to invest. But Robertson points out: Corruption and poverty are linked. Every poor country is corrupt. Rich countries are relatively uncorrupt. So the way to improve the corruption in Africa is to invest in Africa.


Photo: James Duncan Davidson

Economists are giving the wrong forecasts for Africa, believes Robertson. The continent’s growth over the past 10 years has been 5.5 percent, and economists predict this growth will remain steady for the next 10. But think about India, says Robertson. For a century it didn’t grow, and then suddenly in the ’80s — boom. Growth shot up. Laying Africa over India’s growth charts shows that it’s on the same path. Robertson gives his forecasts for the next 30 to 40 years: Africa will be a $29 trillion economy by 2050; life expectancy will go up by 13 years; household incomes will go up sevenfold.

How can the rest of the world help Africa grow faster? Robertson is resolute: Buy African music, literature, products. Go on holiday there. Invest. Hire people, give them skills they can take home. And help make the 21st century Africa’s century.

Charles Robertson’s talk is now available for viewing. Watch it on »