Robert Kaplan recently wrote this take on African development in the 21st century. The Current:
Oil production is already booming, and food production may follow suit. Africa is the only part of the world without a green revolution. Scientific breakthroughs that tripled crop yields in Eurasia and Latin America have bypassed Africa’s, mainly because no single solution fits the continent’s diverse farming systems and varied agro-ecological zones. But high-yield varieties of major African crops like sorghum, millet, maize, and cassava may soon be custom-fitted to Africa’s micro-terrains and climates.
Moreover, as Martin Walker, senior director of A. T. Kearney’s Global Business Policy Council, writes, the booming economies of China and India now have a fierce interest in developing Africa’s food potential for their own needs. China has supplied African countries with technical assistance in tea planting, soil analysis, and irrigation. China is leading the Asian dash into Africa, with investments as diverse as in chocolate in Ivory Coast and in copper in Zambia, and plans to build or modernize railroads, highways, and dams across the continent. America, which will in the next decade be getting a quarter of its oil from West Africa, will compete with China on development projects, to Africa’s benefit.
And there is something even larger going on: the end of Africa’s millennia-old, geographically imposed isolation. In addition to suffering from disease and poverty attributable to the world’s hottest climate, Africans since antiquity have been physically cut off from the great cultural traffic of human affairs. Though five times larger than Europe, Africa’s coastline, in relative terms, is not nearly as long. And with some exceptions in East Africa, the continent has few good natural harbors. Few rivers are navigable from the sea, and the Sahara Desert has for centuries hindered human contact from the north.
But geography may no longer be destiny. Globalization has finally reached critical mass in Africa. The mobile-phone industry is now worth $10 billion across the continent, with subscriber growth running at 40 percent annually. New air routes are opening up with the Middle East and Asia. Africa will be influenced by the rest of the world to the same degree that countries in Eurasia along the historic path of migrations always have been. Africa will lose some of its distinctiveness, even as it closes the gap with the rest of humankind.
But one big thing could impede progress, and it has to do with geography: climate change, to which Africa’s primitive, rain-fed agriculture is particularly susceptible. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Africa is “very likely” to warm faster than the mean global rate, with decreased rainfall in southern Africa causing droughts, and increased rainfall in East Africa causing flooding and soil erosion. These are only two examples of pan-African climatic upheaval that could interact adversely with politics, ethnic relations, and local economies
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