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Farid's Pearls of Wisdom

Treasure Hunting



September 6th 2017

Everyone ought to be familiar with hurricane Harvey by now, but have you heard of Enawo? During my trip to Madagascar I got to witness the effects of this tropical cyclone firsthand. Earlier this year the storm resulted in 100 casualties and a failed vanilla harvest on the African island (which is about the size of France). Madagascar is responsible for half of all vanilla production worldwide. Due to its recent scarcity prices for the already very expensive spice, which is harvested from the vanilla orchid, have risen dramatically. According to Madagascans the vanilla market is now the best it has ever been. The less ravaged northwestern part of the country is doing away with palm tree housing in favour of stone and cement residences. The western world is only paying a small price: Switzerland saw a 2,5 % rise in the price of Mövenpick ice cream.

It isn’t just the houses of vanilla farmers that require updating in Madagascar: the roads are in such poor condition that one can only drive 150 kilometres a day, and one will leave one’s car shaken. Who is providing relief? The Swiss or the Dutch? Guess again: it’s the Chinese. Last year they built a road that connects the capital, Antananarivo, to the airport - a delightful piece of asphalt.

China is active in all of Africa, in fact: the country invested 21 billion dollars into African infrastructure in 2015, including the railway between Nairobi and Mombasa. At a disappointing 3 billion, France comes in at number two. The Chinese go about their business in Madagascar fairly ruthlessly, with little regard for human rights or sustainability. What’s more, according to the McKinsey report ‘Dance of the lions’ only 47% of all Chinese calls for bids end up at African companies.

Whether they’re being fair about it or not, these investments are undeniably already leading to economic growth. I recently met a twenty-something guy in a shared cab from Ethiopia to Somalia who told me that he and his family had managed to save up several thousands of dollars in a couple of years. The fact that he put that money towards an attempt to ultimately migrate to Europa points to a paradox about the rise of Africa. In the words of Professor in Human Geography Ton Dietz: “the increase in mobility is the logical consequence of the combination of an explosion in population, climate change and growth in prosperity”.

Africa is about to grow a lot more. The chances for our own continent are huge. The G20’s Global Infrastructure Hub estimates that Africa will need 174 billion dollars to spend on infrastructural investments every year until 2040. Just don’t expect these investments to put a stop to migration streams. Quite the opposite, in fact. Italian prime minister Paolo Gentiloni, host of the previous G7, suggested the summit cover legal migration routes for Africans, as well as investments into the continent. He was right, but not listened to.

This kind of twofold approach requires realism, coordination and an open mind. How do you say ‘wir schaffen das’ in Italian?

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