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The African Century? Multinationals gear up for a sub-Saharan boom

 Africa's emerging markets are the fastest growing in the world. Photo: <a href=”">Jeff Attaway (Flickr)</a>
Africa's emerging markets are the fastest growing in the world. Photo: Jeff Attaway (Flickr)

Africa now holds an unfamiliar title: Continent with the fastest growing economy in the world.

An article this week in The Atlantic, “The Next Asia is Africa,” provides telling evidence for the economic emergence of the continent:

  • Africa will have the fastest growing economy of any continent over the next five years.

  • Seven of the world’s 10 fastest growing economies are in Africa.

  • By 2030, most African countries will have lower-middle and middle-class majorities.

  • Consumer spending in Africa is estimated to triple from $680 billion in 2008 to $2.2 trillion in 2030.

  • Africa has more middle-class consumers than India despite having a lower population.

  • Enrollment in secondary schools increased by 48 percent between 2000 and 2008 and higher education increased by 80 percent.

The author, Howard French, argues that while few people outside of the boardroom seem to be taking note of this development, big companies are leading the way:

In March, a South African court approved Walmart's $2.4 billion takeover of Massmart, one of that country's largest retailers. IBM has opened offices in more than 20 African countries. In 2009, AES, one of America's biggest private suppliers of electricity, became majority owner and operator of the national grid in Cameroon. In Ghana, a large American data processing company called ACS now employs over 1,800 people. And around the continent, Google is investing in web infrastructure and is launching search pages in a growing number of African languages.

The entire article can be read here.

The litmus test for these fast-growing economies, however, will not be the number of large firms that invest, but whether this investment will include the continent's poorest in its growth.

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