Is Africa Still Rising? Why Diasporans Care

I read this post on twitter about a fellow who moved back to Nigeria after studying and living in the UK for a number of years. It was in response to a twitter space conversation where Nigerians were discussing the various challenges they experience after moving back to Nigeria. The person referred to moving back after being lured by the “Africa rising” movement back in 2012. They mentioned that they are still waiting for that rise to happen. In response, someone else said “Don’t drink that Africa rising Kool Aid” implying that the narrative is a lost cause. “Africa rising” is a reference to the strong economic performance across the continent from the year 2000 to about 2014.

I remember being in Kenya at the time doing a summer internship and I posted an appreciation of what I was seeing back then – the innovation and massive growth in infrastructure and technology within a short period of time, growth in number of small businesses and massive increase in opportunities for entrepreneurial pursuits, the hard work and resiliency of the people. Caveat, I tend to be more of an idealist and was viewing the country through my own limited lens. Fast forward to being in Kenya in 2022, despite the major advancements, it was not lost on me how people are struggling to come up for air after facing the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic measures, and income inequality further increasing.

COVID-19 greatly affected the global economy and millions of people have been pushed further into poverty. In addition to the current global economic crisis, the worst effects will be and are being felt more severely by low and middle income countries. Furthermore, despite having played an insignificant role in contributing to the climate crisis, the effects of climate change are being felt more severe in Africa, seriously impacting further development. Lower crop yields and production are affecting food security in many regions and this could destabilize local markets. Currently, there is a severe drought in parts of East Africa and millions of people are on the brink of starvation.

I write about this out of interest because as a diasporan, I am aware that many of us are tuned in to what is happening on the continent as we have various interests on the continent; many diasporans have invested back home in various ways, many diasporans send remittances back home and are genuinely concerned about how far their remittances can be stretched all while grappling with effects of inflation, many diasporans are questioning whether to move back (in the short term or long term). The state of the economy and amount of opportunities available are major considerations for where to live, invest or travel.

There is no denial that there is a lot of development particularly in infrastructure and that Africa’s digital economy and tech ecosystem is growing exponentially. However, Africa remains one of the least industrialized continents and the recent booms in areas such as real estate, telecommunications, banking, insurance, leisure and hospitality are concentrated in urban areas.

The answer to whether Africa is rising cannot be one dimensional and need to be context specific because after all Africa is a continent with 54 countries each with its own unique challenges and varying degrees of development. Who defines whether Africa is rising and how do they define it? Indicators that have been used to measure growth such as high GDP growth rates do not necessarily reflect the quality of life of citizens. I believe when asked, the young person struggling to find employment vs the business man turned politician will have vastly different answers.

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