The potential for change.

Author:Williams, Stephen
Position:Africa in Transformation: Economic Development in the Age of Doubt - Book review
 
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THE POTENTIAL FOR CHANGE AFRICA IN TRANSFORMATION: ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT IN THE AGE OF DOUBT BY CARLOS LOPES 16 [pounds sterling] PALGRAVE MACMILLAN ISBN: 978-3-030-01290-8

In his new book, Carlos Lopes, the former Executive Secretary of the UN Economic Commission for Africa, examines the challenges and opportunities facing Africa as it works towards its economic transformation.

It would be very difficult to identify another writer who could tackle the subject of this book with the same passion, knowledge and authority as Carlos Lopes.

As anyone who has heard this Guinea-Bissau-born economist speak, he combines scholarship with clarity and, it might be perceived, a barely concealed anger at the status quo that Africa struggles with.

Lopes, the former Executive Secretary of the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (stepping down in 2016) is now a Professor at the Mandela School of Public Governance, University of Cape Town in South Africa, and a Visiting Professor at Sciences Po in Paris, France.

He writes: "The Africa Rising narrative has been replaced of late by new doubts about the real potential for the continent to sustain growth and respond to pressing demographic challenges.

"It is important to contextualise the more positive views of the continent that have marked the first decade and a half of this century. It was mostly about the opportunities to expand markets and the commodity boom supercycle dynamics.

"Now that reality checks are back it is time to assess the condition for economic structural transformation. Industrialisation has a key role to play. Recent studies doubt Africa's possibilities of implementing an export-led industrialisation model. Africa needs to find its own model."

In fact, more than once throughout the book, Lopes questions the 'Africa Rising' narrative, but Professor Vijay Mahajan's seminal book of the same title published in 2009, came at a time when few saw the continent as much more than an aid-reliant 'basket-case'.

The few defenders of Africa's potential tended only to be sitting at desks in the West and pontificating, while Mahajan undertook extensive research that took him the length and breadth of Africa to talk to business leaders about the realities and opportunities that were presenting themselves.

Key impetus

It can be argued that Mahajan provided a key impetus to wake up and transform attitudes to Africa even if, as Lopes contends, "The 'rise of Africa' narrative borrowed immensely from a...

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