But the wave of publicity could hurt Africa. It would be a travesty if the stories and images of mass starvation threaten to entrench stereotypes that the whole continent is an economic basket case even though Africa has emerged as one of the world’s fastest growing regions. A range of indicators attest to the continent’s economic momentum.
The International Monetary Fund has forecast sub-Saharan Africa to grow by 5.5 per cent this year before accelerating to about 6 per cent in 2012. Growth will be driven by low-income countries such as Ghana and Ethiopia with oil exporters such as Nigeria and Angola lending support. Africa’s integration into the world economy is picking up pace and its trade partnerships are rapidly diversifying.
China replaced the US as Africa’s main trading partner in 2009, underscoring how the continent’s economic orientation is shifting away from America and Europe. Emerging economies such as India, Korea, Brazil and Turkey have significant and growing trade relations with Africa.
Like Australia, many African countries are benefiting from the broad-based commodities boom driven by Asian demand for raw materials. Poverty rates in Africa are estimated to be 30 per cent lower than in 1995, and about 34 million more children are enrolled in primary schools than in 1999.
Thirteen African countries are already classified as ”middle income” and some optimistic forecasters say the whole continent could graduate to that global income category within a decade by spending about $US90 billion ($88.7 billion) a year on infrastructure (less than one-tenth of Australia’s annual GDP). Even amid the pain and suffering of the Dadaab refugee camp, there were signs of how Africa is changing.
Reporting from the camp was made easier by an excellent 3G mobile phone service. The reception there was often clearer than in Sydney (and much, much cheaper).