I will have more to say on this soon, but let me introduce an idea I am thinking through. I have the sense that there is a real shift in momentum on interest in Africa from the subject of aid to a possible place to make profit.
One factor has been the “global financial crisis”, from the initial “meltdowns” and “bailouts” to the current focus on public debt levels in the West. The moment for pledges of large future aid increases seems to have passed–“pledges” were made during times that felt flush, but mostly not delivered on even then. Greater scrutiny of the downsides of aid as reflected in critiques such as Dead Aid followed. Now the rich countries feel much less rich, and much less sure of themselves anyway.
At the same time, investors (partly thanks to the bailouts of the financial system) still have lots of cash and conventional opportunities in developed markets look that much less appealing. Interest rates are very low and gold is already at record levels. Africa may be in the process of going from being seen as the outlier that needs massive aid as a laggard in development to the outlier that represents the last great frontier of globalization with growth potential that isn’t available elsewhere.
Africa has been in many respects a “playground” for corrupt Western politicians and schemers. The month before its now-famous report leading to a change of command for U.S. forces in Afghanistan, Rolling Stone had a fascinating piece on a massive land deal between an investor group and a militia figure in Southern Sudan featuring stereotypical behavior of the worst sort all around.
Nonetheless, it would seem that there is a growing level of interest in more transparent and straightforward investment activity of the sort that could have the potential to contribute to sustainable growth in a number of African countries.
Here is the link to a recent report from the McKinsey Global Institute on Africa’s “Emerging Lions”.