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Chocolate-Fueled Growth

VIENNA – As an African, my dream for the next decade is to see the continent producing and selling chocolate to 300 million Chinese, instead of exporting raw commodities like cocoa. Several weeks ago, at the China-Africa Symposium in Xiamen, China, I tested this vision on the audience, and the 2,000-plus delegates joined in resounding applause. Business and government leaders are evidently ready to see Africa introduce structural change aimed at creating manufacturing-based national economies.

While many have touted Africa’s success in maintaining a 5-6% average GDP growth rate during the past decade, this masks the reality that by 2005, sub-Saharan Africa was little better off than it was a quarter-century earlier: it was still the world’s poorest region, with just over half of its population living on less than $1.25 a day in purchasing parity terms. The region’s countries are on a poverty treadmill, running fast just to remain in the same position.

This needs to change. The orthodox agriculture-led growth strategy of the 1960’s, the favored antidote to five decades of a “happy peasant” aid doctrine, must be replaced with an agribusiness development strategy whereby policymakers, donors, and entrepreneurs target the entire value chain to support a shift from bulk products to value-added, agro-industrial manufactured products.

Several years ago, James Wolfensohn, the late World Bank president, describing a new international order, described a “four-speed world”: the affluent, the converging, the struggling, and the poor. Converging countries are closing the gap with the affluent OECD countries; struggling countries have failed to progress from middle-income status; and poor countries – most of them in Africa – are mired in extreme poverty.