The African Resurgence: From Conflict to Stability

Clearly, the horses have changed. There is a whole new breed of countries surging forward with stellar economic growth patterns; geographically, while there are some countries that have more or less retained their positions through the years, the spotlight has shifted from the Far East and Central Asia towards the African continent.

For comparison: In 2014, a full decade ago, South Sudan and Mongolia topped the list of projected fastest growing economies, with exports of South Sudan’s oil and Mongolia’s mineral commodities powering their economic uptick respectively. On that same list are Sierra Leone, Turkmenistan, Bhutan, and Libya, with iron ore, gas, oil, and copper bolstering their positions. These countries were closely followed by oil-rich Iraq, with foreign investment inflows expected after the US troop exit, and then Laos, Timor-Leste, Eritrea, and Zambia.

As we look at today’s projected fastest growing economies, one fact remains true: Even after all these years, it’s clear that advanced economies are not the ones driving global growth. And while African economies have been historically portrayed as volatile, recent reports from the IMF and other economic think tanks demonstrate that the region is set to shift these stereotypes for good.

The rising economic stars of 2024

While some countries like Vietnam and the Philippines have retained their position on the International Monetary Fund’s fastest growing GDP list, the top 15 are dominated by unexpected underdogs. There’s Guyana and Palau, and then a large contingent from Africa: Niger, Senegal, Rwanda, Cote d’Ivoire, Burkina Faso, The Gambia, Ethiopia, and Tanzania.

It’s interesting to note the presence of Guyana, a small sovereign state in mainland South America. With oil exploration yielding massive finds, Guyana is a surprising dark horse on the horizon with a rich resource under its belt. In fact, the World Bank has reclassified Guyana as a high-income country by virtue of Gross National Income (GNI) per capita.

There’s also tiny Palau taking the top 3 spot; despite inflation increasing to historical highs during the last two fiscal years, their tourism efforts and the renegotiation and renewal of their long-term Compact of Free Association agreement with the United States may just be the key to this expected economic uptick.

Macau, for obvious reasons, is in the number one spot as the primary destination for the Chinese masses to indulge in their favourite pastime: gambling! It’s arguably a vent in the pressure cooker of the Chinese economy – a necessary vent, if I may say. Hong Kong could have followed suit, if not for geopolitical shifts and wage-price disparities that make neighbouring Shenzen a more appealing destination.

And while the rest of the world is basically coming to a standstill, if not stumbling or stuttering, Africa is showing its true potential. Heightened mobile phone penetration and a booming creative and digital services industry filled with inspired young Africans are at the forefront of the digital revolution. Increased regional integration with more members joining the Afreximbank’s Pan-African Payment and Settlement System is another positive marker to be recognised. The mining industry also remains highly attractive to foreign investors; China in particular has invested billions of US dollars through the years, given the country’s raw material demand for its electronics manufacturing industry.

However, while it’s quite fascinating to note these promising projections for African nations, we must also consider the various geopolitical challenges they have been faced with such as internal coups and rivalries. There is also the matter of crippling debt that has caused Niger to miss several loan interest payments, put Ethiopia in default, and Ghana in debt restructuring mode — scenarios that seemingly contradict these growth projections and may hamper their economic progress.

Growth vs Regression

The truth is, economic growth is something that even the best of pundits can rarely predict accurately, due to the various geopolitical influences that can come into play. As we come out of this interesting enigma facing the rising stars of the African continent and the world at large, one thing comes to mind: The lack of governance and economic policies to steer countries in the right direction.

Vietnam has done remarkably well, despite the 2023 dip in its export performance and issues with public investments. Then there’s Cambodia, set to graduate from ‘least developed’ status within the next few years as per the World Economic Forum, largely due to their deliberate pursuit of equitable development and free trade agreements. And Ghana, despite being in debt restructuring, is a much more intelligently managed economy that clearly needs to be emulated.

The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) could have made it onto this list; they are a mineral-rich country with high biodiversity, which could lead to an incredibly healthy economy if they could simply get their act together and address the prevalent corruption and mismanagement keeping their poverty rate at the 62.3% mark.

It’s key to mention Chinese infrastructure contributions to the African continent via the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI); while there is something to be said about high-interest repayment issues on BRI-financed infrastructure projects in different countries, the fact remains that these developments have contributed largely to the outstanding growth of African countries – something that western allies have failed to do within the last century or so. If these countries were aided in a way that let them stand on their own feet in terms of infrastructure, they may just as well have surged ahead a long time ago.

But as we all know, growth is never a linear journey. Which begs the question: What else do these countries really need to stay on track?

From conflict to stability

Vietnam and the Philippines are likely to continue their trajectory due to the arguably more stable economic policies in place, and Ghana’s debt restructuring may just spell a brighter fiscal future for the West African nation. But the other countries who are leading this resurgence may be toppled from their positions if the lack of professionalism required for a government and its economy to stay in shape persists.

What this really boils down to is the need for versatile, conscious, professional governance that can capably address the imbalances and corruption brought about by years of conflict. People who prioritise good governance, invest in their people, and embrace innovation are the kinds of leaders that can bring countries back from the brink and prevent an economic collapse.

When thinking of the kind of leader that can sustain and elevate Africa’s current momentum, some prominent examples are Nelson Mandela, the late peacemaker who had an impact beyond South Africa, or Rwanda’s Paul Kagame, one of Africa’s most remarkable transformation stories. Good leadership will determine whether success is short-lived or long-lasting. 

As the world map of power and influence continues to be redrawn, all of us – pundits and general populace alike – may just find ourselves surprised by what the future holds for the new breed of economic superstars on the horizon.

[Header image: A general view of Mombasa Port on Kenya’s Indian Ocean coast. Credit: MEAACT PHOTO / STUART PRIC]

Vijay Eswaran is an entrepreneur, speaker, and philanthropist. He is the Founder and Executive Chairman of the QI Group of Companies, a multi-business conglomerate with headquarters in Hong Kong, offices in more than 25 countries and customers in over 100 countries. The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.

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