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It’s Not All Gloomy

Peres Jepchirchir of Kenya beats the World Record (1:05:16) and wins the women's race of the 2020 IAAF World Half Marathon Championships in Gdynia, Poland, in October 17, 2020. MATEUSZ SLODKOWSKI / AFP

The last few weeks have been marked by a pervasive gloominess about Africa’s future. 

As Zambia was defaulting on its Eurobond debt, the G20 was praising itself effusively for coming up with a debt response unlikely to help anyone. Meanwhile, the depressing talking points kept coming: a lost decade, 25 years of growth down the drain, millions pushed back into extreme poverty. 

These are all realities. However, they might not show the entire picture. 

Two recent Bloomberg articles raise some cheering complications. The first looked at the response of township economies in South Africa to the pandemic. It focuses on Soweto, the massive township city outside of Johannesburg. It turns out that as South Africa’s national economy contracted by a wince-inducing 7% due to COVID, Soweto is thriving. In fact the national lockdown helped to kickstart local small businesses in a way that puts actual business development initiatives to shame.

The second, an opinion piece by Matthew Winkler, Bloomberg News’s former editor in chief, takes a continent-wide view. He argues that amid the economic carnage of 2020, some African economies are looking surprisingly good. This year the world’s best-performing stock exchange was in Nigeria.

It’s not only that seven of the world’s ten fastest-growing economies in 2020 will be African. Broader trends are also encouraging: the proportion of communications companies in the total market capitalization of the continent jumped from 13% in 2010 to 29% today. During the same decade, the share of materials and energy shrunk from 34% to 23%. It might be an indication that Africa is growing away from its toxic dependence on raw commodities – the colonial curse – towards making money by meeting the needs of its own consumers.

The problems I mentioned above aren’t going away, and we’ll have to deal with their impact. But in a time of global gloom, the continent is also providing some points of light.

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