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August 4, 2010

Continental Shift

By Spear's

As Spear’s documents in our Africa special, there is a vital wave sweeping across Africa

As Spear’s documents in our Africa special, there is a vital wave sweeping across Africa, where the combination of a youthful population, developing infrastructure and a rising middle class is pushing the continent’s billion people towards prosperity. (Our survey also takes in a greater Western engagement with Africa in art and travel, as well as more creative forms of philanthropy, the main light in which the West has seen Africa for some time now.)

Evidence of the force of this growth was available plentifully at the African Business Awards, held in June at the Grosvenor House Hotel. The ballroom overflowed with prime ministers, ambassadors and CEOs, all of whom had come together to celebrate Africa’s vigour and potential. The point of the awards seemed dual: to mark out what makes Africa so different from the rest of the world — its growth potential, its untapped human capital — but also so similar, with its entrepreneurs and ambitions.

For too long now, the West has viewed Africa as either a charity-case or a basket-case. The path is by no means smooth, when a country like Kenya can go up in flames over ethnic tensions following an election, or when Zimbabwe is still at uneasy peace, and there are plenty of countries whose first thoughts are of servicing immediate needs rather than soliciting the attentions of Western private equity firms. Our ignorance of African realities does not help either.

There is also no doubt that China has got there first. Its deals for Africa’s commodities — 40 per cent of the world’s minerals are underneath it — are aiding its own economic boom. But it has not snapped up every opportunity, and if the West looks sharply upon Africa as a business proposition, thinking about innovation and possibility, you will hear the pound signs ring up in bankers’ eyes.

Their investment in Africa does not just benefit Africa: by taking Africa seriously, we stand to gain too.

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