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Seeing The Other Africa

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By Jean Dassiam Fiawoumo
Several reports on the African economy have recently been published: Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), reports of the UNO and the CIAN (French Council of investors in Africa) – It is astounding to note that, overall, their analysis all lead to one and even positive conclusion: on the whole, Africa is in a phase of economic revival and growth.

The media coverage of Africa remains invariably defeatist: “Not enough.”  “Too little.” “In spite of economic growth, food supply is precarious.” “Economic growth is not enough to reduce poverty…” Yes, yes and a thousand times yes, there are problems on this continent that are numerous and must be treated. There is absolutely no question of overshadowing the human distress. But it is also necessary to point out the economic progress, especially when it is real and important. Then why not highlight the economic revival of Africa without systematically minimizing it to the point of overshadowing it completely?

Especially when it is done in spite of the problems that undermine it and which could lead to the belief that any progress is impossible? There is a big difference between the reality, which, overall, is moving in the right direction, and the image that one continues tirelessly to attach to this continent. Here’s what came out of recently published reports:

An increase in GDP of 5% for the Sub-Saharan subcontinent in 2004 and 2005. The best rate in years. A historically low inflation in 2004 at 7.9%, because “the majority of countries continue to curb price increases in spite of a surge in the price of petrol”, according to the “Observer” of OECD. In central Africa, growth has been the most sustained, at 14.4%, only China can dream of. In eastern Africa, this rate is 6.8% brought on by Ethiopia’s exceptional performance, which records real GDP growth of 10%. “Ethiopia…! A country which conjures up images of famine in the eyes of the general public, rather than that of a country whose growth rate is the envy of Brussels and even Washington”, exclaims the editorialist of Marchés Tropicaux, one of the oldest economics periodical specialising in Africa.

The West African Economic and Monetary Union (WAEMU) has also high economic activity in spite of the Ivorian crisis. Growth has been maintained at 5%, apart from Ivory Coast, thanks to “a reorganisation in relation to transport and foreign trade”, “an exceptional agricultural economic situation” and a “volontarist policy of public investments”, according to the CIAN report. The economic situation of southern Africa in the same way appeared favourable, growth went from 2.6% in 2003 to 4% in 2004, in spite of the crisis in Zimbabwe, and benefited from an improvement in the political situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, which resulted in a rate of investment of 18.5% of the GDP in 2004.

Oil accounts for many of these results, but the good news is the performance of non-oil producing countries like Tanzania. Real GDP growth on average of 6%, inflation maintained at 4.2% and government tax incomes which have quadrupled, now totalling 1.4 billion Euros. If it’s not the oil, then how do they do it? Well, good reforms, good governance, rigorous management… In Africa, that also exists, and it is not an exception. Apart from oil, the growth of central Africa is 4% all the same. Without oil also, Botswana has a growth of almost 5% and holds one of the highest rates of public saving per capita in the world, giving way only to Singapore and other countries that carefully manage the State budget.

It is not about a type of “humanitarian media”; it’s about keeping as much as possible to the other reality of an Africa that is succeeding. When stating that Ghana’s Stock Exchange regularly obtains the prize for the world’s best performance (in 2003 it represented the strongest stock exchange growth in the world), it’s not a matter of praising the country; it’s just the reality.

To know that one can obtain a return of 144% by investing capital there, it’s just a piece of information! And yet have you heard about it? I bet you have not. In addition, according to the American federal agency for private foreign investments (which you couldn’t describe as being in any way humanitarian) Africa offers the best returns to foreign direct investments (FDI). However it is the continent that attracts the least investors. Hardly 2% to 3% of world flows. Why?

Would this be in particular because, after many years, or should I say decades of being continually bombarded with images of poverty, misery, disease, it would seem quite simply impossible to us that such performances can be associated with this continent? And if the major current problem of Africa were its image? Who would want to invest their capital in a place on this planet considered constantly at war, plagued by famine and disease? However, when the various economic reports are consulted, when one follows the progress of the last eight years, when one looks at the evolution of the conflicts for ten years, when one travels throughout the continent, one can no longer deny the fact that this image is false.

Africa is also a land of Stock Exchanges, skyscrapers, Internet cafés, and an increasing middle class: it is enough to go there to realize this. It is also a land of subsiding conflicts, established democracies, freedom of the press… To not speak about this Africa, whereas it is far from being the minority, is to make a constant and one-dimensional caricature of a complex continent. It also continues to discourage FDIs, when there is a vital need for them, even more so than development aid. It is the exclusion from the media landscape of most of Africa that is actually doing well, at a time when it most needs to be in the spotlights.

We have a verbal tic that prevents us from saying this irrefutable fact: “Africa is growing”, without attaching a “but” that puts forward the aspects of famine and misery. A distortion of the verb which almost completely overshadows the efforts provided by a whole continent to fight against its problems, while at the same time these efforts are now visible in figures and facts. Africa is changing. But we seem to find it hard to admit this, to rid ourselves of our negative thinking and our tendency to dwell on the dark side.

These harmful effects, analysed in a book like Un crime médiatique contre l’Afrique, by Christian d’Alayer (édition Le bord de l’eau, 2004), are no longer in doubt. Let us not add to the problems of Africa the injustice of our words, as it is true that they also can kill.

Jean Dassiam Fiawoumo is a freelance journalist, specialized in the African economy. On the Internet: www.dassiam.blog.lemonde.fr Source: www.lemonde.fr

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