If we were to think of Africa as a single nation with a population of nearly one billion, as the World Bank recently did, we’d discover that its GNP would be higher than Brazil’s or India’s.
India in fact, which the media keep telling us is the new economic horizon along with China, on equal terms of population compared to our fictitious pan- African vision, would actually have a per capita annual income 250 dollars lower. In 2007 alone, over 20,000 enterprises in 19 different African countries were engaged in favoured trade dealings with China and India, in a steadily rising trend. So why does everybody go on talking about the Indian and Chinese economies, and never about the African ones? The analysts maintain that the western perception of Africa is warped by a curiously unfavourable distortion. This is partly because the continent is seen through an anamorphic media filter, which has always depicted it as an unhappy and static place surrounded by an apocalyptic aura: a land of desperate humanity driven to seek safety by moving to Europe. We inhabitants of the so-called first world have been somehow blind to the micro and macro economic movements ever more frequently expressed by the 53 African nations, whereas it is precisely the so-called emerging powers that have been quick to spot them. Evidently they are readier to grasp global situations than those of us who are still caught up in the panic sparked by the world crisis. It would be a mistake, though, to look at Asian investments in Africa against a pattern of 18th- and 19th-century white colonialism. Financial penetration today by Chinese and Indian investors deals with enterprises that are well aware of their role and potential on the global market. A class of African managers, businessmen and entrepreneurs exists by now, many of whom have returned to their homelands enriched with higher educational qualifications gained in the most prestigious western universities and institutions. But this is not all. In Africa, for quite some time and in all quarters – from slums to small business offices – there has been an air of optimistic, buoyant and happy awareness of the Africans’ own capacities: the happiness of knowing that they are the world’s future, of cherishing the reasonable hope that they are on the way out of hunger and poverty, simply through a heightened appreciation of their own possibilities. That positive outlook may not yet, perhaps, have been borne out by reality. Nevertheless it serves as a big boost to the continent’s creative, economic and cultural resources. Years ago we had already begun to appreciate this conscious happiness, this lightness of gesture and elegance of ideas, in the performances of Africa’s athletes, in its rhythmic music and in the violent fertility of its art. But today’s optimism has organically infected many other aspects of African society, while also sustaining a promising architectural rise to maturity.The architecture featured in this issue of Domus is thus one of the many outstanding qualities offered to the world by this happy new African awareness.At the end of the day, Africa really seems more and more like Milan.