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The Arab world and the future of Africa


When the 22 countries of the Arab League met in their Cairo headquarters last month to discuss common security concerns, there were 10 African representatives in attendance. In discussions of the Arab world, one unmistakable factor is often missed: the Arab world is heavily African. Algeria, Comoros, Djibouti, Egypt, Libya, Mauritania, Morocco, Somalia, Sudan and Tunisia are all Arab and African states.

Last week there was another gathering in Egypt, of 26 African leaders who signed the historic Tripartite Free Trade Agreement. The accord links nearly half of African countries with a collective GDP of $1.3 trillion and a population of some 565 million in a customs union that will ease trade barriers and potentially set the stage for a larger continent-wide free trade agreement over the next few years.

After decades as a global laggard, Africa has joined the most important geo-economic movement since the industrial revolution: the rise of emerging markets, the growth of a new global middle class, and rapid urbanization. These three powerful economic drivers will continue to dramatically transform our world over the next several decades, lifting millions from poverty, reshaping global trade patterns and altering geopolitical alliances.

Consider that in the year 2000, the entire continent had a collective GDP of $600 billion, roughly equivalent to the economic output of Spain that same year. Today, Africa’s collective GDP stands at some $2.2 trillion.

Africa has seven of the 10 fastest-growing economies in the world. Its population now exceeds 1 billion and rising. By 2030, one in five people in the world will live in Africa, which will be the youngest continent on earth. By 2040, 25 percent of the global workforce will be there. Africa’s importance to the global economy will only rise.

Of course, tremendous challenges remain. Thirty of Africa’s 54 countries are among the least developed, according to the United Nations, and far too many rely on food imports and therefore price volatility.

Weak infrastructure – from chronic electricity shortages to dilapidated roads and ports – remains a major impediment to sustained growth. Some argue that this will handicap trade agreements from the get-go. Furthermore, the continent is diverse, and the catch-all “Africa” fails to distinguish between countries with radically different histories and levels of development.

Egypt’s prominent role in the negotiations that led to the free trade agreement demonstrates its role as an African bridge state – one that can leverage its commercial and diplomatic networks, particularly across the Arab world, toward greater integration between the Middle East and Africa.


The African growth story has largely been missed by most non-African Middle East states, and by a Middle East media focused more on the multiple crises in the region, U.S. foreign policy and the Iran nuclear talks.

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) is the exception. It has emerged as a key trade and investment partner for Africa. Investments by UAE state-owned entities in sea port infrastructure (DP World) and telecommunications (Etisalat) have supported the continent’s connectivity both internally and with the world. UAE-based power companies have invested in electricity supply in a small but growing number of African markets.

UAE-based airlines – Emirates, Etihad and FlyDubai – are growing their African networks. Emirates in particular has emerged as the most important foreign carrier in several of the continent’s largest markets. Dubai International Airport has become a virtual “Africa hub,” and the city has emerged as a key logistics and financial gateway linking Asia to Africa.

Other Middle East states should follow suit, joining China, India, Turkey and the UAE in viewing Africa as a tremendous opportunity for trade growth and investment, rather than a continent to be “saved.”


Many African states stand at a crossroads, driven by a rising and increasingly urbanized middle class, steady growth and greater global integration. “Across Africa, we’re seeing more and more countries ‘open for business,’ with a more amenable policy and regulatory environment,” said Peter Lewis, director of the Africa Studies program at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies.

The African growth story has largely been missed by most non-African Middle East states

Afshin Molavi

“We’re also seeing much lower debt loads, better budget balances, realistic exchange rates, low inflation rates, and in most countries in Africa the macroeconomic picture has been much more favorable and pragmatic…. Urban economies are not only bringing up a lot of growth in the informal sector, but they’re generating formal sector gains as well.”

However, several African states face the tremendous challenge of terrorism. The rise of Boko Haram represents a setback to Nigeria and parts of central and West Africa, but also a setback to humanity: the group’s depravity rivals that of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), to which it has pledged allegiance.

Middle East and African governments and civil societies thus have a common enemy, so security and intelligence cooperation should become an integral part of their engagement. The Arab world and the broader Middle East should take a more active role in the momentous developments reshaping Africa, as well as the dangerous movements trying to turn back the clock.

8 Comments on "The Arab world and the future of Africa"

  1. penury on Mon, 22nd Jun 2015 12:01 pm 

    What do you get hen you have shrinking resources and an increasing consumer base? When a group sees that the next door group has more resources, offer to help them develop.

  2. HARM on Mon, 22nd Jun 2015 1:40 pm 

    “Africa has seven of the 10 fastest-growing economies in the world. Its population now exceeds 1 billion and rising. By 2030, one in five people in the world will live in Africa, which will be the youngest continent on earth. By 2040, 25 percent of the global workforce will be there. Africa’s importance to the global economy will only rise.”

    I love the way they try to spin a sky-high birth rate and massive overshoot as a good thing.

  3. Apneaman on Mon, 22nd Jun 2015 1:57 pm 

    They have so much growth that it is spilling over to the EU. Hurray! for growth.

    Amnesty International report claims more than 50 million refugees now displaced in ‘worst crisis seen since WWII’

  4. Apneaman on Mon, 22nd Jun 2015 2:06 pm 

    Climate change: Longest Conflict Report warns Defence Force underprepared

    Australia’s failure to address climate change will cause a significant national security threat, according to a report by the Centre for Policy Development.

    “It warns of escalating regional tensions over food and growing numbers of internally displaced people and refugees.

    The former head of the ADF, retired Admiral Chris Barrie, launched the report and blamed politics for the failure to take the issue seriously.

    “Most of the people I work with in Defence actually get this; they understand about climate change, and they’re very enthusiastic to get to grips with it,” he said.”

    “[It’s] very unlikely that the language of climate change will be used in the [Defence white paper] given the current political situation,” the report said.

    The problem we’ve got is at the top level of politics in this country [climate change] seems to be a toxic term.
    Retired Admiral Chris Barrie

    One ADF interviewee said that in Canberra, “climate change is a dirty word”.

  5. Northwest Resident on Mon, 22nd Jun 2015 3:07 pm 

    Climate change. How bad can it be?

    I was studying the soil composition in my general area and learned that it is believed to have formed from volcanic action and weathering during the early Eocene period. Finding that somewhat interesting, I did a little research on the Eocene period, a period of time where primates were first forming along with early horses, deer, etc.. Then I did some reading on the climate during the Eocene, during which there were vastly greater concentrations of methane and CO2 in the atmosphere. As it turns out, the average temperatures at the poles was around 86 Fahrenheit, with the equatorial regions a little warmer, but not much. There was very little seasonal variation in temperatures around the globe, and probably very little change from one season to the next unlike in some areas of the world today. But overall, life proliferated both in the oceans and on land. It was “bearable” — as anybody who lives in 80 – 90 degree Fahrenheit average high regions can testify. Of course there will be major and catastrophic disasters with sea levels rising. There will be changes in what crops can be grown and where, and changes in rainfall and other weather patterns. But don’t count on the human species to go extinct JUST because of climate change.

  6. penury on Mon, 22nd Jun 2015 3:46 pm 

    NWR I do not expect the human race to become extinct due to climate change per se, however when you combine the massive die offs, with resource constraints, with lack of food due to mono crop failure, loss of medication for the ill, and of course the demands of 8 billion humans on the potable water supply, coupled with the lack of resources to engineer new technology, I do expect a slow but steady attrition in the human population which will lead to specie extermination. Timeline to determined after the war.

  7. Apneaman on Mon, 22nd Jun 2015 3:47 pm 

    I think you may be guilty of some cherry picking NWR and/or comparing apples to oranges. All those critters you mentioned evolved into their environment over long periods of time. Sudden abrupt changes are a disaster for life. Although we may be clever and more adaptable then some of the other creatures, we have limits and so do our crops. For most of our crops, the proteins start to denature at around 4C above baseline and we are pushing 1C. Maybe clever scientists can GMO new crops and thus cancel the effects of abrupt climate change, because nature can’t. Do some research on the Permian (or the other extinction periods) for an example of what massive increases of CO2 can do to life on this planet. There comes a point when our actions no longer matter and the positive self reinforcing feedback loops take over. Some scientists say we have crossed it while most others still say right around the corner. You know the ubiquitous final sentence of every climate change paper or article – policy change bla bla bla if we don’t reduce our emissions bla bla bla 2100 bla bla bla disastrous consequences bla bla bla. To say climate change alone is not enough to extinct us is to complete ignore the history of extinction on this planet. All 14 extinction periods were caused by climate change. Even the Cretaceous had the Deccan volcanic traps releasing massive amounts of CO2 and it is now thought that it was that as much as the meteor that did the dinosaurs in. Climate change – no others need apply.

    Climate Change 10,000 Times Faster Than Evolution

  8. Apneaman on Mon, 22nd Jun 2015 3:58 pm 

    Everything you need to know about Mass Extinction, Sea Level Rise and Amplification

    Dr Peter Ward

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