This theme of this year's World Economic Forum on Africa--Then and Now: Reimagining Africa's Future--is an elegant phrasing of what its organisers hope will provide an intellectual pause before Africa's spring forwards. As Elsie Kanza, Senior Director and Head of Africa at WEF (below), puts it: "Tire question the Forum will concern itself with is: what are the lessons that we have learnt in the last 25 years that we can use to inform the decisions and the pathways that can help us ensure much more positive outcomes in 25 years' time?"
It is a big question. Tire last 25 years have witnessed more progress than the previous 40, by some certain important measures.
"There has been a net democratic dividend," says Kanza, adding, "The number of military coups has been decreasing very considerably."
According to the African Development Bank, there have been more than 200 attempted military coups since the years of independence, occurring in all but 10 African countries. But the numbers have been dwindling, and coups today are very much the exception rather than the rule. In addition, with the explosion of the means of mass communication on the continent, "there is a heightened level of intolerance for poor, despotic and bad government," says Kanza.
An increasing number of countries are also responding to demands articulated by their citizens, and anticipating needs ahead of time. "There is no doubt that there is greater political maturity in the continent and it is spreading," adds Kanza.
There is more good news on the economic growth front too. "Six out of 10 of the fastest-growing countries in the world are in Africa," she says. "And five out of the 10 top reforming countries, according to the World Bank, are also from Africa."
Indeed, growth figures for Africa's 'Lion' economies, at around 4.5--5.5% are above the global average, and services and consumption have generally held steady, suggestive of an emerging middle class.
Kanza also points out that, with respect to the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), there have been significant gains, particularly on the health front.
Given these positive trends, it is little wonder that an 'Africa Rising' narrative has emerged, but it is one that must be treated with a high degree of caution.
"Poverty still persists, and inequality is rising," says Kanza. She points out that the Ebola crisis brought three West African countries to their knees just when they had begun to show signs of growth.