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Opinion
Tyler Cowen

Three Reasons to Be Worried About Africa’s Progress

Ethiopia, Nigeria and South Africa were supposed to be the economic engines of an entire continent, but conditions in all three countries have recently taken a turn for the worse.

A refugee camp in Azezo, Ethiopia, July 2021.

A refugee camp in Azezo, Ethiopia, July 2021.

Photographer: Eduardo Soteras/AFP/Getty Images

One of the saddest stories of the year has gone largely unreported: the slowdown of political and economic progress in sub-Saharan Africa. There is no longer a clear path to be seen, or a simple story to be told, about how the world’s poorest continent might claw its way up to middle-income status. Africa has amazing human talent and brilliant cultural heritages, but its major political centers are, to put it bluntly, falling apart.

Three countries are more geopolitically central than the others. Ethiopia, with a population of 118 million, is sub-Saharan Africa’s second-most populous nation and the most significant node in East Africa. Nigeria has the most people (212 million) and the largest GDP on the continent. South Africa, population 60 million, is the region’s wealthiest nation, and it is the central economic and political presence in the southern part of the continent.