Without our realising it, Africa has progressed at breakneck speed since the early 2000s. With average economic growth of close to 5% since the start of the decade and a high capacity to resist the global recession, Africa is turning a corner. Yet while the scope and effect of the continent’s present transformation should have us scrutinising the road ahead, in reality we are watching the African race car tearing down the road from the rear-view mirror. The discrepancy between our outmoded, last-century perceptions of Africa, and its contemporary realities, is striking.

Although growth is now a long-term reality, other economic fundamentals also evidence these positive changes, and merit closer attention.

Between the structural adjustment policies of the 1990s on the one hand and debt cancellation on the other, debt is no longer a barrier to development today. According to IMF statistics, national debt as a percentage of GDP in Sub-Saharan African countries fell from 60 percent in 2003 to 29 percent in 2009: a first for the global economic arena, where equivalent figures for Europe and the US are over 80 percent.

With a population that recently topped one billion, the continent remains sparsely populated. Far from a calamitous case of overpopulation, Africa’s predicted population boom – a twofold increase to nearly 2 billion by 2050 – will provide the continent with an exceptional developmental asset in terms of a productive workforce and consumption.

Africa still represents a mere two percent of all global transactions, but a 30 percent growth in export orders is drawing the continent ever more quickly into the international trade arena. With GDP in the region of 1000 billion dollars and diaspora remittances accounting for 5 percent of this figure – more than the total of development aid to Africa, updated financial centres, controlled inflation in most of the continent’s countries, dramatic growth in foreign exchange reserves, and local currencies becoming stronger and stronger, Africa’s nations now boast unprecedented leeway to inject funds into dynamic budget policies and breathe confidence into the world’s financial centres, which are themselves reflecting the ever-increasing interest in the continent.

All changes that, in combination with the continent’s tremendous stores of raw materials and largely under-exploited agricultural potential, are curiously reminiscent of the situation in Asia leading up to the economic boom.

But there is still a long way to go. Peace is not yet prevalent in all regions: far from it. Education, security, sanitary conditions and infrastructure still leave much to be desired but many governments are making progress towards accountability, democracy is forging ahead and good governance is becoming increasingly widespread: improvements also borne out by the conclusions of the World Bank’s Doing Business 2010 report, which reveals that in the past year 25 percent of reforms reported across the world aimed at facilitating trade were implemented on African soil. It’s an impressive statistic that the world’s largest airlines and shipping firms, who are now actively routing their traffic towards Africa, have clearly taken to heart.