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You know the story and its underlying message: slow and steady wins the race. You probably don’t know the story of African economic under-development and Western economic growth, which is not quite as exciting. But the message, as outlined in a new IMF report, is similar – and it’s good news for the sluggish but increasingly stable African economies. By SIMON ALLISON.

The fable of the hare and tortoise is not a perfect metaphor to explain the differences between Western economic development and Africa’s under-development. Nowhere in the stories I read did the hare plunder all the tortoise’s pretty gold and diamonds as it rushed past the tortoise, or impose imbalanced trade restrictions. And Africa – being the tortoise, of course – has yet to overtake the West’s hare. But as metaphors go, it’s close enough.

The prosperous West is in the grip of the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression, its economies slowing down and its businesses struggling. Africa, meanwhile, keeps plodding along, posting steady growth rates that were once unexceptional, but are now the envy of those developed economies. This is the bit where the tortoise starts to catch up.

The International Monetary Fund’s latest regional economic outlook for sub-Saharan Africa, released on Monday, served to confirm these suspicions. 2011 was a good year, with the region’s output growing by 5% – not quite as good as in the years before the economic crisis, but still better than the world average. And 2012 will be even better, with growth of around 5.4% predicted. This is slightly less that what the IMF had originally predicted, but still an improvement on 2011.

Even the IMF agrees that the tortoise is doing well. “Although subject to downside risks, the overall picture in sub-Saharan Africa is markedly more buoyant than the outlook for some other regions in the world, notably the advanced economies of Europe and North Africa,” noted the report.

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