The African version of the World Economic Forum opens today in Durban at a sobering time for sub-Saharan Africa. Continental economic growth tumbled in 2016 to the lowest point in more than a decade. Not only that, growth declined from really extraordinary levels in 2007, when it ran at a continental average of 7.4%, according to formal IMF figures. What an extraordinary reversal of fortunes. Gone are the days when African countries constituted the majority of the 10 fastest-growing economies in the world. For a moment it seemed as if grand solutions to Africa’s problems were realistically in sight within a generation. Now that ideal seems like a cruel chimera. The first point to make in response to the underlying pessimism bedevilling African development is that the hope Africa could defy the economic cycle was a delusion in the first place. There is now a slightly more clear-eyed view of African economic growth — past, present and future. African leaders knew at the time of the bo...

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