Christopher Roy Garland on Challenges & Opportunities for Africa’s Economy in 2025 and Beyond

Africa is home to nearly half the world’s 20 fastest-growing economies, according to fresh data from the IMF. Several standout countries, including Ethiopia, Rwanda, and — surprisingly, given the recent coup there — Niger, are widely regarded as some of the top emerging economies to invest in.

Yet Africa has plenty of challenges as well. These are top of mind for seasoned Africa experts like Christopher Roy Garland, a business and trade consultant who spoke to RNews earlier this year about the barriers to investment — and possible solutions — in the 16-nation Southern African Development Community bloc.

Garland had a lot of thoughts about what African policymakers, business leaders, and capital allocators can do better to help the continent realize its full potential. His insights, which draw upon a vast body of economic research on the forces shaping the world’s fastest-growing region, are shared by others in the African business community. 

Here’s the executive summary.

Economic Barriers and Challenges Facing Africa Today

Africa has no shortage of obstacles holding its constituent countries back from reaching their full potential:

  • Political instability and open conflict across the continent. Africa experienced seven coups between August 2020 and August 2023, an unusually high frequency even by the continent’s notoriously volatile standards. Africa is also experiencing several “hot” wars, including a brutal civil conflict in Sudan and multiple factional disputes across the Sahel.
  • Inadequate or deficient infrastructure. Much of Africa has poor or inadequate transportation and energy infrastructure. The lack of reliable roads and railways impacts cross-border trades, while ongoing power-grid issues in places like South Africa raise the cost of doing business and reduce affected countries’ appeal to the business community.
  • Significant internal wealth disparities. Internal wealth disparities, evidenced by high Gini coefficients across much of sub-Saharan Africa, increase social tension and political risk within affected countries.
  • Political corruption. This is not a new issue, but rising awareness of the economic ill effects of political corruption — not just in Africa, but across the world — gives new urgency to solutions-finding.
  • Unpredictable business and trade policies. Many African nations have unpredictable (many would say unfair) business and trade policies that favor some firms and industries while penalizing others. Particularly pernicious are non-tariff barriers, which can be confusing for even seasoned traders to make sense of.

African Opportunity: Why So Many Are Bullish on the Continent

Despite all its challenges, Africa has been and remains a land of incredible promise. Here’s why:

  • Rapidly growing (and still young) population. At a time when birth rates across most of the G20 are diving below replacement levels, Africa remains a bastion of rapid population growth. While this won’t last forever, most experts expect it to continue for a decade or longer, ensuring steady, predictable long-term market growth.
  • Under-developed infrastructure may be a blessing in disguise. Africa urgently needs more (and more robust) road and railway connections, especially across international borders in the continent’s southern half. However, in other ways, its under-developed infrastructure may be a blessing in disguise due to relatively low upkeep and replacement expenses for “legacy” assets and the opportunity for technological “leapfrogging” via decentralized power systems, broadband networks and the like.
  • Improved international and inter-regional cooperation. Regional blocs like the SADC have significantly improved cross-border cooperation in Africa since the 1990s. The European Union’s success is an example for other regional and super-regional blocs around the world, including here in Africa.
  • Increasing economic diversification. Africa is slowly but surely moving away from a resource-based economy and toward a more diversified mix that includes skilled manufacturing, services, and high-tech industries, opening up new opportunities for investors in the continent.

Is Africa’s Glass Half Full?

Chris Garland certainly is optimistic about Africa’s future, and he’s not alone. Many of the business leaders who know the continent well feel strongly that its best days are still to come.

Yet if recent history tells us anything, it’s that Africa’s economic development is often a “two steps forward, one step backward” kind of story. Though living standards and cross-border trade flows have steadily improved of late, there is nothing linear or inevitable about progress here, as the recent political instability across the Sahel region shows.

The lesson is that the future is what we make of it. Those of us who believe in Africa’s potential should commit to real action — and investment — in service of that belief.