Africa: The Future and Optimism

14 December 2014

At a recent event I presented to a large group of relatively new joiners here at PwC about Africa and how our work fits very well with our firm’s purpose: building trust in society and solving important problems. In particular on the building trust side I talked about the frequent lack of trust in institutions relative to western economies, how we take that trust for granted here sometimes and what the likes of PwC can do to help in Africa.

However the trouble with talking to groups of young bright people is that they ask you very good questions.  In this case, “will we look back in 20 years’ time and say that institutions did get substantially strengthened?”

I’m an Afr0-optimist but the question made me pause and I thought about what it was like to my father’s generation.  He came to London from Lagos in 1949 to study medicine while many of his peers were here to prepare to go home to run their countries.  They were heady days indeed. The stories he’s told me over dinner over the years really give a feel of a time of excitement as Africa was about to throw off colonial oppression and take huge leaps forward in this new freedom.  Thinking about what it must have been like makes me tingle – just imagine the optimism and the pride.  In 1960 when the wave of independence was gaining momentum, Dad was 32 years old and everything was possible.

Of course things didn’t pan out as everyone had hoped.  Most African countries went backwards for most of the next half century.  Now 86, Dad feels his generation made a lot of mistakes – not helped of course by the propping up of some terrible regimes during the cold war, continuing vested interests, misguided aid and fundamentally badly designed countries from the colonial era. So when I was asked effectively if my generation will have more success in taking Africa forward, I paused before answering.

I took a deep breath and said yes.  I feel that some of that same excitement that gripped African countries more than 50 years ago has returned – the Africa Rising narrative.  I am a realist as well as an optimist but while some of that is probably over-blown, there has been some genuine progress.  What’s for sure is we will have a greater chance of succeeding now if we heed the lessons of the last, lost half-century.  

Click this link to read my previous blog on Why Africa, Why Now? It provides further insight on my stance on the future of Africa.   

Paul Cleal | Chair of Africa Business Group
Profile | Follow me | Email | +44 (0) 20 7804 5603


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