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Technological innovations will help boost Africa’s future growth

The Yomiuri ShimbunAfrica, which enjoys the highest population growth rate in the world, is called the “last mega-market.” Whether Africa can realize stable growth by riding a wave of economic globalization and technological innovations is a focus of attention.

The population of Africa presently stands at 1.3 billion and is forecast to grow rapidly to as many as 2.5 billion by the middle of this century, accounting for a quarter of the world’s population. Countries of sub-Saharan Africa have posted an annual average growth rate of about 5 percent since 2001, exceeding the global average.

In countries rich in crude oil such as Nigeria and South Africa, the development of natural resources has led their economic growth. Since prices of natural resources declined in 2016, economic development that does not rely on such resources has become conspicuous.

Rwanda, a landlocked country with a population of 12 million, is a typical case in point. As its national policy of building an information technology-based economy has come to fruition, the country has achieved annual growth rates of 6 to 8 percent. It has undergone a major transformation from the early half of the 1990s, when different tribes engaged in a successive series of disastrous civil wars.

According to the World Bank’s business environment rankings, Rwanda ranked as the 29th easiest place out of 190 nations to do business in the world, thanks to the relative ease of procuring funds. The country made a great leap forward in this regard from the previous year when it was ranked 41st, surpassing even Japan, which is ranked 39th.

A U.S. start-up in Silicon Valley has been operating drones to deliver medical supplies such as blood products and vaccines in Rwanda since 2016. This spring, the company also embarked on operating similar delivery services in Ghana.

Tokyo must reinforce ties

In Africa, there are many unpaved roads that tend to cause delays in the transportation of goods. Precisely because of this, reverse thinking generated the idea for a delivery service with drones as a business.

The spread of electronic money through the use of cell phones has also been invigorating start-ups. It offers such an advantage that even low-income earners who have no bank account have access to services.

Start-ups’ business operations are wide-ranging — from finance and health care to education and agriculture — with the amount of procured money increasing. There is the possibility these businesses will bring about major changes in the structure of Africa’s economy and society.

The problem is that there are still a number of African countries where the political situation is unstable. South Sudan, which became independent in 2011, has yet to overcome ethnic conflicts.

In those regions in Nigeria where the government’s control cannot sufficiently extend, the extremist Islamic group Boko Haram maintains a foothold and is repeatedly conducting terrorist acts. The African Union, in cooperation with countries concerned, should boost measures to fight terrorism.

Japan needs to further reinforce its ties with Africa. At the end of this month, the 7th Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD 7) will be held in Yokohama. The upcoming event should serve as a valuable opportunity to understand the present state of Africa — “continent of growth” — and to think about its future.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Aug. 20, 2019)Speech



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