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Start-Up Africa

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As Europe and the US struggle to get their finances in order, and the BRIC nations do their best to build on recent successes, another continent has been quietly gaining pace. And lately not so quietly.

Last year a stream of articles appeared in the Financial Times and other publications about Africa's swift growth. The momentum continues and only last week, The Economist had a feature on Twitter use in Africa. The consensus seems clear: Africa has reached a turning point. That's why the New York Forum is launching NYF AFRICA in June this year.

Here are the phenomena that mean good news for the African continent. It possesses a bounty of natural resources, being rich in copper, gold and oil; its service economy is developing and industrial production is on the increase; and many African countries have a growing middle class, as a generation of well-educated young people enters the work place.

These shifts affect certain countries more than others: Nigeria has been benefiting from its oil resources. South Africa is pondering giving the state a greater stake in its mineral wealth. Gabon, where the NYFA will take place, is endeavoring to showcase its spectacular landscape as a tourist attraction, and it hosted Africa's Cup of Nations football tournament this month.

However, the process is neither simple nor easy. Most Africans continue to live in poverty, surviving on less than $2 a day. Nigeria has recently been wrecked by terrorism and religious conflict, and elsewhere, corruption, malnutrition and a poor infrastructure are hindering faster progress.

Some of these problems contain the seeds of the future however. An underdeveloped infrastructure and banking system has allowed the burgeoning of a sophisticated telecommunications industry, which allows individuals to do their banking by phone. And a young population makes change and innovation more likely. In an interview with CNN last year, the Nigerian-American journalist Dayo Olopade observed:

There are ways of doing more with less that are very organic to the African ecosystem, and I think in general in the 21st century there's a very important recognition that we need to all do more with less, and where better to look that the place that has been doing this for centuries?

We at the New York Forum are very interested in this question, and we share Olopade's optimism about Africa. We look forward to talking about all of these issues at the NYFA in June.

Since I was born in Africa 50 years ago, I know that Africa's time will come: it's now!