Is there an economic turnaround in Africa?

Over at Becker-Posner, they are discussing the recent economic growth in sub-Saharan African nations, by no means uniformly felt, and what that may mean for the continent as a whole.

From Becker:

After many decades of hopelessness, there are finally grounds for believing that sub-Saharan Africa may be close to taking off toward sustained economic growth. Africa has rebounded from the worldwide recession faster than many other nations. The International Monetary Fund estimates that African GDP rose by 4.7 per cent in 2009, and the Fund forecasts that Africa’s growth will increase still further to almost 6 per cent in 2010. The rate of economic progress is not uniform in all the African economies, but these are impressive figures for a continent that has disappointed for so long.

link: Will Africa Finally Take Off? Becker – The Becker-Posner Blog

Yes, but when we are looking at comparatively small GDPs to begin with, the actual amount of new wealth gained is not large, nor does it necessarily benefit the most deeply impoverished Africans. You have to have faith in aggregate growth–the old rising tides lift all boats idea–to accept this is a prima facie good news for Africa

He’s got a better handle on what I would a better indicator of social progress: fertility:

But the typical African women still has 5 children over her lifetime; a number that far exceeds that in every other region of the world. Families with many children do not have the resources to invest much in the education, health, and other human capital of their children.

link: The Becker-Posner Blog

I think he’s wrong with the interpretation (just like I think Becker is in general wrong about family allocation decisions after a baseline point): families have more children when they are impoverished when they need the value-added of labor, and to have additional children hedging against the very real specter of early death and disability among children. Birth rates are also high when women have little economic opportunity outside of families, farms and villages. Nonetheless, birth rates in Africa are declining, and any decline is probably a good sign.

Posner, in his submission, notes:

A major factor in the region’s increased growth rate since the mid-nineties has been increased demand for commodities, such as oil and gold, which are major African exports, by China, India, and other rapidly developing countries; the increased demand has resulted in higher prices for these commodities. Many sub-Saharan African countries are net importers of commodities, and thus have been hurt by the higher prices.

link: Is Sub-Saharan Africa at a Turning Point? Posner – The Becker-Posner Blog

So while a large portion of the world economy folks are talking about culture industries and creative class people as drivers of economic growth, Africa’s growth appears to be driven by the same resource extraction industries that drew imperial interests a century and a half ago. The economic reliance on resource extraction, may not be good news for those left out of the elites who hold control over the extraction industries.

It’s hard for me to make any sense of the aggregate numbers. Regional economies are fairly different around Africa, so diagnosing at the continental scale is hard for me.

So what do you think? Quiet revolution?