For much of the past two decades, the overarching economic theme in sub-Saharan Africa has been “Africa Rising.”
That’s still the case, though in 2016, growth in the region was “alarmingly poor,” dragged lower by a sharp slump in commodity prices, former Liberian finance minister Antoinette Monsio Sayeh said April 20, 2018, in Washington, D.C.
The region’s economies are rebounding, said Sayeh, a distinguished visiting fellow at the Center for Global Development. “But momentum has slowed.”
Sayeh was a keynote speaker at the eighth annual Emerging Markets Forum, organized by the Center for Global Business at the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business. She said the path toward more stable growth in the sub-Saharan region can be paved with an increased emphasis on revenue mobilization, on reducing debt vulnerabilities, and on policies that foster improved competitiveness and broader trade and economic diversification.
Sayeh said she was “pleased to see a focus on Africa” at this year’s Emerging Markets Forum.
Africa’s is a story that is sometimes overlooked in the vast landscape of emerging markets.
“The rise of new economic powers such as China and India was among the most momentous economic events of the last few decades,” said Kislaya Prasad, research professor in the Smith School’s Department of Decision, Operations & Information Technologies.
“What's more,” he added, "Emerging markets will continue to be the growth centers of the future and the ability to succeed there will be vital for U.S. business interests.”
That trend, and the growing need to promote increased understanding of emerging markets inspired the creation of the Emerging Markets Forum series in 2011, he said.
“It was important this year to focus on Africa,” Prasad said. “Sadly, Africa is still unfamiliar to many in the U.S. What’s worse – misconceptions about it abound. People often fail to appreciate that it is a vast and diverse continent with striking regional differences.”
Africa is many things – among them, it’s a land of business opportunity. Africa boasts some of the fastest-growing economies in the world.
“Many African countries have undergone major regulatory reforms and instituted business-friendly policies,” Prasad said. “While business risks are certainly present, they tend to be overstated.”
In recent years, both China and India have increased their engagement with Africa, drawn to the business opportunities, Prasad added. Engagement by U.S. interests, he adds, have been stagnant. “I fear that, very soon, Africa will be a lost opportunity for U.S. businesses,” he said.
Smith School Dean Alexander J. Triantis introduced Sayeh at the forum, underscoring the importance of fostering a global mindset among students.
Nearly half of Smith Schools students get involved in a study abroad program. The school has 700 recruiting partners around the globe. And its alumni span some 58 nations around the world.
“The Importance of a global mindset is embedded in our academics, in our thought leadership including events, such as this forum,” Triantis said. “Our mission of developing a global mindset amongst our students is also reinforced by our identity as a global business school.”