We are living in interesting times. Recently I watched a video with poverty-fighting, development-minded friends, and the video was about poverty in Nigeria. Listening in a slightly distracted frame of mind, I kept catching the words ‘poverty’ and ‘Africa’ almost as if there is no way to discuss one without mentioning the other.
Still being only half interested in the conversation I allowed my mind to wander. First to a conversation I had with a different friend who said to me ‘the development issue of today is that growth has gone south, and debt has come north’. She went on to talk all about the ‘BRICS’ or the ‘big four’ of new economies (or 5 if you include South Africa). She spoke about the power shift from the G7 to the emerging economies. And of course she had to make mention of the PIGS – the now highly indebted western economies of Portugal, Ireland, Greece and Spain. And she spoke then of the shifting tectonic plates in the world development arena.
I then recalled hearing this talk by Dr Ian Goldin at the RSA
Speaking on ‘Will Africa reclaim the 21st Century’ he makes interesting remarks. Like the fact that between 2000 and 2010, Africa’s growth was second only to India and China, and at an average of 5.6% pa over a ten year period is formidable indeed. Like the fact that Africa bounced back pretty rapidly from the financial crisis, and as he puts it ‘there is no Greece in Africa’. Like the fact that by 2050 Africa will be the only continent where population growth is above replacement level, and the combination of this demographic dividend and greater resource endowment than practically anywhere else in the world, the potential for Africa is immense.
If the most important thing about the future is that we can create it, then the conversations we are having right now – while watching development videos and discussing poverty alleviation – are more important than I probably realise. There is the now tired narrative of Africa/poverty in the same breath. And at the same time, there are conversations such as the one that followed Dr Goldin’s address. One is a backward looking, rather hopeless ‘what can we do to help the poor’ story. The other opens a world of possibility and hope. And in each conversation I am engaged in I have a choice which story I will tell. In fact the battle to create the African future we want is a war of words – the tectonic plates we need to shift are in every conversation.