10 things you don't know about Africa's booming economy

5 September 2012

Foreign Policy

Africa is no longer the "lost continent" of popular imagination. The region has been growing rapidly for over a decade, the private sector is expanding, and a new class of consumers is wielding considerable spending power. And because of its young and growing population, the sky is the limit for future growth: Between 2010 and 2020, the continent is set to add 122 million people to its labor force. An expansion of this magnitude should set the stage for dynamic growth, but capturing this potential will require a change in economic development strategy. At its current pace, Africa is not generating wage-paying jobs rapidly enough to absorb its massive labor force, which will be the largest in the world by 2035.

Across Africa's diverse mosaic of countries, the challenge is the same: to create the kind of jobs that will ensure continued prosperity and stability for its citizens and enable Africa to become a major player in the world economy. If current trends continue, it will take the continent half a century to reach the same share of its labor force in stable, paying jobs as we see in East Asia today. Africa's most developed economies have a better record in producing wage-based employment, but shortfalls persist even in countries like South Africa, Egypt, and Morocco. Without wage-paying jobs, millions will be forced to turn to subsistence activities to survive, squandering vast potential.

To change this picture, Africa's leaders must move to accelerate job creation in order to entrench economic growth and continue to expand Africa's emerging consuming class. But it won't be easy. To illuminate the opportunities and challenges ahead, here are 10 things you might not know about Africa's economic landscape:

1. Africa is booming.

Africa has been the second-fastest-growing region in the world over the past 10 years. It has posted average annual GDP growth of 5.1 percent over the past decade, driven by greater political stability and economic reforms that have unleashed the private sector in many of the continent's varied mosaic of economies.

Poverty is also on the retreat. A new consuming class has taken its place: Since 2000, 31 million African households have joined the world's consuming class. At this point, when their household incomes exceed $5,000, measured at purchasing power parity, consumers begin to direct more than half their income to things other than food and shelter. The continent now has around 90 million people who fit this definition. That figure is projected to reach 128 million by 2020.


Categories: General

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