Many people in my generation have a story.

Mine was an uncharacteristically cool August night in a mid-size theatre at the London School of Economics. The lecture was titled “Africa Rising”,—a term coined to explain the rapid economic growth in Sub-Saharan Africa after the year 2000 and the inevitability of its continuation. After decades of slow growth, the belief was that African countries had a real chance to follow in the footsteps of Asia.

Key takeaways:

  1. Nigeria, poised to deliver much of Africa's expected growth due to its population and natural resources, has struggled with sluggish growth and a lack of productivity—young people are unemployed, and poverty has worsened.

  2. Improving productivity is important for raising living standards, wage levels and replicating the growth miracle experience witnessed in Asia.

  3. However, such growth requires policies and deep reform. Governments should create an enabling environment for businesses so the real economy can thrive.


The chart above shows why this optimism was needed. Countries on the African and Asian continents shared similar histories of colonialism. We have used Indonesia and Nigeria to represent Asia and Africa here. The 1960s saw a poorer Indonesian population compared to Nigeria. By 1990, this gap had closed as Indonesia caught up, and by 2010, it had become six times richer than its 1960 days.

Meanwhile, Nigeria experienced stagnating incomes in the 1970s, which declined in the 1980s and continued to grow weakly moving forward. The promise of the early 2000s was the hope that Africa would soon replicate the Growth Miracle Experience in Asia. A commodity boom, rising young population, and a growing manufacturing base buoyed the enthusiasm.

Nigeria, in particular, hailed as the “Giant of Africa”, was expected to deliver much of these gains.