The Africa Rising story has been the positive catch-line the continent needed but lately, the numbers have not tallied with the positivity it represents. Is it still accurate to claim that the whole continent is rising when growth has clearly slowed down due to the commodity price slump? Does it still make sense to say Africa is rising when rising public debt has led to an increase in costs of borrowing? Whatever narrative the continent chooses should be a reflection of actual facts on the ground not window-dressing to make everyone feel safe. Though some pockets of Africa are still seeing unprecedented growth, it is high time everyone stopped universalizing a narrative that is not true for every country.
Not so rosy
The main reason the continent should stop falsely chanting the “rising” story is that growth is not as high as it used to be. The African Development Bank has forecasted growth of 3.7% in 2017 for Sub-Saharan Africa, which is an optimistic estimate and but still paltry when compared to the 6.8% average growth between 2003 and 2008. Focus Economics expects a lower 2.9% in 2017 and 3.9% in 2018. According to Focus, the low forecast “reflects downward revisions for seven economies including Nigeria”. South Africa is expected to be one of the worst performers with a small 1.2% expansion rate. In essence, the big players are struggling and the economies largely dependent on commodities are also struggling. Though growth is imminent, the rise of the economies is no longer what it used to be. If anything, there is recession in some of what used to be the most promising economies.
Africa is not a country
Africa Rising has been the story of a region but what African countries really need are individual narratives for individual countries. The problem with Africa Rising has not only been one of economics but also philosophy. It encourages universalization of the experience of a few countries and pretending it is true for every other country. It is great when it is applied in the positive but as has been seen, these have been hard times and outsiders will quickly look for the antonym of “rising” to describe the whole continent’s condition ignoring regions that are still doing well. Rejection of Africa Rising is also a rejection of Africa Falling and the problem of over-generalizations. Yvonne Ike of America Merrill Lynch in London rightly says, “These days, it is too simplistic to continue to use the Africa Rising Narrative.” She further says, “…given current economic conditions, the divergent performance and outlook is becoming more evident.”
There can no longer be economics of a whole continent when it has diverse economies in it. Just because two of the biggest economies are suffering does not mean the whole continent is in trouble and just as well, when they do well, their rise should not be projected everywhere and universalized. The best case studies now are to be found in how when South Africa and Nigeria are struggling, yet countries like Kenya, Ethiopia, Tanzania and Cote d’Ivoire are growing at unbelievable rates. Focus Economics says it had to upgrade its growth estimates for countries like Ghana, Kenya and Tanzania. The East African countries are known to be largely unaffected by the goings on in the commodities market because of the nature of their economies but once over-generalizations kick in, they suffer for being in the same continent where Nigeria has a recession. In Ike’s words, “There needs to be a recalibration of what we mean by “Africa Rising”.”
Nothing could be more accurate
Going forward, there is need to avoid window-dressing and over-generalizations. There is no point in claiming Africa is rising when some economies are not seeing that sort of growth. This is unwarranted optimism which stifles remedial action. Some African economies are rising and some are not. Investors should be guided by such facts so they do not pass up investment opportunities because of slumps in certain countries. This is a big continent and two words cannot possibly express the nuances of individual economies. There should be more realistic catch-lines.
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