African lions hope to emulate economies of Asian tigers

The continent is continuing a two-decade growth trend with nations like Nigeria improving infrastructure and making use of their resources

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 05 August, 2014, 3:26am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 05 August, 2014, 5:06am

ThankGod Agbagu views the paved roads and skyscrapers that have sprung up in Lagos, Africa's largest city, as the signs of a brighter future.

"That's development, progress," the 30-year-old tailor said. "I definitely see many opportunities out there. Things may not really get better in my lifetime but maybe it will for those that come after us."

A two-decade surge in growth in Africa suggests the poorest continent is starting to come to grips with its challenges and has raised the prospect of the "African lions" emulating the "Asian tiger" economies in the 21st century.

Africa's advantages include vast untapped resources, a youthful population and an expanding middle class. Offsetting these are rampant poverty and inequality, a rise in Islamist militancy and poor infrastructure.

Data from the African Development Bank support the premise of an Africa on the rise: average life expectancy rose to 58 in 2011, from 37 in 1950 and primary school enrolment climbed to 77 per cent in 2011, from 52 per cent in 1990. Governance improved in 46 of 52 African countries in the 13 years through 2013, according to the Mo Ibrahim Foundation, which takes into account indicators such as safety and rule of law, human rights and economic progress.

"There's nothing to stop Africa from benefiting from the reforms that we've seen, to capitalise on that going forward, do more and become a stronger, faster-growing, more inclusive region like Asia," said Stuart Culverhouse, chief economist at Exotix Partners.

The International Monetary Fund says it estimates sub-Saharan Africa's economies will grow 5.4 per cent this year and 5.8 per cent in 2015, compared with 1.7 per cent and 3 per cent in the US for the same years respectively.

Nigeria's economy, Africa's largest, has the potential to expand about 7.1 per cent a year through 2030, McKinsey said in a recent report. That would make it one of the world's top 20 economies, with a consumer base exceeding the populations of France and Germany.

Africa's share of the global economy could triple by 2050, while average per-capita income could surge sixfold and 1.4 billion more Africans could join the middle class, under the most optimistic of scenarios sketched out in a study commissioned by the African Union and the Economic Commission for Africa.

Yet peace remains elusive in several African nations.

In Nigeria, Boko Haram rebels have been fighting security forces for the past five years to impose Islamic law.

Conflicts have also been raging in South Sudan, the Central African Republic and Somalia, while an al-Qaeda-linked militant group, al-Shabaab, has staged attacks in Kenya, killing dozens of people.

While hostility constrains economic development, the number of affected African countries has declined markedly over the past few decades, said Jacques Verreynne, an economist at NKC Independent Economists in Paarl, near Cape Town.

"The overall economic prospects for Africa are positive," Verreynne said.

Africa secured 5.7 per cent of global foreign direct investment projects last year, up from 3.6 per cent a decade earlier, accounting firm EY said in its 2014 Africa Attractiveness Survey, released on May 15. More than 400,000 new companies were registered on the continent last year, according to the Tunis-based African Development Bank.

"There are more business opportunities," Ghanaian Sebastian van Leeuwen, who co-owns a property rental company and cleaning business, said. "The market is less saturated and there is less competition."