In 1820, the biggest

GDP by continent

THREE STUDENTS ARE hunched over an iPad at a beach café on Senegal’s Cap-Vert peninsula, the westernmost tip of the world’s poorest continent. They are reading online news stories about Moldova, one of Europe’s most miserable countries. One headline reads: “Four drunken soldiers rape woman”. Another says Moldovan men have a 19% chance of dying from excessive drinking and 58% will die from smoking-related diseases. Others deal with sex-trafficking. Such stories have become a staple of Africa’s thriving media, along with austerity tales from Greece. They inspire pity and disbelief, just as tales of disease and disorder in Africa have long done in the rich world.

Sitting on the outskirts of Dakar, Senegal’s capital, the three students sip cappuccinos and look out over a paved road shaded by palm trees where restaurants with white tablecloths serve green-spotted crabs. A local artist is hawking framed pictures of semi-clad peasant girls under a string of coloured lights. This is where slave ships used to depart for the New World. “Way over there, do they know how much has changed?” asks one of the students, pointing beyond the oil tankers on the distant horizon.

This special report will paint a picture at odds with Western images of Africa. War, famine and dictators have become rarer. People still struggle to make ends meet, just as they do in China and India. They don’t always have enough to eat, they may lack education, they despair at daily injustices and some want to emigrate. But most Africans no longer fear a violent or premature end and can hope to see their children do well. That applies across much of the continent, including the sub-Saharan part, the main focus of this report.

African statistics are often unreliable, but broadly the numbers suggest that human development in sub-Saharan Africa has made huge leaps. Secondary-school enrolment grew by 48% between 2000 and 2008 after many states expanded their education programmes and scrapped school fees. Over the past decade malaria deaths in some of the worst-affected countries have declined by 30% and HIV infections by up to 74%. Life expectancy across Africa has increased by about 10% and child mortality rates in most countries have been falling steeply.

A booming economy has made a big difference. Over the past ten years real income per person has increased by more than 30%, whereas in the previous 20 years it shrank by nearly 10%. Africa is the world’s fastest-growing continent just now. Over the next decade its GDP is expected to rise by an average of 6% a year, not least thanks to foreign direct investment. FDI has gone from $15 billion in 2002 to $37 billion in 2006 and $46 billion in 2012 (see chart).

Many goods and services that used to be scarce, including telephones, are now widely available. Africa has three mobile phones for every four people, the same as India. By 2017 nearly 30% of households are expected to have a television set, an almost fivefold increase over ten years. Nigeria produces more movies than America does. Film-makers, novelists, designers, musicians and artists thrive in a new climate of hope. Opinion polls show that almost two-thirds of Africans think this year will be better than last, double the European rate.

Africa is too big to follow one script, so its countries are taking different routes to becoming better places. In Senegal the key is a vibrant democracy. From the humid beaches of Cap-Vert to the flyblown desert interior, politicians conduct election campaigns that Western voters would recognise. They make extravagant promises, some of which they will even keep. Crucially, they respect democratic institutions. When President Abdoulaye Wade last year tried to stand for a third term, in breach of term limits, he was ridiculed. A popular cartoon showed him in a bar ordering a third cup of coffee and removing a sign saying, “Everyone just two cups”. More than two dozen opposition candidates formed a united front and inflicted a stinging defeat on him, which he swiftly accepted. Dakar celebrated wildly, then went back to work the next day.

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Source: www.economist.com
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