The top spot for Africa’s biggest economy by 2050 will go to Ethiopia, according to Dr Carlos Lopes, the Executive Secretary of the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA).
Dr Carlos weighed prospects and challenges for Nigeria and South Africa — the current economic giants of Africa — with resource-rich Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and fast-growing Ethiopia to reach to the conclusion that this Horn of Africa nation will come out as top performer in Africa by 2050.
Lopes sat down in a “digital interview” with the Africa Editor of South Africa’s Mail & Guardian Newspaper to feel out Africa’s future — where the continent is likely to go in the next 85 years to the year 2100.
Lopes said: “At nearly 100 million (people), the country [Ethiopia] is Africa’s third most populous, and has posted blistering economic growth in the past decade or so.
“More importantly, it is fast closing the infrastructure gap, laying down a flurry of roads, railways and power projects, which would give it a competitive advantage in the region, particularly over DR Congo, that is notoriously poorly connected.”
As for Nigeria, currently Africa’s biggest economy, Lopes said: “Its rosy headline economic figures, huge population and massive potential also mask deep structural flaws in the economy that might make it choke on growth soon.
“Nigeria will have strong competition and by 2050 may have an economy smaller than DR Congo and Ethiopia.”
Lopes said Nigeria’s weak point is in its lack of energy. It produces just 1.5 per cent of the electricity it needs for its 173 million people.
More than 70 per cent of running costs of enterprises go to running fuel generators alone, and industries retain slow, outdated manual processes because they don’t have the power to run machines.
Without radical reform, and if oil revenues have hit a permanent slump, Nigeria will not be able to function as a modern economy, and may just become a de facto village, though still hulking in size, Lopes warned.
Meanwhile, the DR Congo’s potential is immense, he said. The Central African nation’s total mineral wealth is estimated to be worth a mind-boggling US$24 trillion, more than the current gross domestic product (GDP) of Europe and the United States combined.
The planned US$80 billion Grand Inga Dam, if finally constructed, will be massive, producing 40,000 megawatts (MW) of electricity when completed. It will be capable of literally lighting up the continent, providing electricity to half of African countries, according to Dr. Lopes.
Currently, the world’s largest hydro-electirc power plant is the Three Gorges Dam across the Yangtze River in China, delivering 22,500 MW and Grand Inga will be nearly double the size.
However, the DRC is plagued by instability and it therefore may become the top African economic power in the foreseeable future.
The DRC also has less than 3,000 kilometres of all-weather paved road in a country which is the second largest on the continent at 2.345 million square km.
“South Africa will not get back on top,” said Lopes categorically during the extensive interview with Mail & Guardian, listing the global commodity price collapse, the worst drought in more than three decades, social unrest and the country’s sovereign credit risk as key contributing factors which hold back South Africa from regaining its spot as Africa’s economic power.
Over the next 35 years, more than half of the world’s births will happen in Africa. It means that over the same time period, the region’s working age population is expected to triple to 1.25 billion people, he further noted.
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