I was the first African Studies graduate student in the U.S. in 1962. Numerous African countries had become independent or were about to become independent. My focus was West Africa, and I was optimistic about the future of Ghana and its neighbors. Sixty years on, progress has been extremely slow. I was again drawn to Africa in the 1990s, as counsel to a pan-African bank and President of the U.S.-Africa chamber of commerce. Again I shared the optimism of my African friends.

But corruption in government and business has continued to hold African nations back. Maybe in the 2020s they will kick the habit. But since China, where the biggest slice of investment in Africa is coming from, is known to engage in payoffs wherever that is useful, I have a hard time thunking that the end of corruption in neigh. I can think of no African nation where corruption has been stamped out for more than a decade or two before taking root again.

Corruption corrodes society. It makes a mockery of governance and of the benefits of education and market economies.

I would like to be optimistic again. But demography by itself won't do it. Sorry.

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I write a lot about Africa, but I wouldn't say I'm "optimistic on the Continent". Optimism comes from seeing something to be optimistic about. There are specific countries I am very optimistic about and there are countries that I am very pessimistic about. I long for the day when people stop talking about Africa as a whole and start thinking specific countries.

If you ask me about Ivory Coast, I am optimistic, they learned to not just sell cocoa beans but sell over $1B in cocoa paste.


If you ask me about Morocco, I am very optimistic, they have become the aerospace and automotive hub of Africa. They are trying to become The EU's "China" or "Mexico" - an assembly hub.


If you ask me about Eritrea, I am don't even know what to think since they don't even post a lot of their economic data to the World Bank/IMF.


If you asked me about Equatorial Guinea, I am extremely disappointed with how they misused their new found oil in the 90s. I am pessimistic about them since they will run out of oil in 10 years.


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In terms of countries following the Bangladesh/Vietnam model, the closest country to that is Ethiopia.

It's the only Sub-Saharan African country that has massively improved their cereal yields to almost surpassing the Low Income Food Deficit Country average:


Every other African country save Egypt and South Africa has mediocre agricultural yields that isn't close yet to increasing food productivity so its nice to see Ethiopia about to be the third African country to cross the Low Income Food deficit country threshold.

In addition, it's been expanding its textile sector. In 2000s, Ethiopia only sold $15M in textiles. As of 2021 , Ethiopia has sold $380M in textiles. I am sure by 2030, it will hit a billion.


My only issues with Ethiopia has to do with its internal conflicts in its country and the fact that it just acknowledged Somaliland (to get port access) which has angered its neighbor, Somalia. Ethiopia and Somalia have fought more times than I can count, even before Europeans came in. It also just defaulted on its debt a week ago.

As for other African countries, Tanzania is also learning to export clothes. At 2021 - $240M in exports. 20 years ago Tanzania was mainly selling raw cotton. So Tanzania is learning to make textiles.

As for other African countries, too many are dependent on selling commodities and have a pro-cyclic fiscal policy. So like oil prices are up, Nigeria/Equatorial Guinea/Gabon/Angola spend more and their economies go up, but when oil prices go down, living standards plummet.

Namibia is embracing green tech and dirty tech -it just discovered LOTS of oil. By 2030s, Namibia will be selling both green hydrogen and oil, so Namibia will probably the next "struck the resource lottery" rich country unless it mismanages its oil wealth.

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I’m a Nigerian in my mid twenties. This is going to require blood, sweat and tears to happen. Emphasis on blood. Not born and raised, but I’ve always kept my ear to the beat on the motherland. I think there will be some huge selective success stories of companies forming relationships with regions in Africa but the overall narrative here will play out in the way described here untill a complete cultural overhaul occurs. The cultural cache to make nationwide agendas possible for a lot of these countries does not yet exist. There are signs of this happening but this is long term. Like very very very long term. Extremely unpredictably so. Ultimately, I am optimistic but I expect to see the fruits of that optimism come to bare when I am a very very old man.

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“There will come a time, not too long from now, when countries around the world are clamoring for African migrants instead of trying to keep them out.”

This is hyperbole. The time may come when developed countries want or even need some reasonably vetted African immigrants. However, given the ongoing population explosion, the supply of wannabe immigrants is almost certain to exceed demand. Perhaps the EU will become like Canada and welcome migrants with needed skills while excluding the vast majority of poor people. In any case, rumors of countries clamoring for African immigrants are greatly exaggerated.

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The political environment in much of Africa has deteriorated pretty dramatically since this piece first appeared.

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As probably the only African consul reading this post - I heartily approve and appreciate Noah's optimistic outlook on the future of Africa.

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A positive outlook on African development - But remember that Africa has become very unstable politically in the last few years. There has been 7 coups in three years all involving potential or actual kleptocrats (https://www.africanews.com/2023/08/30/africa-the-7-military-coups-over-the-last-three-years//). If this continues it has the ability to derail economic development

Paul Whiteley

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Cutting fertility rates and slowing population growth have been part of a package of modernization changes (along with education, investment, etc.). The causation in large part goes from cut birthrates to rising incomes rather than from rising incomes to cutting fertility. Think of the difference between women spending their adult lives pregnant and nursing and caring for many children versus women in paid work. The demographic dividend is real and underemphasized.

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What are your observations about growth and productivity as a function of nation's government type ? Many democracies achieved this growth, but not all. Monarchies, but not all. Social democracies have maybe more than most. Communist countries mixed. China good, Russia not so good. Autocracy good and not so good.

Pethaps the ability of a nation to dampen corruption and monopolizing oligarchy is a factor.

China is one country, one government. Same for Vietnam. Africa is 54 countries. With no cohesion like a European Union. I think this fragmentation would naturally result in staggered and uncoordinated growth.

Finally, growing up in West Virginia 50s and 60s, I'm acutely aware of the coal and timber plundering robber barons of natural resources. Oil, gas and minerals are major global strategic assets in many African nations. So far, most, as is common, by weak governments, get pillaged by business colonizers who leave little behind.

Moving beyond natural resource extraction is a key need for sustainable GDP per capita growth and wealth. But my concern is the lack of strong good government.

Whatever and however Vietnam figured this out, seems to be a good best practice for Africa.

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Looks like like Nigeria had a massive currency devaluation in 2023. I don't know anything about this and would be curious to know why that happened and what the effects have been so far.

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One interesting (maybe) thing for the remainder of the week:


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What are your suggestions for compelling reads regarding the impact of decreasing global fertility rates? I can’t seem to get a handle on how serious an issue this is and it what time frame especially given the data out of Africa and potential mitigating factors such as immigration and technological progress. Thanks in advance!

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Great job! Here is a more recent paper on industrialization in Africa: https://www.policycenter.ma/index.php/publications/industrialization-africa-issues-and-policies

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