Africa and the Free Market

John ArmstrongEconomy/Economics, Poverty

I’ve engaged more than a few Christians in public forums on the problem of poverty in Africa. No continent has more problems with true poverty and caring for the desperately poor than Africa. It has, up to now, resisted almost every effort to change this situation. But the times are changing, slowly but surely.

Africa A new report from the African Development Bank says that Africa’s middle class will triple to more than one billion people in the next half century. This will not close the huge gap between Africa and Asia but it will bring good news for huge numbers of Africans who presently face a very grim future.

This same report provides a bright outlook on African growth—it predicts the gross national product of Africa will expand by more than 5% per year.

Understand that Africa has never experienced such economic optimism. It has been no more than an afterthought in the global economy until recently. This is now clearly, slowly changing. If the leaders of African nations, and this is the real wild card in this scenario, seize this moment then change could be even deeper and longer lasting. If they revert to past failures and corruption then the people will suffer for generations to come.

There is honest debate about how large Africa’s middle class really is at the present. Some say that it is as low as 2% of the total population. Regardless of what reports you believe their is hope for new African economic growth. Small business is being fostered by investment and micro-loans, something Christians are doing with much success.

China and India have lifted more people into the middle class than any two nations in the world, at least all over the last two decades. The reason this has happened is that both countries have embraced global markets and promoted more economic freedom. China is a long way from being a truly free nation. India is the world’s largest democracy. Both nations have lured global manufacturing but Africa could seize this moment and offer cheaper labor and service than Asia and thereby grow faster. Will it? Time will tell.

A great deal of this growth depends on politics and good leaders. While we give to support the poorest in Africa, which Christians should do, let us also work for expanding the economy of this needy continent. To do so is simply good economics linked with freedom and real compassion.