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On 4th November, The Henry Jackson Society hosted ‘Africa Emerges: Consummate Challenges, Abundant Opportunities’, featuring Professor Robert I. Rotberg, Director of the Program on Intrastate Conflict and Conflict Resolution at Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, and former President of the World Peace Foundation.
Rotberg began by arguing that ‘Africa is poised to join the other continents in raising living standards for a billion people.’ However, he then outlined key challenges that Africa is facing, which must be overcome if the continent is to ‘catch up with Asia’.
Rotberg noted that ‘Africa slipped economically’ as Asia ascended, and that there were ‘coups everywhere’. These problems taken together led to ‘large periods of stagnation’, which manifested in a large reduction in GDP growth per capita.
That said, Rotberg stated that ‘in this century, Africa has begun to grow in a way that is remarkable.’ He pointed to the rapid and continuing increase in oil and mineral exports from countries such as Equitorial Guinea, Rwanda, Mozambique, Kenya, Nigeria and Angola. Further, this growth has the potential to shift the economic sands across the African continent.
Rotberg argued that the fundamental engine and driver of this emerging growth in Africa is China. He spoke of how Chinese involvement in the continent has ultimately led to increased prices for African raw energy and mineral exports. Indeed, he went so far as to say that ‘every time you buy chinese goods, you are helping Africa.’
Turning to politics, Rotberg spoke of a ‘growing middle class’ in Africa. Although he accepted that there are competing figures regarding the actual numbers which make up this new African middle class, he argued that ‘importantly, twenty years ago nothing like this existed.’
Ultimately, Rotberg argued that this emerging middle class, coupled with greater fiscal responsibility and anti-corruption efforts, could radically alter life on the African continent. He noted serious challenges to this, particularly in relation to a rapidly growing population and dwindling energy generation capacity, but was still keen to stress the positive advances which have been made across Africa in recent years.