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Is Africa Coming Back?

NAMIBIA: A few years ago, Africa was simply off the global economic map. Aside from a few investments in oil in Nigeria and Angola, Africa received almost no private capital flows from the rest of the world. Trade stagnated. The continent appeared in continuous turmoil. African businessmen and political leaders rarely participated in international economic conferences.

Suddenly, change is in the air. Africa’s new generation of leaders, from Yoweri Museveni in Uganda to Festus Mogae in Botswana to Joaquim Chissano in Mozambique to Nelson Mandela and Thabo Mbeki in South Africa are keen on leading their economies back into the global economy. They are savvy, business oriented, and eager for foreign investments. President Clinton’s trip to Africa highlighted to Americans -- usually most neglectful of Africa except when in deep crisis -- the dramatic changes underway on the continent. And at this year’s World Economic Forum Summit in Southern Africa, nearly 900 leading businessmen from the U.S., Europe, Asia, and Africa, met with the new political leadership to map a way forward.

Of course intentions and results are two different matters. Africa has a long road ahead. It is on most measures, several decades, if not a century or more, behind the advanced economies in economic organization and level of income. After centuries of enslavement and colonial rule, and decades of economic mismanagement or internal conflict, can Africa stage a rapid comeback?