Over the past few years as I’ve been one of those touting a new, more optimistic trajectory for Africa, the predictable knee-jerk response from the left has been to call me either a fool or an apologist for Western neocolonialism. But like a handful of others, I persisted, pointing out that Western approaches to foreign aid often do as much damage as good, and also that increasingly Africans are saying “no thanks” to our advice.
The geoeconomics of it all are clear: sub-Saharan Africa last year grew faster than any other region, and some of its best performing countries—while still poor—have been growing faster than 7 percent a year for more than a decade. That’s a pace that changes realities and brightens futures.
My employer, Renaissance Capital, has skin in this game to be sure, with stakes in major housing, infrastructure, agricultural, and mining operations around the continent. Among other things, the bank’s development arm, Rendeavour, is funding the construction for middle-class housing on the outskirts of Nairobi, Kenya and Ghana’s capital, Accra.
They typical knee-jerk response to this is to ask, “How can you build middle-class housing when so many Africans lack basic housing?” The answer: because Africa has the fastest growing middle class in the world. As the Observer (the Guardian’s Sunday title) noted this weekend, almost one-third of Africa’s 1 billion people are in or emerging into the middle class. Do they not deserve a decent living?
Ian Birrell, an old Africa hand and columnist at the Guardian, did a good job of providing a mea culpa (or nos culpae, to be more precise) on behalf of the left with a column entitled “Our Image of Africa Is Hopelessly Obsolete.” This was the kickoff to a series called New Africa in which Guardian correspondents explore these changes.
Thanks to the Guardian for this and for the corrective from Birrell. The motives for focusing on Africa’s destitution was never in question—but the inability of anything else to get through the murk has created real obstacles to progress. So welcome to the club.
Now, if we can just get the American right to look at Africa as something other than a base for drones and potential haven for al-Qaida …
(On a related note: a bit of an update on an African topic explored by a guest blogger on The Reckoning a few months back—contraception in Africa. As always, the imbeciles came out of the woodwork to harangue my friend, Randi Hutter Epstein, a doctor and medical journalist of 20 years. Here’s a debate between a Gates Foundation expert and a Catholic Nigerian obstetrician, taking admittedly predictable positions on the topic. But the point is—the debate is valid, no matter what Slate’s snarky commentariat may say over their brie and Malbec.) - MM.