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Mythundersthood
August 21, 2011 2:45 AM   Subscribe

Why Africa is leaving Europe behind: Africans are relishing something of a reversal in roles. The former colonial powers in Europe are wrestling with debt crises, austerity budgets, rising unemployment and social turmoil. By contrast much of sub-Saharan Africa can point to robust growth, better balanced books and rising capital inflows. There is an opportunity in this novel scenario: for Africa to assert itself on the global stage, and for European countries to take advantage of their historic footprint in Africa by stimulating commercial expansion to their south. But it is far from clear either side will grasp it. Recently.
posted by infini (27 comments total) 13 users marked this as a favorite

 
Some additional supporting information :

Europe has surrendered moral high ground as well as commercial dominance in Africa. But it is not too late to reverse that. On the former, at least, Europeans and Americans have remained by far the biggest donors during the famine, where African and emerging nation voices have been absent. On the latter, Africa’s economic recovery has only just begun.

posted by infini at 2:54 AM on August 21, 2011


better balanced books

So not balanced. Just better not balanced.
posted by uncanny hengeman at 3:27 AM on August 21, 2011 [3 favorites]


I wonder why those refugees are risking their lifes in Europe-bound nutshells off the Mediterranean and Atlantic coasts of Africa, then. The fools!

(No, I haven't RTFA. But I'm not bothering to register at the FT for an article with such an idiotic headline.)
posted by Skeptic at 3:28 AM on August 21, 2011 [5 favorites]


Its not behind the paywall afaik
posted by infini at 3:29 AM on August 21, 2011


Infini, the headline shows up, then you are asked to register, if you skip it, you lose the article and go to the front page. (where I can't find it, but didn't really exert an effort either...)
posted by Max Power at 3:33 AM on August 21, 2011


You can't read the article without registering, although I would have liked to read this artile I don't think this is ok for an fpp. Flagged.
posted by ts;dr at 3:46 AM on August 21, 2011


Yeah paywalled for me on firefox, chrome, opera and safari.

However, if you really want to read it, the following works for me in firefox.

Find headline on article, copy and paste headline into news.google.com, click on resulting link, click again if redirected to google.com, access article.
posted by Ahab at 4:16 AM on August 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


Ahab, no wonder the paywall didn't show up for me, I found it via google news
posted by infini at 4:23 AM on August 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


Article also here.
posted by Ahab at 4:32 AM on August 21, 2011


Thanks Ahab. The article is better balanced than the inept headline, but I still don't quite see which point it is trying to make, other than that Europeans should "engage" more with Africa. Which is right, but some sentences about how this "engagement" is supposed to look like are downright suspicious. For instance:

Many of his western peers still appear unaware of how grating it is for Africans to be lectured on poverty reduction, corruption and financial probity in the light of recent governance failures on their own turf

For "Africans" or for some African governments? Also, one should not exaggerate the governance problems in Europe compared to Africa. Even the most troublesome governments in the EU would still look downright exemplary in the African context. There may not be looting in Lagos, but Nigeria still has a serious insurgency in the Niger delta, for instance.

Europe hasn't lost the "moral high ground" in Africa, because, to be honest, with its colonial legacy it never held it. But if the financial crisis has taught us something, is that we should mistrust such obviously interested articles in the financial press.
posted by Skeptic at 4:36 AM on August 21, 2011 [2 favorites]


I'm almost certain this has been posted before, and it's dated, but I'm on my first cup of coffee: China in Africa by the (otherwise but not in this case) supercilious Fast Company.

Essentially, it makes the case that Chinese corporate exploitation of natural resources has fueled the growth in a lot of sub-Saharan countries in a kind of devil's margin: we get the trees and minerals, you get roads and schools, and hopefully you can build a middle class as you go along (but good luck with the latter).
posted by digitalprimate at 4:46 AM on August 21, 2011


Many of his western peers still appear unaware of how grating it is for Africans to be lectured on poverty reduction, corruption and financial probity in the light of recent governance failures on their own turf.

I'm deeply sympathetic to this point of view. I tend to see the assumption that providing aid confers a right to moralise as a flawed, sometimes insidiously racist, and sometimes overtly neo-colonialist, one. That's particularly the case when aid comes from the very governments that once colonised particular countries (it being by no means uncommon for a former colonial power to end up being a developing country's main donor).

That said, I too would like to see this presented as a serious argument rather than a short opinion piece. Eg it needs to be broken down into a country by country analysis, with some better and more carefully gathered evidence offered (What growth? Where? Lagos has never had major riots? Not even in 1999? 2002?), and some reasonable and measured conclusions drawn (eg a few years of positive growth does not equal a position of economic leadership. Not for the time being, anyway. So what does it mean, sort of thing.)
posted by Ahab at 5:04 AM on August 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


Africa is leaving Europe behind?

By what measure exactly? Is there even one single measure (GDP, life expectancy, literacy, ...) where this is even remotely true?

This reminds me a bit of how at every soccer world cup the one or two teams from Africa are hailed as having the potential to reach the finals - only to see all of them fail in the first round, or possibly one surviving the first round only to be smashed in the quarter finals. It's always the same story, great individual players, but nothing but corruption everywhere else.
posted by sour cream at 5:42 AM on August 21, 2011


Africa is leaving Europe behind?

By what measure exactly? Is there even one single measure (GDP, life expectancy, literacy, ...) where this is even remotely true


I've been noticing a lot of reports on growth rates of GDP. Of course, they start from a very low base but there's been sustained growth recorded over the past decade as well as demonstrable higher returns. Mind you, just as Europe is a continent of many different countries and economies ( Greece and Germany for eg) so is Africa (Ghana and the Gambia).
posted by infini at 6:10 AM on August 21, 2011


Africa is leaving Europe behind?

By what measure exactly? Is there even one single measure (GDP, life expectancy, literacy, ...) where this is even remotely true?

Disco Stu: [making indescribable body motions] Did you know that disco
record sales were up 400% for the year ending 1976? If these
trends continue... A-y-y-y!

Less facetiously, I think the argument is indeed rate-based; things are getting better in many African nations, and as happens in developing nations during good times, growth rates are phenomenal, whereas we wealthy nations are at best stagnant right now. The multi-order of magnitude gap in wealth and civil society performance between essentially every African country and every European (or North American) country makes this argument a little less compelling, to say the least.

I really do hope that development continues in Africa; in 30 or 40 years maybe South Africa and some of the North African countries will be 'real' First World nations, and maybe there will be many more countries in the position that South Africa is now. I don't know how optimistic to be about this, though, as this was more or less the goal set by many of these nations at the end of the colonial period, and here we are now.

posted by monocyte at 7:29 AM on August 21, 2011


This is very misleading. I have great hopes for Africa, but the comparison with Europe is nonsense. The countries within Africa have such natural resources, but the kill joy in all this is it's corruption. Even South Africa, who I consider heads and shoulders above the rest, is marred by violence, unemployment, corruption. What is happening in Europe is ugly indeed, but after a few years people will forget this after their debt is put in check. I do not hear a bunch of Greeks risking their lives to get to Africa looking for a better life.
posted by roastermarv at 8:56 AM on August 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


I've been noticing a lot of reports on growth rates of GDP.

Well, by that measure, China has left Europe in the dust for the past two decades or so.
posted by sour cream at 9:13 AM on August 21, 2011


This article is a bit premature, as the African nations that are increasing in population size and economic power will only start to become dominate around 2050, assuming nothing too bad happens to them. (Also assuming there is no catalyst to dramatically increase their growth rates.)
posted by michaelh at 9:16 AM on August 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


By what measure exactly? Is there even one single measure (GDP, life expectancy, literacy, ...) where this is even remotely true?

In levels of religious faith, perhaps? Cue the rather topsy-turvy scenario of African missionaries evangelizing to white Europeans.
posted by Apocryphon at 11:05 AM on August 21, 2011


In levels of religious faith, perhaps? Cue the rather topsy-turvy scenario of African missionaries evangelizing to white Europeans.

Less topsy-turvy than you may think: African evangelical preachers are now a common fixture in many European cities. For the moment, they mostly cater to their fellow immigrants, but inevitably some natives join their congregation. Also, the Catholic church has long been importing African priests to cover their deficit in faithless Europe.
posted by Skeptic at 1:20 PM on August 21, 2011 [3 favorites]



That said, I too would like to see this presented as a serious argument rather than a short opinion piece. Eg it needs to be broken down into a country by country analysis, with some better and more carefully gathered evidence offered (What growth? Where? Lagos has never had major riots? Not even in 1999? 2002?), and some reasonable and measured conclusions drawn (eg a few years of positive growth does not equal a position of economic leadership. Not for the time being, anyway. So what does it mean, sort of thing.)


I've been thinking about this and whether or not to answer it. I started tracking this so called economic rise in Africa at the beginning of this year after noticing The Economist and The World Bank had issued reports building on McKinsey's work from the previous summer.

At this point, reading through the so called conversation in this thread, the question becomes, does one link to a bunch of stuff that seem to point towards economic growth and opportunity in selected nations across the continent - thus attempting to make an effort to demonstrate the thesis - or does one simply take all the dismissive comments and say fuck it, its not worth trying to open people's minds to what is happening out there.
posted by infini at 9:45 PM on August 21, 2011


infini Thank you for the patronising tone. A lot of us are aware of the economic growth and broad improvements in civil society in some nations of Africa. Quite a few of us will also agree that there's a lot of anti-African prejudice, even among well-meaning Westerners, which Africans may rightfully find grating at least.

This said, there is plenty to snark about in that article, starting with its headline. The fact that (some) African nations now have better economic growth rates than Europe may be very good news for investors, but for those Africans it just means that they are (just barely) starting to catch up with Europe, not overtaking it (and even the "catching up" may be doubtful if their population grows faster than the GDP, or if the growth is badly slanted in favour of a small ruling clique: see in particular Equatorial Guinea).

Then, the comparison between London and Lagos re. looting, apart from being very disputable, as others have pointed out, smacks badly of Gaddafi's snarky comments last week when he offered his support to "the oppressed people of London". Surely you must be aware that there's a long and undignified tradition of African despots, like Idi Amin, and other oppressive regimes, including the apartheid governments in South Africa, issuing sarcastic comments about European decline whenever there was a economic crisis in Europe.

In short, the whole article reads more like a press release from a lobbying firm with several African (presumably Nigerian) accounts than a serious attempt at analysing the roots and consequences of a recent economic bonanza in resource-rich African nations, in a context of rampant speculation in the commodity sector.
posted by Skeptic at 1:11 AM on August 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


"idiotic" "inept" headline

Tell me, if India or China replaced Africa in that headline, what would your reaction be?
posted by infini at 3:43 AM on August 22, 2011


Tell me, if India or China replaced Africa in that headline, what would your reaction be?

I'd still find it idiotic and inept, and mainly because it's bad maths, not just because it's bad politics. Catching up is not the same as overtaking, and while China and India are some way ahead most African countries, they still have some way to go to reach the welfare of developed countries.

Such headlines are also actively harmful for LDCs, because if it's bad to be complacent when you are ahead, it's even worse to grow complacent when you are still catching up. While there's certainly a lot that we in developed countries can learn from LDCs, most of those countries can also still progress a lot more in terms of governance, transparence or education. And I say this as a citizen of a country (Spain) that just four years ago was still hailed as an economic success by papers such as the FT, and grew complacent as a result, badly neglecting those fundamentals.

For the record, I also find idiotic and inept the headlines that announce an economic improvement in the US or some European country when GDP has fallen by "just" 1% instead of 3% the year before. As I said: bad maths.
posted by Skeptic at 5:58 AM on August 22, 2011


I would ask how you would articulate encouragement to the upcoming nations when up until now the entire continent has been portrayed a basket case, painting all with the same brush of "Lesser Developed Countries". I have yet to pick up any sense of complacency in any of the regions I have done fieldwork, instead there's a burgeoning sense of opportunities and aspirations driving people to improve their own or at least their children's futures.

Btw, what constitutes a patronizing tone?


However, on reflection, I find that I can either choose to debate with you further that not all the countries are LDCs and that there are quite a few that have formally reached middle income status, or, given the tone and approach of your comments, step back and choose not to engage. I fear that this will not end well.
posted by infini at 6:21 AM on August 22, 2011


I would ask how you would articulate encouragement to the upcoming nations when up until now the entire continent has been portrayed a basket case

Firstly, two wrongs do not make a right. Secondly, portraying the whole of Africa as an homogeneous entity is just as misguided when done positively as when done negatively. Thirdly, it is also more than slightly paternalistic to pretend that Africans need our "encouragement" to do things right. Fourthly, to be really effective, whichever encouragement is needed should be directed to the specific people who are doing those things right, rather than to "Africa" as a whole, just like criticism should also be specific, rather than tarring a whole continent with the same brush (this is just as valid for other continents, BTW).

I have yet to pick up any sense of complacency in any of the regions I have done fieldwork

While the people you have dealt with may not be feeling complacent, others, in particular among the most privileged in the most unequal countries, who also happen to be those most likely to read the FT, may feel comforted in their convenient belief that everything is hunky-dory in their society.

Btw, what constitutes a patronizing tone?

Easy: sentences like "fuck it, its (sic) not worth trying to open people's minds to what is happening out there".

I can either choose to debate with you further that not all the countries are LDCs and that there are quite a few that have formally reached middle income status

I consider that "LDC", "middle income", or even "developed country" are in any case just convenient, but entirely artificial labels devised by academia to simplify a much more complex landscape.

I fear that this will not end well.

I think it already started quite badly.
posted by Skeptic at 9:10 AM on August 22, 2011


At this point, reading through the so called conversation in this thread, the question becomes, does one link to a bunch of stuff that seem to point towards economic growth and opportunity in selected nations across the continent - thus attempting to make an effort to demonstrate the thesis - or does one simply take all the dismissive comments and say fuck it, its not worth trying to open people's minds to what is happening out there.
posted by infini at 9:45 PM on August 21 [+] [!]


I think it already started quite badly.
posted by Skeptic at 9:10 AM on August 22 [+] [!]


Indeed. Infini, perhaps you could post the links and we could discuss them, perhaps opening people's mind?

I know I'd like to read them.
posted by Hello, I'm David McGahan at 6:56 AM on August 23, 2011


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