“Africa Rising” banks on reality matching the metrics
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SANGBULIMA, Sierra Leone – In sight of a crumbling 18th century slave trade fort overgrown with jungle, a conveyor belt pours ochre-red iron ore into the belly of a bulk carrier moored on the muddy Sierra Leone River.
Past and present peer across the water at each other in this small West African state, one of several hailed by economists as flag bearers of a new rising Africa seen as a pole of investment and potential prosperity in a troubled, recession-hit world.
In New York, London and Johannesburg, fund managers, bankers and frontier market analysts are telling clients Sub-Saharan Africa, dismissed a decade ago as hopeless and chaotic, is now ready to rival India and China as an economic success story.
“People are pouring capital into the continent,” said Charles Robertson, Global Chief Economist at investment bank Renaissance Capital. “We believe now is Africa’s moment.”
He cites figures to show that swelling growth and investment is buoying oil development, mining, banking, telecommunications and retail markets in the world’s least developed region.
But bubbling up with the statistics are enduring questions about governance, poverty, stability, corruption, climate change and, crucially, if and how the extracted wealth will be shared.
At a launch by Renaissance in a Johannesburg hotel last month of a book Africa’s “Economic Revolution”, participants heard a prediction that the region’s economy will grow from $2 trillion today to $29 trillion by 2050, greater than the output of both the United States and the eurozone.
The chic hotel of the book launch is a world away from Sangbulima, a hamlet of 1,000 souls perched on Tasso Island in the Sierra Leone River where wooden canoes loaded with nets cluster on a muddy beach not far from Bunce Island slave fort.
Across the channel is the iron ore loading terminal run by London AIM-listed firm African Minerals, a major player in the Sierra Leone mining revival the government believes will propel the nation into a new promised era of African prosperity.
Day and night, Sangbulima villagers see the ore ships go by on their way downriver to the Atlantic Ocean.
“We see them pass,” said Idrissa Kargbo, 38, “This mining brings a lot of money to the country”
“But, for us here, we are not seeing the money,” he added.
Here, as elsewhere on this booming but turbulent continent, extractive industries, construction, mobile phones and other harbingers of modernity are thrusting themselves into the lives of Africans, stirring high expectations but also uncertainties.
AFRICA: AN UPLIFTING OR A “LOOTING”
Renaissance Capital, one of Sub-Saharan Africa’s biggest cheerleaders, sees it “charging forward on almost every metric”.
A boy stands on a road at dawn in FreetownA chorus of similar reports from institutions, banks