Africa: Changing the Narrative

Jeremy CliftBy Jeremy Clift

Enduring poverty and conflict are so stark in Africa that it is sometimes difficult to see what else is happening.

In April 2011, a study published by the Columbia Journalism Review titled “Hiding the Real Africa” documented how easily Africa makes news headlines in the West when a major famine, pandemic, or violent crisis breaks. But less attention is given to positive trends and underlying successes.

In many cases, despite accelerated economic growth over the past 10 years, the rise of a middle class of consumers, and a more dynamic private sector attracting indigenous entrepreneurs, the narrative about Africa has remained focused on the bad news.

That has, fortunately, started to change.  This week’s cover story in The Economist, on “Rising Africa”, is testament to that. So too is the just-released December 2011 issue of Finance and Development (F&D) magazine on “Changing Africa: Rise of a Middle Class”.

Changing the narrative on Africa

The World Bank earlier published a book on African success stories, titled Yes Africa Can. And the Tunis-based African Development Bank marked 50 years after independence from colonialism for many African nations with a study called Africa in 50 Years’ Time: The Road Towards Inclusive Growth.

The study says that “Over the past decade, despite the successive global food and financial crises, Africa has been growing at an unprecedented rate. Though it will take decades of growth to make major inroads into Africa’s poverty, there is now a growing optimism about Africa’s potential.”

Exploring potential

This issue of F&D explores that potential, epitomized by our cover showing Kenyans Susan Oguya and Jamila Abass, co-founders of AkiraChix, who developed a mobile phone application for farmers in rural areas. They are working in a technology hub for IT investors and tech companies.

F&D’s lead article by Harvard professor Calestous Juma says a growing middle class is shifting perceptions about Africa’s prospects. The middle class may have comparatively little to spend by Western or Asian standards, but the traditional focus on eradicating poverty in Africa “distracted both African authorities and international donors from serious consideration of ways to promote prosperity infrastructure development: technical education, entrepreneurship, and trade,” he says.

Undeniably, much remains to be done. But cementing the economic growth in Africa is the key to helping the poorest members of society, as IMF African Department head Antoinette Sayeh points out. Also in this issue, Abebe Selassie writes about the challenges South Africa is facing and Oxford University economist Paul Collier discusses a crucial component of Africa’s needed infrastructure: railways.

For F&D’s “People in Economics” column, I profiled Nigeria’s economic czar, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, who is shaking things up in Africa’s most populous country. She says Africa has to make up for lost time in the global race to be competitive.

The regular “Picture This” section of F&D takes a look into the future, with a snapshot of what the African continent will look like fifty years from now.

Other articles in this issue of F&D look at:


Finance & Development is a quarterly magazine of the IMF, publishing analysis of issues related to the international financial system, monetary policy, economic development, poverty reduction, and other world economic issues. The print and web editions are published quarterly in English, Arabic, Chinese, French, Russian, and Spanish.

For previous issues of F&D visit:

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4 Responses

  1. For decades, Africa has generated (and still does) a lot of negative publicity, most of it well-founded. The three biggest export earners, war, disease, and poverty are fortunately slowly being replaced by more sustainable sectors.
    Donors, governments, citizens, investors are also starting to view Africa beyond being a dumping ground for a) medicines and b) technology that is considered obsolete and even illegal in more developed economies; c) surplus goods and services manufactured in the aforementioned countries that are then offloaded into Africa as goodwill “donations”, when in fact, they are just subtle ways of protecting their local markets as relates to supply and demand politics; d) second-hand/used commodities are still prevalent on the continent and are usually gifted by organizations, countries, and individuals as proof of social responsibility badges.
    The availability of cheap but low quality new products and services for the masses especially from Asia that have flooded the African market mean that the poor and middle class will eventually stop using second-hand goods. Important long-term sustainable sectors like agriculture, infrastructure, and mining are getting the much needed funding and are starting to attract investors. A lot still needs to be done in health and education related industries while the retail and tourism sectors seem to be on the right track.

  2. The reporting should be truthful. This is a very good article by Jeremy Clift telling the whole situation of African continent. Poverty rates are falling. Because of available manpower and natural resources, this area (reportedly a continent of plus 50 independent nations) is now the world’s most rapidly growing region. Impact of banking and financial institutions is now visible. Africans have to educate themselves and develop their economies instead of aid through the NGOs which exaggerate the situation to grab money. Journalistic reporting to have some value, should report the events in their entirety.

  3. Mr. Clift, well reported. I have toured may parts of Africa; the past 6 yrs in PRC reversing deserts, growing soil-carbon food fodder in hostile environs. I subscribe that AID is dry up. The need is to teach Farmers and Herders the lost skills of soil water management as we have done in PRC. With a serious community we teach planting soil generating vegetation under UNFCCC CO2 sequestration and the 100 year storage rule. There are obviously serious details but the principle is the funding is repaid or rolled over for further planting.
    I am back in Australia working with the government to reverse the deserts here. Kyoto is the solution to desert poverty and indeed helping men lead their family community to a better sustainable future. Sounds simple, once it is taught. Nature self-repaired many times after mass volcanic cooling events. But Mother Nature takes a long time without hands. We can make sustained in-roads in 1-3 years and help neighbouring communities. What we need is to get beyond political blockages. Google will show what we have achieved. Robert Vincin

  4. These kind of places are where you find true potential. Africa is a continent that is stricken with poverty but that definitely can change with the help of the right kind of policies… if you look at the natural resources they have, they can do a lot to turn tables around and remove poverty from their countries… of course that will take a decade at least.

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