Engaging Africa

Mukul Asher

Africa’s economic performance in the recent decades has been relatively modest. Its share in world exports fell from 5 percent in the late 1960s to less than 2 percent in 2004. Its share in world FDI has ranged between 2 and 3 percent in spite of strong natural resource base and unmet infrastructure needs. Africa’s Silk Road: China and India’s New Economic Frontier is a part of series of studies planned by the World Bank on Africa’s development challenges. It focuses on how countries in Sub-Saharan Africa can leverage increasing involvement in China and India in the region to spur higher growth.

It is evident from the book that China and India’s greater engagement with Africa is based on pursuit of their respective national interests. Their engagement brings both benefits and costs; and represents only a potential opportunity to generate net benefits for African countries. The benign and positive outcome therefore cannot simply be assumed.

Many policy-makers in Africa have legitimate concerns that the involvement of outside powers could hamper diversifying the economy and development of the indigenous business and professional class.

If the book’s optimism is to be realised, it is not only the elites in Africa who need to exhibit much greater commitment to national development. Outside powers and international institutions also need to change their behaviour and approaches towards Africa.