Is Africa Still Rising? Yes. Actually, It's Just Getting Started!

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image credit: Compfight/SIM USA

On 13th May 2000, The Economist magazine ran a front cover that notoriously labeled Africa as 'The Hopeless Continent'.

In its eyes, Africa was a forsaken place -- ravaged by war, famine and disease.

Just a decade later, the tune had changed. In 2011 and 2012 respectively, The Economist and Time magazine released editions with resplendent displays of the 'Africa Rising' slogan. Lavish with praise and optimism, they described Africa as a continent of promise, growth and prosperity.

But as I write this, Africa's biggest oil exporters - Nigeria and Angola - are in dire straits. Due to tumbling oil prices, their economies - which are heavily dependent on oil revenues - are dangerously close to recession.

In the face of the slump in global commodity prices - gold, iron ore, copper and coffee, for example - countries like Ghana, Zambia and South Africa have been hit hard.

According to the World Bank's predictions, economic growth across sub-Saharan Africa will slow to 3% in 2016, down from 8% nearly a decade ago.

These are not good times for Africa, right?

Wrong!

It's funny how history repeats itself, because the pessimists and naysayers are back. And they're asking: 'Is Africa still rising?'

The answer: a resounding 'Yes!'

Actually, Africa's just getting started. And I'll give you 5 reasons why...

1) Africa's future is NOT in commodities

Africa's present commodity challenges have a silver lining. It's actually a good thing.

For decades, the continent has continued to depend on the export of commodities - especially agricultural produce and raw minerals. As a result, the economies of several countries on the continent have historically been vulnerable to global price fluctuations of crude oil, cocoa, coffee, copper, gold and diamonds.

They say 'adversity is the mother of creativity', and Africa's savvy entrepreneurs are finding interesting paths out of the continent's commodity-dependence conundrum.

Two interesting ways they're doing this are through diversification and local value addition.

Take Good African Coffee, for example - a local business that works with coffee farmers in Uganda to grow, roast and export finished coffee products to retailers in Europe. Rather than export raw coffee beans, like Uganda has been doing for decades, the country and its coffee growers now earn more revenue by having a larger footprint in the coffee value chain.

As changes like this spread across the continent, the Africa's future will be much more resilient in the face of commodity price shocks.

2) A fast growing domestic market

Over the next 30 years, Africa will have the fastest growing population in the world. Its population is projected to reach 2.4 billion by 2050 -- double its current size, and a quarter of the world's estimated population by 2050.

It's not just the size of Africa's current and future population that should interest you; but its composition. An overwhelming proportion of Africans (more than 60 percent) are below the age of 30. In a future of aging populations in the developed world, Africa's youthful population will be a growth engine for the global economy in the coming decades.

3) It's now much safer and easier to do business in Africa

In the World Bank's latest Ease of Doing Business report, five of the ten fastest reformers on the index are African. While some countries on the continent have made more progress than others in dismantling the structural and economic barriers that frustrate business and investment, the overall trend is looking up.

While there are exceptions in places like Burundi, DR Congo and a few other countries, democracy is taking root in Africa. The continent is now more peaceful and stable, compared to a few decades ago when it was run by dictators, military juntas and warlords.

4) A hotbed for innovation and entrepreneurship

In 2015 alone, African startups received over $500 million in funding from investors within and outside the continent. The entrepreneurs behind these ventures are young, hungry and ambitious to transform the continent with their ideas and innovation.

Technology, especially the internet and mobile phones, has become a powerful springboard for innovation in Africa, and will help the continent leapfrog its way to 'first world' status. More African entrepreneurs are using technology to create simple and practical solutions to tough problems.

And there are hundreds of interesting examples and success stories. Everywhere you look, across several industries - agribusiness, healthcare, financial services, education and tech - Africa's entrepreneurs are transforming the continent's landscape.

5) Generally, life is better on the continent

Most people who have been constantly fed a warped image of Africa by mainstream media may have a hard time believing this, but it's hard to ignore the following facts:

Across the board, Africa is less poor than it used to be. The proportion of Africans living in absolute poverty (on less than $1.90 a day) has fallen from 56% in 1990 to 35% in 2015.

Literacy rates among the continent's young people now exceed 70% in most countries, and primary school enrolment has increased from 60% to 80% since the year 2000.

The battle against major diseases like HIV/AIDS and malaria is making great progress. According to the World Health Organisation, the annual deaths from malaria in Africa declined by as much as 66% between 2000 and 2015. This is a very significant developmental milestone for the continent.

Africa is just getting started...

Africa's journey to economic prosperity has followed a long and tortuous path. After decades of domination, decline, instability and uncertainty, the stars are starting to align for the continent, and the prize could be within reach in this century - regardless of its present challenges.

And here's something to always keep in mind:

Africa's rise to the top will not be achieved by sudden flight. No. Its rise is not a matter of speed, but a test of strength, endurance and faith. There will be setbacks and headwinds along the way, but rise it shall.

Africa is not for the shortsighted; it's for those who are in for the long haul.

Africa is for those who believe.