I’m afraid I still find the case for a deep cynicism on African development convincing.

If the crises of the 80s came at a particularly vulnerable time for most of the continent, the ongoing wave of mercantilism and deglobalization may prove no less inopportune. Virtually no African states put the era of cheap credit and global markets that’s now ending to any use except to get foreign companies to export their raw commodities. I’m not at all convinced we’ll navigate the much rougher seas ahead with any more skill: many countries likely already have their best years of growth behind them. Much of the continent will be locked out of future regional manufacturing supply chains, and with the advances in automation taking place there couldn’t be a time when a massive labor surplus would be less of an asset. We’re simultaneously being cut out of the renewable energy revolution and losing access to financing for fossil fuel projects except for export.

Even assuming these states had workable development plans, there’s been a eye-watering interest rate hike that may not come down for a long while. Governments are accessing credit on usurious terms. That means very little investment, foreign or domestic, will be possible on any of our most pressing needs. We’re already seeing signs of another 80s style spate of sovereign defaults, except in a more ambiguous, more hostile international environment. The limited gains made in food security, education and healthcare are stalling and all now risk being unraveled.

As for African states being more coherent or resilient, I’d argue some have learned to maintain appearances better but are still hollow. Looking around, Ghana and Zambia are in default. Kenya is stagnating, and will likely soon follow them into bankruptcy. Egypt is in an IMF straitjacket, and won’t get out without reining in its military, which seems unlikely. Nigeria’s economy is in bad shape and it still hasn’t got a grip on its security situation. South Africa can’t even keep the lights on. Whatever momentum Ethiopia gained in the last two decades was lost in Tigray. Sudan will probably be a war zone for another fifteen years. The DRC is too lucrative to too many parties to ever be stable. Rwanda is growing, but too small and starting from too low a base to make a difference to the overall picture.

Zooming out, the entire Sahel region is imploding, and the free flow of weapons and fighters means this probably cannot be arrested even in the medium term. The AU is moribund and too easily bounced by external actors to be a meaningful force. Regional integration isn’t happening with any of the urgency required. The AfCFTA is making very little progress. Our geopolitical prospects may be improving, but that just increases incentives for elite subversion. Imperial powers old and new are tightening their hold on their interests. The current crop of leaders is as spineless and short-sighted as any before it, and it doesn’t look like the next is up to the job.

An instructive reference point for me has been India: its fundamentals are incomparably ahead of most of Africa yet I still would predict a long and uncertain path to relative prosperity for it. Even China arguably hasn’t completed its development, miraculous as its rise has been. I find it very unlikely a substantial proportion of the continent will experience strong enough growth to achieve reasonable average living standards before running into demographic headwinds. Birth rates aren’t plummeting as sharply as Asia but they’re still dropping fast, and Africa may hit its peak population in as little as 20 years. The time to get our act together is running out fast.

I agree that a bright future can be achieved. But I think it’s also important to acknowledge that right now our prospects are bleak, and to sit with the possibility our grandchildren may never know prosperity. A positive outlook in the face of adversity has to be wed to a dispassionate view of our situation if we are to have a chance at meeting the challenges ahead. Pessimism of the intellect, optimism of the will, as Gramsci put it.

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Nice piece grounded in reality, i am Nigerian living in Nigeria and i can say that the picture that the west and their academics paint about Africa is not accurate, just within the last 5years we have produced 5 startup fintech companies valuated more than a billion dollars(e.g. Flutter wave), and we have a very high number of female entrepreneurs.

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Global development definitely isn't dead. World bank 2022 data just came out. Kenya, Ethiopia and Ivory Coast are clearly doing well with explosive growth rates. (It's also good that the Tigray war is over). Also, SouthEast Asia and Bangladesh is exploding as well.


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"faddist navel-gazing instead of serious investments in knowledge production and policy focus on structural change". nice.

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