A friend just called from the US, asking me to deliver some gift to their friend, somewhere in Dakar. “Kindly do it for me,” he pleaded.
It was telling. There are millions of those that think Africa is another tiny country, where you can trek from one side of things to the next in minutes. Then there are others who think the only thing that Africa has, is plenty of misery.
“Wow! Is this what they call Nairobi?” Some American expatriate flying to Kenya for the first time once wondered as we approached the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport, from Geneva. “This is not the picture I had of this country,” he added, sounding a little disappointed.
He was of the NGO type that populate the more affluent side of Nairobi, doing very little of what took them there.
For these types, a few tips. Travelling across Africa takes one through diverse people; cultures and environments.
Figures from the continent tell a very interesting story, of a continent that some have expressed optimism about, especially moving forward.
As we entered the second half of the year, I chose to go through a few, basically to see what the future of this continent could be. The numbers and other anecdotes, gathered from different sources, portray mixed fortunes of the continent.
I pick a few interesting ones to illustrate my point:
• Mobile telephony: Between 2000-2012, mobile telephone sub-sector was expected to contribute $71 billion in revenues, across sub-Saharan Africa. The growth here, according to some analysts, could be accelerated if mobile taxes were scrapped in the countries as witnessed in Kenya where there was a 200 per cent growth in handsets after taxes were slashed in 2010. In the Eastern Africa country, around 63 per cent of the population now owns a mobile phone, easing business transactions.
• Economic outlook: IMF is optimistic about African economies this year. A number of economies are expected to grow by double digits, especially due to high oil and gas prices, urbanisation and economic reforms in most of these countries.
Most interesting growth projections are Sierra Leon, standing at 51.4 per cent, Niger at 12.5 and Sudan at -0.4 per cent.
All the three are driven by mineral resources. In the case of Sudan, it is the loss of oil revenues, after the secession of South Sudan that will continue to drive the economic trends and politics, this year and a few others to come. So far, fighting and quarrels with the South Sudan, over oil, boundaries and other unresolved issues, keep popping.
• Intra-Africa trade: Earlier in the year, African leaders met in Addis to discuss intra-Africa trade. At the meeting, there was a feeling that if barriers between African countries are finally eradicated, the continent wouldn’t need aid from the West.
Issues of language, tariffs, infrastructure and political goodwill were well articulated, in relation to trade between the different peoples of the continent.
Interestingly, a new report by Earnst&Young seems to suggest a leap in the right direction, for Africa in regard to intra-Africa trade. The firm reported a threefold growth since 2002 to stand at $103.9 billion in 2010, representing 13 per cent of the continent’s total trade. Good leap, but still way too little to call for any celebration.
• Chinese in Africa: Only recently, Chinese envoy Wang Jiarui was in Zambia to deliver a special message to President Michael Sata.
During his presidential campaigns last September, Mr Sata was plain and clear: No Chinese workers, even investments, especially in the mining sector, when I am elected. President Banda on the other hand was distributing Chinese branded sweets to the electorates, hoping to ride on the infrastructural projects built with loans from Beijing. He was wrong; in fact, that is how he lost it.
On coming to power, President Sata seems to have “seen the light”, he had to dispatch former President Kenneth Kaunda to Beijing, to mend the relations. China on their part responded favourably.
No idea whether it was a conditional answer, but Chinese often want to take care of their interests, not egos. You saw them agree with the other veto powers at the UN, for the first time, when her interests appeared threatened in Sudan and South Sudan.
And mid-year reflections continue next week…
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