WASHINGTON — The economic news out of Africa is good, spurred by strong demand from global markets for African oil, minerals and agricultural products.
The African Development Bank reports the region is one of the fastest-growing in the world, with a projected overall growth rate of more than 4 percent in 2010, more than double that of most developed countries still recovering from the economic meltdown that began in late 2008.
The crisis did have an impact on many African economies, which were registering growth rates of more than 6 percent before it struck.
“If the world economy and world trade continue to recover, and oil and non-oil commodity prices remain close to current levels, the outlook for continuing growth in 2010 is extremely promising, progressing toward the almost 6 percent of the pre-crisis period,” said Leonce Ndikumana, a Burundian who is the African bank’s chief economist.
He said, with an increasing number of investors willing to take advantage of opportunities in Africa and a fast-growing middle class, “The contemporary African landscape is not dissimilar from that of Asia a few decades ago.”
The bank projected that Congo (Brazzaville) would have the fastest-growing economy at 11.8 percent, followed by Angola, 8.7 percent, and Congo (Kinshasa) at 6.2 percent.
At the other end of the scale, a number of countries hit harder by the crisis will take longer to recover. They include Equatorial Guinea, minus 2.6 percent; Swaziland, 0.9 percent; and Seychelles, 1.3 percent.
Included in this group, surprisingly, is South Africa, with the continent’s most vibrant economy, but with a growth rate projected at 2.2 percent.
The bank said much of southern Africa’s problem can be attributed to the collapse of commodity prices and the fall of export volumes. These factors led to declines in employment, exports, cash remittances, foreign direct investment and other revenues.
Throughout the economic crisis, the bank said it has played a major role helping countries and mobilizing financing from outside sources, especially the private sector.
Ndikumana said public-sector lending continues to be important, but the bank wants to see the private sector broaden the base for growth in Africa.
“In the past, the emphasis has been on the public sector, but that is not sufficient to reach and sustain high growth rates,” he said. Support from the private sector creates income and jobs, he noted.
Asian countries are taking advantage of the investment potential, the bank said — especially Chinese, but also Korean and Indian investors.
“Chinese investment currently is very significant,” said Ndikumana. “In many ways, the Chinese are underwriting the industrialization of the continent.” Investment from the Middle East is also increasing, including in agriculture.
The bank said it hopes that these emerging partnerships with new investors will serve as hedges against future shocks from the developed world and will broaden Africa’s export base.