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Africa most optimistic region for '06

"My gut tells me that on average, Africans feel a lot more optimistic," said Standard Bank's Africa economist Robert Bunyi.

business Updated: Mar 23, 2007 18:51 IST
Reuters
Reuters
PTI

Despite poverty, drought and HIV-Aids, Africa is the world's most optimistic region for 2006, a global poll has shown -- suggesting the continent's improved economic and political outlook is having an impact.

Fifty-seven per cent of Africans interviewed by Gallup International believed that 2006 would be better than 2005, compared with an average of 48 per cent for the rest of the world and 54 per cent for the next most upbeat region -- the Pacific.

The survey of 52,000 people worldwide also showed that Africa was the world's most optimistic region on economic prospects, with 52 per cent predicting a year of prosperity compared with just 35 per cent globally.

Improved political governance, faster growth and massive debt relief were all cited as factors behind the upswing in sentiment, although some economists said the survey probably only reflected the views of Africa's wealthier urban minority.

"My gut tells me that on average, Africans feel a lot more optimistic -- systems of governance have improved, along with the opportunities to improve one's livelihood," said Standard Bank's Africa economist Robert Bunyi.

"Politics are starting to turn ... it's far from perfect but the general direction is positive," he said.

Economic growth on the world's poorest continent is accelerating with powerhouse South Africa set to expand by 5 per cent this year -- its fastest for more than 20 years.

This is significant as South Africa accounts for about 39 per cent of the gross domestic product of sub-Saharan Africa and research from the International Monetary Fund has suggested that the spillover effects are greater than elsewhere in the world.

South Africa had an optimism score of 60 per cent while Nigeria -- sub-Saharan's second-biggest economy and its biggest oil producer -- had an optimism score of 61 per cent.

Massive debt relief and increased aid pledged by the Group of Eight (G8) wealthiest nations last year also mean that countries like Tanzania, Zambia and Ghana will have more to spend on infrastructure, telecommunications and technology.


POSITIVE FACTORS

At the same time prices of key commodities produced by African countries -- like platinum, gold and copper -- are surging while oil prices have subsided, improving the inflation outlook for the many countries which must import their fuel.

Another positive factor is improved political governance, with democracy taking firmer root in countries like the Democratic Republic of the Congo and policy-makers recognising the need to keep public finances healthy, analysts said.

"If you look across Africa, both politically and economically there were a lot of positives in 2005 which will hopefully build in 2006," said Standard Chartered's Africa economist Abah Ofon.

"But I wouldn't want to undermine the extent of the problems for Africa ... there is still is a lot to be done in terms of improving infrastructure, governance, education and the social aspects of development."

Bunyi said the Gallup poll, which was published on its website late December, probably did not reflect the views of the continent's rural majority -- many of whom live on less than $1 a day and rely on subsistence agriculture.

"We know that income disparities are pretty wide, rural households still have to eke out a living and there is not enough trickle-down from prosperous areas," he said.

"The key is improving agriculture -- there have been draughts and lack of infrastructure makes it difficult for people to market their crops. But I think in many respects Africans are eternal optimists -- AIDs, hunger and lack of long-term opportunities seem to stand in contrast to the poll," he said.

First Published: Jan 03, 2006 19:45 IST