To all appearances, 2010 hasn't been a year of breakout social progress for Africa. Harsh anti-homosexual laws in Uganda, widespread brutality in Congo, political instability in Nigeria and Zimbabwe, food shortages across the continent--none of that news suggests a region undergoing rapid modernization or transformative economic growth. Yet Newsweek's Jerry Guo argues that on many important metrics--such as GDP expansion and gross national income--several African nations have joined the ranks of China and India as burgeoning economic powers to be reckoned with.
Guo notes that while "pervasive corruption" remains a problem in many places, Africa enjoys an "expansive base of newly minted consumers" and "the world's highest rate of urbanization." He relates tales of Nigeria's nouveau riche, and runs down a list of factors contributing to growth:
Spurred by eager investors, governments have steadily deregulated industries and developed infrastructure. As a result, countries such as Kenya and Botswana now boast privately owned world-class hospitals, charter schools, and toll roads that are actually safe to drive on. A study by a World Bank program, the Africa Infrastructure Country Diagnostic, found that improvements in Africa's telecom infrastructure have contributed as much as 1 percent to per capita GDP growth, a bigger role than changes in monetary or fiscal policies. Shares of stocks in recently privatized local airlines, freight companies, and telecoms have skyrocketed.
This optimism stands in contrast--if not in contradiction--to the accounts of human-rights violations from Nicholas Kristof and other international commentators.