If you haven’t heard what investors call the “Africa Story”, here it is. Africa south of the Sahara is on a roll. The once debt-ridden disaster zone of the world economy is back on its feet, and fighting. Sub-Saharan Africa is now growing faster than any other region of the world: from bankruptcy to boom in the space of less than a generation. The only bad news is that Africa is back in debt. And for some African economies, debt will turn to disaster. Soon.
Last week a suicide bomber killed himself in a failed attack at the Temple of Karnak in the Egyptian city of Luxor. A day later the attack was claimed by a group claiming to be part of the Islamic State movement, the same group that claimed responsibility for a rocket attack the previous week in Egyptian-controlled North Sinai. In the same week there was a gun attack at the Pyramids of Giza to the south of Cairo.Is Egypt slipping back to the dark days of the Islamist insurgency of the 1990s?
Doubtless you have heard of Uber, the online taxi-hailing service. Most likely you have heard of Airbnb. And Snapchat? Probably. Dropbox? Very likely. Spotify? Of course you have. Even if you haven’t used them yet they are sitting there on your smartphone, just waiting for the day when you suddenly find that you want whatever it is they offer. But be quick: most of these companies will soon be forgotten.
If all goes according to plan, the next few weeks or months should see many if not most of us made measurably poorer. It’s nothing to do with taxes, crashes, or meltdowns. It’s nothing to do with politics. It’s something that will happen as a result of a well-established routine run by investment banks, financial advisors, and a host of big companies with very familiar names. It’s a kind of capitalist death wish, and something that hasn’t been seen for a while – but now it’s back.
Four years ago the popular uprisings which optimists called the Arab Spring swept through North Africa. One after another dictatorial governments collapsed while populations danced in the public squares. But there was one striking regional exception. In Egypt’s southern neighbour Sudan which was and is ruled by a sour-faced soldier called Omar Al-Bashir, there was rather little sign of revolution. A couple of demonstrations quickly started but equally quickly they were put to an end by Sudan’s uninhibited security services. As Field Marshal Al-Bashir himself grimly put it, ‘Anyone waiting for an Arab Spring in Sudan is going to be waiting a while.’
Africa is the fastest-growing continental economy in the world today, thanks in large part to the fact that its population is so young. But one consequence of having a lot of young people is that Africa faces a massive practical problem, the problem of how to educate its millions of poor young people in the knowledge and skills that can make them prosperous. As it happens, a very large number of poor Africans have already found a solution to that problem. But some of the best known aid agencies and international organizations don’t like this solution at all, and indeed some are campaigning hard to put a stop to it.
AFRICA is the fastest-growing
continental economy on the planet. And the thing that has been growing fastest of all is debt – personal, corporate and government debt. In 2015 Africa and its boosters will start to worry that the debt boom is getting out of hand.
Business schools are losing popularity rather fast. The amount a MBA is worth in terms of salary boost is down around a third according to the FT in 2015. Result: pitiless competition. Schools that are not at the very top of the rankings are struggling, and some will close. But here’s a big exception to the MBA downturn.
Book Review: The Mysteries of the Marco Polo Maps by Benjamin B. Olshin, published by the University of Chicago Press
From The Spectator
AS a boy I spent quite a lot of my free time trying to fake up ancient-looking documents. This hopeless enterprise involved things like staining paper with tea or vinegar, together with plenty of burning, and creasing, and copying of random texts with a scratchy old inkwell pen. Typical silly small boy stuff. Reading this book on a collection of maps supposedly derived from Marco Polo suddenly brought it all back – especially the silliness.
The other day I was asked to spend a few hours drumming up a short financial corporate video out of next to nothing. No equipment, and very little budget. Is that possible? More than possible – it’s easy. You just have to go guerilla.
SOUTH Sudan is on the brink of a human disaster. Yes, another human disaster. After months of on-off conflict between factions of the government of the newly independent country, another man-made famine is looming in East Africa.
Book Review: A Poisonous Thorn In Our Hearts by James Copnall, published by Hurst & Co.
SUDAN – a country that ceased to exist in 2011 – is or was one of the last untouristed wildernesses on earth. And for good reason: while it still existed it was the biggest country in Africa, a mainly flat and mainly uninhabitable wasteland, mostly brown, with barely a mountain or a bosky valley to its name, unbearably hot, unhealthy, poor, and full of every sort of trouble. And yet …
Of the 10 countries that have the world’s fastest birth rates, nine of them are in Africa – and most of those are in sub-Saharan Africa. Over the next few decades, the continent will be the world’s biggest source of young people. And what does that mean for Africa? It could mean a massive boost to the sub-Saharan economy, as young populations are usually associated with faster growth. Or could it mean an equally massive disappointment, as millions of young people wanting education and jobs come up against poverty and disappointment – and make their feelings known in a wave of unrest?
I JUST sat through a corporate presentation at a business conference. It was the graveyard shift – last presentation of the day – the one everyone tries to skip –and amazingly enough it was terrific. There were no PowerPoint graphs, there were no diagrams, and there was no introduction. Just 18 minutes of rapid-fire spoken entertainment from a man who seemed to like the job he was doing. You actually wanted it to go on longer (how often does that happen?). Two things about that session are worth noting. First, it was unusual. Second, it was not as difficult as you might think.
Massacres, ethnic anger, and rumours of civil war: the latest news from the world’s newest country. But South Sudan is not Rwanda. The latest cycle of conflict in the East African state is not about race or religion. It is about money.
ELIZABETH JANE HOWARD who died on January 2—‘Jane’ to all who knew her—was an English writer of great originality and honesty. Only at the end of her long life did she receive the recognition she deserved. “I feel like I’ve been playing second fiddle my whole life,” she told me a few weeks before her death. “Now I’m playing first violin and I quite like it.”
Book Review: Treasure Neverlandby Neil Rennie, Oxford University Press
HEAR the word ‘pirate’ and what picture springs into your mind? I see a richly-bearded geezer in a tricorne hat and a frock coat, with a notched cutlass and bandolier stuffed with pistols. Never mind the real-life pirates of our day, the maritime robbery-and-kidnap specialists of Somalia and West Africa – they are all too recent to have generated sufficient fiction for us to draw on. Our common pirate is like the zombie, the vampire, the robot – a creature of the imagination, coming to us via Robert Louis Stevenson, J M Barrie and Johnny Depp. But where did he come from, really?
ON THE HARBOUR wall in the port of Funchal, Madeira, there is a remarkable collection of paintings. Nobody commissioned these works, the artists are anonymous, and the medium is industrial primary colour on cement. The subject is the Atlantic Ocean. With photographer Nick Sinclair, I recently published a short photo essay celebrating these unofficial, unbidden images.