The African Century

According to John Perry Barlow (of EFF fame) at the end of 1997 in “Africa Rising: Everything you know about Africa is wrong

Wired sent me to Africa to see if my optimism could return intact. I am pleased to say that it is doing better than ever. Ridiculous as this may sound today, it is within my ability to believe that a hundred years from now, historians might call the century we are about to enter the African Century. Am I still optimistic? My optimismometer is pegged, folks.

and

Africa, with the right confluence of investment and faith, could easily become the new Bangalore of software. As many have remarked, there is a certain overlap between the ability to make music – one of Africa’s prowesses – and the ability to make code. I have never met people anywhere who could learn how to operate a computer more quickly.

and

I lost some things in Africa, including my wallet and my health. And thanks to a light-fingered West African baggage handler with a taste for high technology, I returned to these shores without my new PowerBook and several expensive solar panels.

But not without my optimism.

I also gained some things. Here is what I’ve learned so far: Everything I knew about Africa was wrong: Africans are almost universally much more technologically advanced than I thought. Electricity and at least some minimal telephone service extend into even the most remote regions (and believe me, Tombouctou is just as remote as its reputation implies).

Despite that, everything I claimed about Africa is right: I am now more convinced than ever that Africans are about to even the score, having been economically and politically redlined for the last 250 years. They “get it,” as we digital élitists like to say, almost instinctively. I taught people who could barely read how to use a computer, what the Net is and how it works, and the basics of info-economics in far less time than it would take me to pass the same knowledge to your average member of Congress.

According to the home page for economist Edward Miguel’s 2009 book Africa’s Turn

Working in Busia, a small Kenyan border town, economist Edward Miguel began to notice something different starting in 1997: modest but steady economic progress, with new construction projects, flower markets, shops, and ubiquitous cell phones. In Africa’s Turn? Miguel tracks a decade of comparably hopeful economic trends throughout sub-Saharan Africa and suggests that we may be seeing a turnaround. He bases his hopes on a range of recent changes: democracy is finally taking root in many countries; China’s successes have fueled large-scale investment in Africa; and rising commodity prices have helped as well. Miguel warns, though, that the growth is fragile. Violence and climate change could derail it quickly, and he argues for specific international assistance when drought and civil strife loom.

According to Miguel in “Africa Unleashed: Explaining the secret of a belated boom“,

Africa’s prospects have changed radically over the past decade or so. Across the continent, economic growth rates (in per capita terms) have been positive since the late 1990s. And it is not just the economy that has seen rapid improvement: in the 1990s, the majority of African countries held multiparty elections for the first time since the heady postindependence 1960s, and the extent of civic and media freedom on the continent today is unprecedented. Even though Africa’s economic growth rates still fall far short of Asia’s stratospheric levels, the steady progress that most African countries have experienced has come as welcome news after decades of despair. But that progress raises a critical question: what happened?

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