My colleague and good friend, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, gave an inspiring speech at Harvard where she described Africa as the next BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India and China). Everything she says in the speech is music to my ears (confession—I provided some background materials to her staff)—that Africa’s growth prospects are strong, that reforms seem to have taken hold—and her idea of African Development Bonds is innovative and worthy of discussion.
My only concern is the labeling of Africa as the next BRIC. First, Africa is not a country, whereas each of the BRICs is. Africa is 47 countries, some of which are quite small (20 countries have populations less than 5 million). The distinguishing feature of the BRICs is that they are both middle-income and large. So it’s not clear how any individual African country can aspire to being a BRIC. Countries such as Malaysia or Chile may be more appropriate models for most African countries.
More fundamentally, while they have seen rapid economic growth, each of the BRICs still has significant pockets of poverty (with hundreds of millions of people living in them), such as Western China or the Indian states of Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. In both China and India, recent growth has been unequalizing, and Brazil until recently had one of the most unequal income distributions in the world. Meanwhile, recent growth in Africa has been reducing the poverty rate by one percentage point a year—indicating it has been relatively widespread. In short, Africa should aspire to doing better than the BRICs.