As African economies grow, its societies are changing as well.
LUSAKA, Zambia -- The teenagers started arriving at the Arcades outdoor shopping center here just as the sun began to set. They took over the parking lot first, then the sidewalks. Within half an hour, the strutting and preening groups occupied just about every available pedestrian space.
Joshua Banda, a 15-year-old who wore green Converse All Stars with matching laces, sat with two friends at the edge of a gurgling fountain, surveying the crowds of girls. He proclaimed himself a fan of Lil Wayne and then told me he wants to be a lawyer.
Joshua's parents moved to a Lusaka shanty when he was small. His father is a watchman, his mother cleans offices. Seeing Joshua's education as the best guarantor of their own future, they saved from their measly earnings to pay for school for him and an older brother. Joshua has learned a bit about sacrifice as well, though of a different sort. Since he can't afford a cell phone on his own -- and since, in Lusaka, teenagers are nobodies without cell phones -- he shares one with his best friend.
The new mall culture in Zambia's capital, which I've watched expand almost exponentially in visits over the last three years, is booming all over Africa, in places like Accra and Dakar, Windhoek and Gaborone, Nairobi and Maputo. Driving it are young people like Joshua and his friends, a generation that is growing up like none that preceded it: a bulging new cohort of young people with disposable income, however modest, a keen and up-to-the-minute sense of youth trends and of consumerism around the world, and, most importantly, the expectation that life that will continue to get better and richer and fuller of choices.
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Africa, with a population expected to roughly double by mid-century, has become recognized as the world's fastest growing continent. But the less-told story is of Africa's economic rise. In the last decade Africa's overall growth rates have quietly approached those of Asia, and according to projections by the IMF, on average Africa will have the world's fastest growing economy of any continent over the next five years.