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What Rising TV Ownership Reveals About Africa's Future

A shopper views televisions for sale at a Makro store in Johannesburg
A shopper views televisions for sale at a Makro store in JohannesburgPhotograph by Nadine Hutton/Bloomberg

The usual story about African development over the last few decades is, simply, that it hasn’t developed. It is a region mired in permanent poverty—destined by geography or disease burden or corruption or ethnic division to everlasting misery. That story should be placed in the fiction aisle. Quality-of-life measures have been improving for decades across the continent, more recently followed by official measures of economic output in a number of countries. And recent analysis of survey evidence suggests that households across the region have become far wealthier than even those improving official output statistics would suggest.

It is true that some parts of Africa—Liberia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo—remain as poor as Gaul in the time of Caesar, according to official statistics. But quality of life has been improving in leaps and bounds: Senegal cut its child mortality rate from 12.1 percent to 7.2 percent in the five years leading up to 2010, for example. Across the region, countries are edging toward 100 percent primary school enrollment rates. More and more boys and girls alike are getting access to basic literacy and numeracy. Perhaps connected to these trends, more African countries are at last starting to report rapid gross domestic product growth. Six out of the 10 fastest-growing countries in the world at this moment are in Africa.