Thursday, December 30, 2010

Unfinished Letter from Kigali (December 10, 2010)

It I am sitting at Kigali International Airport in Rwanda waiting to catch a KQ 0468 flight to Nairobi. My expectations of KQ are dismal so I am not sure when I will be in Nairobi, hopefully some time before the end of the week.

I have been in Rwanda attending a conference on “Regional Integration and Human Resource Development in Science and Technology Fields”. The American Association for the Advancement of Science and the Ministry of Education of Rwanda organized this conference.

I am not sure that I want to turn this into some kind of diplomatic cable. But I think some things need saying in the most direct and frank way. So here it is. This meeting confirmed my greatest fears. A long held fear that Africa’s moment as a significant global player in knowledge and thought will not come even 50 years from now.

There is every indication that Africa will be the next big market for consumer goods and that Africa’s broken and dilapidated infrastructure presents a veritable hunger for global investments. So do not get me wrong, besides India and China, Africa is the next big thing for world trade and international investment. In terms of population, Africa could surpass both China and India in just 50 years.

I can see my flight, KQ 0468 on the runway. Things can change.

There is a lot about how Africa will advance that will be driven purely by market forces. And like in many economies such as India, Brazil and certainly China, the vortex of this intense market led growth will generate a formidable middle-income with phenomenal disposable income. My guess is that by 2050, Africa could have about 2 billion people, 25% of who will earn an average per capita income of more than $30,000. This financial muscle can generate pockets of intense affluence, comparable to any North American or European economies.

This nearly 500 million will live typical middle-income North American or European lifestyle with all its trappings of luxury and wasteful consumption. This is the limit of market forces. The rest of 1.5 billion Africans, 85% of them urban dwellers, will be hurdled in the forgotten and largely forbidden corners of squalid urban neighborhoods. Thanks to weak state and family institutions (mothers and others), these neighborhoods will be havens of drugs, murder, rape and human trafficking. For the families of the 1.5 billion, life will be short and brutish.

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