Five Countries To Watch
In May 2000, The Economist magazine declared that Africa was "the hopeless continent." Eleven years later, in 2011, it referred to Africa as "the hopeful continent." And on October 20, 2012, the magazine stated: "In recent years investors have been piling into Lagos and Nairobi as if they were Frankfurt and Tokyo of old."
Clearly, gloomy skepticism has given way to glowing optimism about Africa, and for good reason—over the past 10 years, many of the economies within Africa are outpacing economies anywhere else in the world. In fact, according to the International Monetary Fund's (IMF) World Economic Outlook released in October 2012, 11 of the world's 20 fastest-growing economies are in Africa, and this booming economic growth has helped create the fastest-growing middle class in the world.
Of course, the major trends driving this growth—changing policy environments, a growing middle class that expects equitable social and economic policies, high commodity prices, robust domestic demand, and rapid mass urbanization—have not affected all countries on the continent equally. Here's a quick look at five economies that have especially benefited from recent developments, and those that pose some of the best potential for the future.
1. South Africa: The Continent's Largest Economy
Despite its developed infrastructure and abundant natural resources, South Africa does face challenges in the areas of governance and inequality. Protests, strikes, and instability have hindered foreign investment in the country. And compared to Africa's Middle-Income Economies—or MICs, as defined by the World Bank—South Africa's 2.6% economic growth rate is sluggish. (This has partially been because closer ties to the global economy and substantial exposure to the Euro zone mean South Africa has been more affected by the global economic slowdown.)
That said, the country is a major regional powerhouse. It has large investments in neighboring countries. And South African companies—particularly its financial services, retail, fast food, supermarket, service station, and textile firms—are flooding the continent with consumer goods and services. This has given the country an outsize influence on the continent, and a firm stake in the success of economies across Africa.
2. Nigeria: A Waking Giant
In many ways, Nigeria's current status resembles that of Brazil before political and social reforms turned around its economy in the 1990s. Nigeria may be able to replicate Brazil's success by adopting similar policies, including investing in infrastructure, reducing poverty and inequality, and reforming institutions.
According to an October 2012 report by Standard Chartered Research, Nigeria's challenge is to replicate its success in technology (mobile telephony) in the utilities, refining, and agricultural sectors. The report urges Nigeria to move away from the "system of patronage" that has held the country back for decades. It also calls for greater emphasis on diversification and long-term planning that will change Nigeria from an "allocation" to a "production" state. The report states that, "Oil and gas, even given Nigeria's vast resources, are not going to determine development in the future."
Nonetheless, there is a great deal of optimism surrounding Nigeria. The Economist even suggested recently that Nigeria's economy, messy as it still is, has the potential to overtake South Africa within a few years.
3. Angola: A China-Fueled Surge
Angola is the continent's second largest exporter of oil. Its economy was expanding at a rate of 15% before the global recession of 2009. Despite the current contraction, its economy is still expected to expand by 6.8% this year thanks to the export of oil and diamonds, as well as uranium, iron ore, gold, and copper. (Most of Angola's oil goes to China; Angola is China's biggest trading partner on the continent.)
Since the end of the war, Angola's civilian government has instituted aggressive economic and social reforms that are beginning to bear fruit, and it claims to have reduced poverty from 68% to 39% over the last decade. It has also asserted an infrastructure development program to build thousands of miles of roads and railroads, and hundreds of bridges and reconstructed airports. Most of these infrastructure projects involve Chinese firms under an oil-for-infrastructure deal that some criticize as favoring China.
4. Ghana: Africa's Next Economic Star?
Ghana's growth can largely be attributed to increased oil production, although diamond, iron ore, and cocoa exports also contributed to the bottom line. After decades of mismanagement, Ghana began to turn its economy around in the early 1990s, when it instituted wide-ranging economic reforms with the support of the IMF and World Bank. In 2007, oil was discovered, which led to faster economic growth. Today, Ghana has been a stable democracy since 1992, and is considered a model for prudent political and economic reform.
5. Ethiopia: Public Sector Investment
With that population expected to reach 100 million by 2020, Ethiopia represents a huge market that is expected to drive economic integration in the region and growth for its neighbors. In addition, the country has been praised for making progress in all areas of the Millennium Development Goals (ending poverty, hunger, and disease). The Ethiopian government estimates that poverty declined from 38.7% in 2004 to 29.6% in 2011. As a result, Ethiopia has laid the foundations for sustainable growth and even emerging economy status.