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How The Economist changed its tune on Africa

From “the hopeless continent” to “Africa rising” – how The Economist made a U-turn on Africa.

In May 2000, respected magazine The Economist on its cover called Africa “the hopeless continent”. One of the articles painted a picture of a continent ravaged by war, famine and disease.

“Floods in Mozambique; threats of famine in Ethiopia (again); mass murder in Uganda; the implosion of Sierra Leone; and a string of wars across the continent. The new millennium has brought more disaster than hope to Africa. Worse, the few candles of hope are flickering weakly.”

Eleven years on, and the magazine is singing a different tune. The cover of a recent issue features an illustration of a boy flying a rainbow-coloured kite the shape of the continent, with the title “Africa rising”.

An article, headlined Africa’s hopeful economies: The sun shines bright, mentions that Nigerian cement tycoon Aliko Dangote has overtaken Oprah Winfrey as the richest black person in the world. The article goes on to describe how countries such as Ghana, Ethiopia and Mozambique are now among the fastest growing economies in the world and that a “genuine middle class is emerging”.

“Since The Economist regrettably labelled Africa ‘the hopeless continent’ a decade ago, a profound change has taken hold.”

While the magazine doesn’t shy away from the challenges still facing Africa, it says that the continent is likely to continue on its current growth path.


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  • Selali

    So the Economist changed their minds about Africa…well, congratulations to them.

    It might bode well that Africans no longer care as much about what external observers have to say. A positive indication that we are moving away from placing so much stock on meaningless and devious Western ‘head-patting’.

    It will serve the new African consciousness to be ‘excessively’ critical of virtually every single Western ‘hand-out’. If history has taught us anything, it will be that we are better served turning away that outstretched hand than contemplating taking it.

    More ‘Un-globalization’, ‘internal trade’ and ‘industrialization’ is needed in Africa.

  • Kevin

    South Africans must learn to differentiate between South Africa and Africa, South Africa is a part of Africa, it not the whole Africa. South Africa is better off economically compared to the rest of Africa, but it is the most unequal in Africa.
    Unequallity breeds all the ills jon deacon has described.
    South Africa is trying to address this unequallity using policies that will be judged in time.
    What is happening in South Africa according to jon deacon happened in the rest of Africa through out the first 3 to 4 decades but governance has changed in most of Africa, Kenya included, this has led to a decade of sustained economic growth in regions like East Africa, where damonic growth has not – as would have been expected – been dependent on minerals.

    • Amoit O

      Completely agree with Kevin’s comments – moreover, I assure you that back in the day when the Economist made the hopeless claim, South Africa probably took the position that the Economist referred to “Sub-Sahara Africa – excluding South Africa,” which is still the same a decade later…

  • jon deacon

    The Economist got it right the first time. The corruption and crime is completely out of control. Crime is so bad that a walk on Table Mountain in Cape Town is not advised and even a walk in the Kirstenbosch Gardens is not that safe anymore. Go and have a look at the electric fences springing up ever higher around homes, the armed response cars racing around, the cameras, the passive beams etc etc then speak to residents – it is the wild west and despite government claims to the contrary believe me living in SA is very very dangerous. The corruption? Read the newspapers and watch E news and Carte Blanche and you will see it has become the norm. What is more there seems to be no consequence when people, mainly the government, are found out other than maybe being put on suspension on full pay or being sent to prison – prison being a private hospital. Or they are “redeployed” to other well paid positions. I know no one who does not believe SA is going the Zimbabwe route.

    • Neil

      I think the article is about Africa. You know, the whole CONTINENT?

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