In recent years the phrase “Africa Rising” has been used to describe a continent on a rapid and unwavering course toward prosperity.
It’s meant to counter the dismal narrative that suggests Africa’s problems are so overwhelming it will never surmount them.
Both views, of course, are oversimplifications when referring to a vast region of 54 countries, more than 1.2 billion people, and one-fifth of the world’s land area.
Challenges are plentiful and easy to find. In elections in Congo and Gambia, for example, voters turned out the sitting head of state – but in both cases he has so far refused to step down. (Yet Ghana provides a counterexample, where the incumbent peacefully conceded defeat after the election.)
African economies are still far too eager to exploit their natural resources, such as oil and minerals, when the need is to grow their industrial base. With 16 percent of the world’s population, Africa accounts for just 2 percent of global manufacturing. More than 2 out of 5 Africans still earn less than $1.25 per day.
But some intertwining developments with huge possible upsides bear watching in 2017.
By October, African countries are aiming to conclude an agreement on a Continental Free Trade Area. If accomplished it would speed the movement of goods, services, and people across all of Africa, from the shores of the Mediterranean to South Africa’s Cape of Good Hope.
A prime beneficiary could be agriculture, which in many places is showing signs of a big leap forward, aided by new technologies such as sharing crop information via cellphones, using improved seeds and cultivation techniques, installing solar-powered irrigation, and monitoring crops with satellite and drone imaging.
Perhaps the continent’s most ambitious environmental project – the African Forest Landscape Restoration Initiative (AFR100) – will have a beneficial effect on agriculture. AFR100, the combined effort of more than a dozen African countries, aims to restore 100 million hectares (386,100 square miles) of degraded forests. The project will combat desertification, improve water and soil quality, increase biodiversity, and improve resilience to climate change.
Finally, China’s recent ban on the ivory trade provides great news for the continent’s most iconic wildlife species, the African elephant. Some 70 percent of the ivory from elephant tusks ends up in China.
“China’s announcement is a game changer for elephant conservation,” says Carter Roberts, president of the World Wildlife Fund.
The sale of elephant ivory, worth about $500 a pound in China, will be phased out completely by the end of 2017. Currently some 20,000 elephants are killed each year for their tusks.
Steps forward in trade, agriculture, the environment, and the protection of wildlife don’t often get the biggest headlines. But they’re an important part of the African story, too.