Africa's Renaissance: A New Day Dawning?

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JOHANNESBURG, South Africa -- Africa is one of the world's fastest growing markets. It has 54 different countries and close to a billion people. And they're turning this once so-called "Dark Continent" into a thriving region.

"Ubuntu" is a well-known saying here in parts of southern Africa. It means, "I am what I am because of who we all are."

"And who we all are - a people yearning to make our lives better and to work together with the rest of the world," said one Zimbabwe resident.

Power of Ubuntu

Africans increasingly want to play a role in that world. Today across Africa, the power of Ubuntu is giving millions of people hope about the future of their continent.

"I do believe that Africa is a rising continent," said one 21-year-old South African.

People are working together to lift their nations from the ashes of war, famine, death, disease, AIDS, and corruption. What gives people across this continent such confidence?

"I suppose the will of the people to actually be stronger, you know, and to do something to make it better," a young mother of two children said.

No Shortage of Optimism

Surveys show there are few corners of this vast land where optimism, especially among young people, isn't rising.

"It's true that Africa does face many problems, but I think that it's not insurmountable. I think that there's a lot of hope for the youth that we as a continent can pull through," said a young man from Soweto.

From the International Monetary Fund to the World Bank to influential business magazines, experts point to a vibrant and changing Africa. Some even liken it to an African Renaissance.

"It is growing, it's growing. It's going to be like the other top countries soon," one enthusiastic African said.

African Renaissance

This year, eight of the 20 fastest growing economies in the world will hail from Africa. The continent's overall economy is expected to grow in the years to come at a rapid rate of five to eight percent annually.

George Nicholls runs a multimillion-dollar consultancy group out of Johannesburg.

"I think in the next 10 to 15 years, giving the GDP estimates of Africa, the population and the services available, it certainly could be a place to invest your money and a place to make a lot of money," Nicholls said.

Nicholls explained that much of Africa's growth is fueled by an exploding middle class that numbers around 400 million and climbing.

"A lot of domestic spending goes on mobile phones, a lot of domestic spending goes on beverages and alcohol and staple foods. And outside of that, where you see the growth now, is actually in banking services," he said.

"Cell phone and telecommunication services have brought banking to Africa. And once you bring banking to people, businesses start to flourish," he continued.

Big Spenders

This is the new Africa story: a continent that is consuming like never before. Shopping malls are sprouting up all over the place. People are buying cell phone technology, opening up bank accounts, buying homes, cars, food, clothes. You really get a sense that Africa is finally moving ahead.

And people have more disposable income to spend.

"Yes. I work now," said a young lady just out of college. "I'm currently employed and I am happy with my job."

The World Bank reports that up to 40 percent of the gross domestic product of some of the largest African economies is fueled by the service sector.

And many of these consumers don't worry about debt.

"No, I'm 16-years-old. I think that's my parents job," one young lady said.

Africa: The New Asia?

Trevor Ncube is a successful Zimbabwean media mogul who owns several leading newspapers and other business enterprises across the continent.

"One gets the sense that there's a lot of excitement about Africa. Africa's time has come," Ncube said.

He's thrilled that Africa is now the third fastest growing economic region in the world, after Asia and the Middle East.

"(I'm) seeing my generation and, more so our children and people younger than me, who are passionate about the continent, who see this being the place that the whole world is going to stand up and pay attention to in the next 20, 30, 40 years to come," he said.

Nicky Newton-King is preparing for it. She helps run one of the largest stock exchanges in Africa. King said investors, both inside and outside the continent, are looking for ways to play Africa.

"I think the whole emerging market appetite is ticking up, I think Africa is the undiscovered continent and the undiscovered emerging market," King said.

Brain Gain, Investing Risks

For decades, the brightest and best left the shores of Africa for the West in search of a better life. The brain drain is still a chronic problem. But now in countries like Nigeria, Ghana, Kenya, Botswana, and South Africa, African migrants are returning home by the thousands.

Are there still serious problems plaguing the continent? Absolutely. Africa faces new challenges every day. Experts say investors should be prepared for the long-haul.

"People must understand that investing in Africa is not for sissies," warned Ncube. "People must understand that there are going to be risks and they need to understand the nature of those risks."

But if the trends continue, Africa will play an increasingly important role in the world. And perhaps, too, as a strategic and vital engine of the global economy.

*Original broadcast November 4, 2010.

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