I read an article the other day about how Africa is fairing during the worldwide recession. The author pointed out that Africa is doing better than one would expect, because of its new position as a main supplier of basic materials to the major emerging economies of the world, with Brazil and China leading the pack.

It was almost 20 years ago that I left my last foreign service job in Mexico. In my parting review of Mexico I noted that Mexico, as well as most of the rest of Latin America, was well positioned on the development train and that I had no real concerns about Mexico and the rest of Latin America for the future.

At the same time I noted in other writings that most of Asia was also well along the road to economic success. However, I said that Africa was still the problem child. I had also spent time in the 1980s working in Mozambique, South Africa and Namibia so had some idea of what was going on. I urged that whatever foreign assistance was available, that it be directed to Africa.

Well foreign aid was not redirected to Africa. But something more important happened. China found that Africa offered the raw materials it needed for its rapidly growing industry. The Chinese then set about establishing companies, joint ventures in the main, in several African countries aimed largely at producing raw materials.

China’s effort to obtain raw materials from Africa was clearly evident in its development of petroleum supplies from Sudan. And no matter where you go in Africa today you will find the Chinese busily building similar businesses. China needs Africa and Africa needs China.

Brazil is a different partner for Africa. It enjoys plenty of its own raw materials. But it is short of petroleum. Enter Petrobras and its explorations in Africa. Brazil also shares a common language with Angola and Mozambique, two of the fastest growing economies in Africa.

I am pleased to report that the fledgling cooperation between African countries and major emerging economies promises to be the engine of Africa’s economic future. I no longer fear for Africa’s future and believe it has joined its fellow developing states in Asia and Latin America on the train to a better economy.

Leo Cecchini
May 2009