Discussion paper

DP15963 Africa’s Latent Assets

Despite the past centuries’ economic setbacks and challenges, are there reasons for
optimism about Africa’s economic prospects? We provide a conceptual framework and empirical
evidence that show how the nature of African society has led to three sets of unrecognized “latent
assets.” First, success in African society is talent driven and Africa has experienced high levels
of perceived and actual social mobility. A society where talented individuals rise to the top and
optimism prevails is an excellent basis for entrepreneurship and innovation. Second, Africans,
like westerners who built the world’s most successful effective states, are highly skeptical of
authority and attuned to the abuse of power. We argue that these attitudes can be a critical
basis for building better institutions. Third, Africa is “cosmopolitan.” Africans are the most
multilingual people in the world, have high levels of religious tolerance, and are welcoming to
strangers. The experience of navigating cultural and linguistic diversity sets Africans up for
success in a globalized world.


Robinson, J and S Henn (2021), ‘DP15963 Africa’s Latent Assets‘, CEPR Discussion Paper No. 15963. CEPR Press, Paris & London. https://cepr.org/publications/dp15963