Africa Rising

The continent is the world's next great growth engine--but hundreds of millions are at risk of being left behind

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Amid such instability, it can be hard to imagine progress. Perhaps that's why Africa's successes can sound almost like fantasy. Take Ecobank, a global retail bank with assets of $18.5 billion, deposits of $13.1 billion and 23,500 employees in 32 countries--all managed from the small nation of Togo. Or the Ethiopian Commodity Exchange: a generation after a famine killed a million people, Ethiopia's first yuppies are food traders at Africa's first agricultural-commodities exchange.

Non-Africans can find it hard to grasp the coexistence of such great promise with such great problems. The $130 billion-a-year aid industry retains a singular focus on crisis. Western bankers, meanwhile, seem to see only Africa's prospects. But sub-Saharan Africa, with its 48 countries and 3,000 languages, is inevitably a place of adversity and opportunity. Geldof suggests the former might even lead to the latter. Where does Africa get its spirit of enterprise? he asks. "If you're constantly scratching for a living, you're an entrepreneur."

The world's emerging economic powerhouses, with their own experience of major transition, find it easier to digest Africa's simultaneous potential and pitfalls. China has taken the lead. Two-way trade with Africa--often in infrastructure-for-resource swaps that have given the continent an infrastructure makeover that runs from roads and railways to airports and dams--hit $166 billion in 2011. (The U.S., long Africa's biggest trading partner, recorded $126 billion.) Also in pursuit of Africa's oil and gas, coal, timber, minerals and farmland are India, Brazil, Malaysia, Turkey and the Gulf states. "There is a new Great Game being played out in Africa," says Geldof. "Yet much of the West ignores this geostrategic giant."

That will inevitably change. Mozambique's offshore Rovuma-1 block has bigger natural gas reserves than all of Libya, while initial estimates are that Somalia has as much oil as Kuwait. The continent has 60% of the world's unused arable land. As Geldof says, "In the end, we all have to go to Africa. They have what we need." And it is in that second scramble for Africa that the continent's best hopes lie, because if the first scramble for Africa--as historians dubbed the period from the 1870s to 1900--was a European imperialist carve-up, the second should leave Africa as the big winner. The more needed Africa is, the less needy--and the more powerful--it can be. With the right governments, "we have the capacity to do wonderfully well," Tutu says.

So tantalizing is the new hope across Africa, it infects even the most skeptical. Asked to imagine the future, Mwangi predicts one day returning to photography to capture a very different Kenya. "There are tough days ahead," he says. "There will be violence. But eventually you'll see an evolution. We'll be a new country, stable and with a government with standards. We'll be reborn. Out of the old will come the new." With a bit of luck, that's a story he'll be shooting across all of Africa.

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