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Book Review – Africa’s moment

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Is Africa a cursed continent? If history is a teacher, it would seem so. The very name of Africa seems to derive from a Semitic root for slave. The Latin saying ‘ex Africa simper aliquid novi’ (always something new from Africa) is a translation of a Greek adage, which was meant to be derogatory. Many refer to the curse of Cam, Noah’s son who dishonoured his father, and of course Cam went along to be the ancestor of all Africans. Throughout the centuries, Africa has always been the losing continent: from slavery to colonization, from failed states to underdevelopment. But it is so?

Jean-Michel Severino and Olivier Ray set out to show that things might be different. They analyze the latest development in the continent, the massive demographic growth, the sustained high growth of many countries, the impressive modernization of infrastructures, and other parameters. They do that and come to the conclusion that most people are incapable to see the truth. They are so used to think of Africa as a backward place, that they simply cannot realize how much this land has gone a long way, and it is posing to become a major player in the world arena in the century to come. In their opinion, it will soon be the case of the West that will have to adapt to Africa rather than the opposite. The two authors use a mix of data, analysis and personal experiences to investigate African trends, but also to project the future. Anyone with an experience of Africa would realize that what they say makes sense.

For sure, reading this book, many pessimists would smile to the efforts of the authors and be sad, once again, for the poor Africans. It is the attitude of a West which did not yet accept the hard fact: they lost their empires. After all, Great Britain still honours her great sons and daughter with medals of the Order of the British Empire. Certainly the West still hold much political clout and extensive financial interests in Africa. It is also true that emerging African businesses are also buying European Banks, American breweries and invest heavily in the most important stock exchanges of the West.

Africa is rising, and it is not yet clear if it will get its time under the spotlight. In the long term, Africa will have to face the stiff competition of the Asian economies, and that of Brazil. However, South Africa is already playing an important role in the region, and Nigeria might soon overtake it in financial terms. If Kenya will continue to play a pivotal role in its region, in a few years time we would have at least three main economic areas able to withstand other emerging markets.

Severino and Ray offer a much more detailed analysis than that of this reviewer, and they are good in using the available data to support their reading of the signs. This book may seem a little too optimistic. Yet, it has the great value of underlining that Africa’s future is indeed in the hands of Africans, and only they will determine if it is a successful future or a return to second fiddle of human history. One does not have to agree with everything the authors say. At the same time, I am sure, those who know Africa will realize how much this book reflect the reality on the ground. A reality that will surprise the world in the years to come.

Jean-Michel Severino and Olivier Ray, Africa’s Moment, Cambridge, Polity Press, 2011, p. xv + 300

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