Africa is re-emerging as a strategic piece on the global chessboard.
Sub-Saharan Africa’s population is approaching the 1 billion mark, and by 2050 is expected to reach 1.8 billion inhabitants. This demographic dynamic is imposing a dizzying pace on the continent’s economic, social and political transformations. In view of the speed and amplitude of the metamorphosis underway, it is worth scouting out the road ahead.
Yet public debates continue to portray the space south of the Sahara as a blighted and marginalized land, untouched by globalization. This view of Africa has to a large degree overlooked the changes deeply affecting African societies, changes which few have fully grasped. Now, in the early 21st century, while the world’s emerging actors observe African developments attentively and actively reconsider their relationships with the continent, the transatlantic community seems to be hesitating.
Four decades ago, a renowned economist wrote on the “Asian drama”, predicting that underdevelopment would remain the main feature of Asia, in part due to the burden of a rapidly expanding population. China, the sleeping giant, has now risen to become the world’s second largest economy in 2010.
Africa is the sleeping giant of the early 21st century. The purpose of Africa’s Moment is not to predict whether it will thrive or stumble, nor to determine who might then be held accountable or take credit for progress made. What matters is that policies are reshaped to be in step with the present and foreseeable opportunities and risks that stem from its demographic trends and what we perceive as the strategic re-emergence of Africa.
An Africa of 1.8 billion inhabitants will rapidly gain a stake in the globalization game. If transatlantic partners do not sufficiently commit to cohesive and forward-looking policies toward Africa, we risk facing the domestic consequences of its great transformation. Africa’s re-emergence calls for urgent changes in conventional thinking and public policy.
Olivier Ray currently works at the French Development Agency. Previously, he worked for the United Nation’s Department of Peacekeeping Operations and Security Council Report, on questions of development, conflict prevention and post-conflict recovery.