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African and Mideast Business IMF’s Lagarde says armed conflict ‘Enemy No. 1’ of African growth

International Monetary Fund managing director Christine Lagarde greets Ivorian President Alassane Ouattara at the Presidential Palace in Abidjan Jan. 7, 2013.

THIERRY GOUEGNON/Reuters

Africa's emerging nations have become a driving force for world economic growth, International Monetary Fund chief Christine Lagarde said on Monday, but armed conflicts pose the principal threat to the continent's future development.

Resource-rich African nations have continued to post impressive growth even as the economies of Europe have stagnated and a U.S. recovery makes only slow progress.

The IMF is projecting economic growth of 5.25 per cent for sub-Saharan Africa in 2013, a rate that places the region second only to Asia's booming economies and well above a world forecast of 3.6 per cent.

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"It's clear that emerging countries are the motor of world economic growth," Ms. Lagarde said in a speech to MPs in top cocoa producer Ivory Coast, which received more than $4-billion in debt relief under an IMF/World Bank program last year.

"I cannot help but be impressed by the continent's resilience … in the face of the most serious disturbances seen by the world's economy since the Great Depression," she said.

Africa's diverse mining sector, which offers everything from copper and iron to diamonds and gold, is booming largely on demand from Chinese industry. So too is its oil sector. And investors are increasingly drawn to its growing and largely untapped consumer markets.

These recent gains risk being undermined however by lingering conflicts across much of the continent, Ms. Lagarde said.

"Security is too fragile in many countries and especially here in West Africa. If there is no peace, the people simply won't have the confidence or courage to invest in their own future, and neither will (foreign investors)," she said.

West and Central African nations, which have long struggled to stamp out the recurring cycles of political turmoil that have plagued the region since independence a half century ago, witnessed a surge in violence in 2012.

Islamists from Nigeria's Boko Haram sect carried out almost daily deadly attacks in the regional giant's troubled north. Rebels in Democratic Republic of Congo and Central African Republic gained ground and threatened to overthrow their respective governments.

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Fighters with links to al Qaeda took advantage of a military coup in Mali to seize more than half of the country, raising fears that the conflict could spill across its porous borders and destabilize the region.

"Conflicts have disastrous consequences for the belligerents. They also have consequences for neighbouring countries. If I had to name the enemy number one of economic development, it would clearly be conflicts," Ms. Lagarde said.

Ivory Coast, where Ms. Lagarde is spending three days as part of a tour of Africa, emerged from a decade of political crisis following a brief war in 2011.

Amid a much praised post-war economic turn around, the country registered economic growth of more than 8.5 per cent in 2012, following a 4.7 per cent contraction in 2011.

But it too is struggling to cope with a series of regular, deadly attacks on security forces and infrastructure sites that began last August.

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