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Africa’s Economic Boom

Why the Pessimists and the Optimists Are Both Right

Courtesy Reuters

Can you hear me now? Swaziland, August 2010 (Reuters / Siphiwe Sibeko)

Talk to experts, academics, or businesspeople about the economies of sub-Saharan Africa and you are likely to hear one of two narratives. The first is optimistic: Africa’s moment is just around the corner, or has already arrived. Reasons for hope abound. Despite the global economic crisis, the region’s GDP has grown rapidly, averaging almost five percent a year since 2000, and is expected to rise even faster in the years ahead. Many countries, not just the resource-rich ones, have participated in the boom: indeed, 20 states in sub-Saharan Africa that do not produce oil managed average GDP growth rates of four percent or higher between 1998 and 2008. Meanwhile, the region has begun attracting serious amounts of private capital; at $50 billion a year, such flows now exceed foreign aid.

At the same time, poverty is declining. Since 1996, the average poverty rate in

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