Investment Boom Teeters on Africa’s Spheres of Unrest

Impala Platinum mine workers gather to receive feedback on a new wage deal on Sept. 27 in Rustenburg, South Africa. Photograph by Moeletsi Mabe/The Times/Gallo Images/Getty Images

Five years ago, while in a cab from the airport in Lagos, Nigeria, I spied an enormous billboard towering out of a teeming, trash-strewn slum. It advertised not some foodstuff or vehicle, but the upcoming initial public offering of a hot Nigerian bank. With the nation of 160 million in the midst of stock market mania, you kept hearing the boast (!) that more Lagosians had brokerage accounts than checking accounts. Never mind that the mega-city’s power grid and sewage treatment capabilities were notoriously substandard, or how Lagos was sinking under the weight of runaway overpopulation. The emergence of an eager Nigerian middle class was all that mattered. Cart-before-horse thinking was fine—de rigueur, even—if you were an intrepid investor who wanted in.

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