Monday, June 13, 2011

And Now For Some Unexpectedly Good News

Don't look now, but sub-Saharan Africa is booming. Since 2003 its growth has been skyrocketing, and, to quote none other than McKinsey, "today the rate of return on foreign investment in Africa is higher than in any other developing region." There are several reasons: commodity prices, Chinese investment, diaspora remittances... and, I would argue, the GSM revolution that has swept the entire continent, in some places famously taking communications straight from talking drums to cell phones, leapfrogging land lines entirely. It's a glorious wave of change, sweeping across a continent that had stagnated for decades. I've spent nearly a year of my life traveling south of the Sahara, starting thirteen years ago, and this is the first time I've been here without being depressed about the region's prospects. It's still mostly very poor, and it faces serious challenges - for instance, rising food and oil prices - but at the same time it feels a lot like China in 1990, or India in 2000 ... and look at them now. For the first time in, well, ever, it is possible to seriously consider Africa as an emerging economic power. Of course I'm hardly the first to notice this. A few months ago I suggested that startups start targeting the developing world as a market. I now want to amend that advice; it may already be too late. China got here first.



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