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The Sino-American Scramble for Africa

Not only do Africa's economic-development indicators lag far behind those of many other regions, but the continent also has a demographic time bomb on its hands. If the rest of the world, particularly its largest economies, do not engage constructively with the continent, Africa's problems will become global problems.

NEW HAVEN – Africa, I recently noted, “accounts for 17% of the world’s population, but only 3% of global GDP.” This stark imbalance means that, in the years ahead, Africa will be either a source of “global instability and extremism” or a major source of global growth. One has only to look at economic and demographic trends to understand why the first outcome seems more likely.  

The International Monetary Fund estimates current world annual GDP to be around $90.5 trillion. Whereas the United States accounts for $22.3 trillion, and China for $15.3 trillion, Africa’s combined GDP is only around $2.6 trillion. At the same time, the United Nations’ World Population Prospects 2019 suggests that by 2100, Africa will comprise 4.3 billion of the world’s 10.9 billion people, owing to high fertility, rising life expectancy, declining child mortality, and other factors. This “wrong-way” relationship between economic and demographic trends portends a future of poverty, urban decay, hunger, chaos, and extremism for around 40% of the world’s people by 2100.

If Africa is to avoid the grim fate that the data seem to predict, the continent urgently needs to accelerate structural economic reforms and achieve higher rates of growth. But to double its share of global economic growth in the next 20 years, and to quadruple it in the next 40 years, the region’s GDP must grow at a compounded average rate of 6% per year, which is one full point above what it has recorded over the past two decades.

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