Don’t confuse African countries with each other

When I chat with friends/family back home, I always get these well-intentioned grillings on survival strategies in the supposedly frontier of the world. Images of famine, poverty, and worse – coups, violence and civil war etched in memory. Many western investors are skittish about putting their money on the line. But this is such a sad story. I think the root reason is people continue to confuse African countries with each other.

When people think of Africa, immediate images that come to mind include Black Hawk down, Rwandan genocide, Congolese civil war, Ivorian coup, Ethiopian famine. But alas how things change fast!! Ethiopia is now a vibrant country of 76 million with one of the highest rates of growth. Rwanda now has one of the best investment climates in the world.

More fundamentally, people morph African countries into one another. Ghana and Zambia – with higher GDP growth rates than China and better governed/democracy than Italy and certainly Greece, are mistaken for Guinea and Zimbabwe. The truth is, sub-Saharan African countries as a whole have more freedom, less corrupt and are more stable than the Arab-Spring Middle East and North Africa. In terms of media freedom and freedom of speech, many African countries are even better than Asian countries – and certainly China. And sub-Sahara Africa is unequivocally the fast growing region in the world.

Yes there are bad apples in Africa – DRC, Somalia, Zimbabwe. But look at Asia – there are the bad apples of North Korea and Myanmar. But people don’t confuse Thailand with Myanmar and China with North Korea. The overall trajectory towards prosperity and democracy is the same in Africa as in Asia. Africa is neither famine-infested nor conflict-ridden.

So here is my categorization of sub-Saharan African countries from both political and economic stability perspectives.

  • Stable democracies: Benin, Cape Verde, Botswana, Ghana, Mauritius, Namibia, South Africa, Tanzania, Zambia
  • Countries very recently emerged from civil wars and now relatively stable: Cote d’Ivoire, Liberia, Rwanda
  • Relatively stable democracies with marginal instability or separatist movements: Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Kenya, Lesotho, Mali, Malawi, Mozambique, Senegal
  • Shaky democracies: Cameroon, The Gambia, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Niger, Nigeria, Republic of Congo, Sierra Leone, Togo, Uganda
  • Authoritarian countries but mostly politically stable: Angola, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Swaziland
  • Authoritarian countries that are unstable: Burundi, Eritrea, Madagascar, Mauritania, Zimbabwe
  • Countries currently in de-facto or de-jure civil war: Central African Republic, Chad, Democratic Republic of Congo, Somalia, Sudan

Compare this list to the list of high economic growth countries, it is not too surprising that there are two categories of high growth countries: those that are authoritarian and extractive industry export-driven and those that are well governed and democratic. Countries that depend on high prices of oil/diamond/copper/gold are also the most unequal. The per capita GDP of Equatorial Guinea is on par with European countries but it’s all concentrated at the top. Some countries that recently emerged from civil war are doing relatively well economically and politically: Mozambique, Rwanda and Liberia. Ghana had the highest growth of all African countries last year, at 13.6%.

  • High-middle income countries: Botswana, Namibia, South Africa (oil producing)
  • High growth countries with relatively low inequality: Ethiopia, Ghana (oil producing), Tanzania, Zambia
  • High growth countries with high inequality: Equatorial Guinea (oil producing), Eritrea, Liberia, Mozambique, Nigeria (oil producing), Uganda (soon to be oil producing), Republic of Congo (oil producing), Rwanda
  • Medium growth countries: Angola (oil producing), Benin, Burkina Faso, Cape Verde, Cameroon (oil producing), Central African Republic, Chad (oil producing), Cote d’Ivoire, DRC, Gabon (oil producing), the Gambia, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Kenya, Mali, Malawi, Mauritius, Mauritania (oil producing), Niger, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Togo, Zimbabwe
  • Low growth countries: Burundi, Madagascar, Somalia, Sudan (oil producing), Swaziland

The US has a GDP growth rate that’s lower than every single sub-Saharan African country except Madagascar and Swaziland right now.

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