Plus Ça Change? Africa Regional Roundup: December 2016
“Abidjan is a boom-town with an exploding economy, shipping out great quantities of coffee and timber and manifesting a flair for making a real splash in terms of putting on the dog.”
That sentence (which prompted to me look up the meaning of “putting on the dog,” a 19th century phrase implying luxury and glamour, and referring to men’s stiff so-called dog collars worn at formal events) was written in 1971 by an American journalist of Cote d’Ivoire’s then-capital, suggesting the West African economy was on a fixed path towards prosperity.
The description was warranted. The country benefited from high growth and strong commodity exports, along with reasonable infrastructure – and Africa’s first ice skating rink.
Many of its peers were similarly well positioned during the 1970s. Neighbouring Ghana had one of the largest aluminium smelters in the world, powered by a 1000MW dam that created Africa’s biggest manmade lake. Kenya became one of the world’s biggest exporters of tea and coffee, growing at the same average annual rate as Singapore.
But, as we all know, those good times were not to last. In the decades that followed, and in dozens of economies the continent-over, revenues dropped, growth slowed, poverty increased and productivity declined. The 1970s ultimately proved to be a false dawn.
Over the past decade, much has been written about the Africa Rising narrative – the catchall term for the enthusiasm behind the continent’s recent growth spurt – but with economies from Gabon to Ghana now struggling with debt, depreciation and deficits, the question must be asked: has this proved to be a false dawn too?
The consensus answer here at OBG is no. The Africa Rising era accurately highlighted many of the oft-overlooked strengths of local markets – innovation, immense potential, and a wealth of resources – but its end has nonetheless brought into stark relief the major structural challenges that continue to bedevil the continent.
The collection of articles below reflects this complexity, and together forms our third Africa Economic Roundup. In this edition, we’ll be looking at private sector investment in South African renewables; the incentives of Kenya’s new special economic zones; the push by Moroccan banks to find growth abroad; and the role of a pencil factory in creating jobs for Nigerians. You can also find exclusive interviews with Abdel Fattah El Sisi, President of the Arab Republic of Egypt; Muhammadu Buhari, President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria; Greg Meneses, Managing Director of Black Rhino; and Francisco Starace, CEO of ENEL.
Below you’ll find some select content from our most recent Reports which highlight a few of the top stories from the region.
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