Thursday, 20 June 2013

AFRICA Rising!


Africa rising - but who benefits?

Woman in a branch of Zara in South Africa
Glitzy shopping centres are being built across Africa
Many of the fastest growing economies in the world are in Africa.
The continent's future appears to be bright, but do growth figures reflect an improving quality of life?
It is a story that is being told with increasing frequency.
Against the backdrop of a prolonged slump that has brought financial paralysis to much of the Western world, experts have identified Africa as having many of the world's fastest-growing economies.
Some point to the fact that high growth rates should be viewed in context, since African economies - mostly relatively small - are expanding from a low base, making improvements seem disproportionately impressive.
But, while the US and UK struggle to emerge from prolonged recessions and European nations such as Greece and Spain experience mass unemployment, the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank say countries such as Ghana, Ethiopia, Rwanda and Mozambique are experiencing a boom.
Chart showing how Africa's economic growth compares favourably with other regions
Many have ascribed this trend to what they believe are burgeoning middle classes in many nations.
The African Development Bank's (AfDB) chief economist Mthuli Ncube has described this trajectory as "unstoppable."
For renowned economist Jeffrey Sachs, the mobile phone has become a symbol of this apparent new dawn. He has described it, and the access to the internet that it can bring, as the single most transformative tool for development.
It's good to talk
South African man with a tablet computer
Mobile communications have been at the forefront of Africa's boom
More than 70% of adults in Nigeria - the continent's most highly populated country - own a handset.
And in Kenya the widespread use of mobile phone payment software has opened up opportunities for small and medium-sized businesses by providing ease and flexibility where transactions and banking are concerned.
Farmers, for example, can receive the latest market prices with a single text message or gather information about sales and stock.
The ubiquity of mobile phones in Africa has also created a new breed of entrepreneur that can be found in cities as far apart as Dakar, Dar es Salaam and Durban - the vendor selling air time.
Salim Evoudidi, one such salesman in the Democratic Republic of Congo, seems to typify the type of aspirational worker said to be driving the emerging middle class.
He arrives at his regular spot on a busy street in the capital, Kinshasa, beside other air time vendors, at around 0700 and works for nearly 12 hours every day.
"I have a family, I have a wife and four children. I've been able to send three of them to school and rent a house for us," he says.
"I've been doing this job since 2005 - so, for seven years. There is an evolution. There are more and more customers - Congolese people spend a lot on telecommunications."
Mr Evoudidi's ambition is to start a business, and he hopes the money he makes in his current venture will generate enough money to provide a launch pad.
The notion of "Africa rising" - the term that journalists have coined when referring to the idea of economic development on the continent - has, for some, become hackneyed, with bloggers now calling it a meme.
The Economist, which famously labelled Africa the "Hopeless Continent" in 2000, inverted that idea more than a decade later for special coverage looking at what it now considers to be the hopeful continent.
But, beneath the surface of what appears to be a good news story in a part of the world previously portrayed in the Western media as being ravaged by war and famine, questions remain.
What constitutes middle class status? And does that term really point to a heightened quality of life?

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