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Using Knowledge to Fight Poverty in Africa

Kathleen Beegle's picture
Also available in: Français

Photo Credit: @Gates Foundation. A girl plays with a bicycle tire in the slum of Korogocho, one of the largest slum neighborhoods of Nairobi, Kenya
 
Although sub-Saharan Africa has had sustained economic growth for almost two decades, the incidence of extreme poverty in the region remains staggeringly high. Our best estimate is that in 2010 almost one in every two (49%) Africans lived on less than U$1.25 per day (at 2005 prices).

This is an impressive decrease from 58% in 1999, but at the same time there is a general sense that progress has been too slow. Africa is rising, with GDP growth rates upwards of 6% between 2003 and 2013 (if one excludes richer and less dynamic South Africa) but the poor’s living standards are not rising as fast as GDP.

La recherche au service de la lutte contre la pauvreté en Afrique

Kathleen Beegle's picture
Also available in: English
 

Une petite fille joue avec un pneu de bicyclette dans le bidonville de Korogocho,à Nairobi au Kenya @Fondation Gates

Bien que l’Afrique subsaharienne connaisse une croissance économique soutenue depuis près de deux décennies, l’extrême pauvreté continue d’y sévir : environ un Africain sur deux (49 % selon nos estimations les plus fiables) vivait avec moins de 1,25 dollar par jour en 2010 (aux prix de 2005). Certes, c’est neuf points de moins qu’en 1999 mais, en dépit de ce recul exceptionnel, le sentiment général est celui de progrès bien trop lents. Si l’essor de l’Afrique est réel, avec des taux de croissance du PIB de plus de 6 % entre 2003 et 2013 (en exceptant l’Afrique du Sud, plus riche et moins dynamique que les autres pays de la région), le niveau de vie des populations les plus démunies ne croît pas aussi vite que le PIB…

Relaunching Africa Can and Sharing Africa’s Growth

Francisco Ferreira's picture

Dear Africa Can readers, we’ve heard from many of you since our former Africa Chief Economist Shanta Devarajan left the region for a new Bank position that you want Africa Can to continue highlighting the economic challenges and amazing successes that face the continent. We agree.

Today, we are re-launching Africa Can as a forum for discussing ideas about economic policy reform in Africa as a useful, if not essential, tool in the quest to end poverty in the region.

You’ll continue to hear from many of the same bloggers who you’ve followed over the past five years, and you’ll hear from many new voices – economists working in African countries and abroad engaging in the evidence-based debate that will help shape reform. On occasion, you’ll hear from me, the new Deputy Chief Economist for the World Bank in Africa.

We invite you to continue to share your ideas and challenge ours in pursuit of development that really works to improve the lives of all people throughout Africa.

Here is my first post. I look forward to your comments.

In 1990, poverty incidence (with respect to a poverty line of $1.25) was almost exactly the same in sub-Saharan Africa and in East Asia: about 57%. Twenty years on, East Asia has shed 44 percentage points (to 13%) whereas Africa has only lost 8 points (to 49%). And this is not only about China: poverty has also fallen much faster in South Asia than in Africa.

These differences in performance are partly explained by differences in growth rates during the 1990s, when emerging Asia was already on the move, and Africa was still in the doldrums. But even in the 2000s, when Africa’s GDP growth picked up to 4.6% or thereabouts, and a number of countries in the region were amongst the fastest-growing nations in the world, still poverty fell more slowly in Africa than in other regions. Why is that?

Africa is rising - is poverty falling?

Shanta Devarajan's picture

Several people, from The Economist to this blog, have been highlighting Africa's accelerated GDP growth of about 5 percent a year for the decade before the 2008-9 global economic crisis, and the two years since the crisis. But has this growth served to reduce poverty?

The latest globally consistent estimate of poverty rates has an answer: Yes. 

Using the measure of people living on $1.25 a day or less, the World Bank's poverty measurement team, led by my colleague Martin Ravallion, estimates that the percentage of poor Africans fell from 58 percent in 1999 to 47.5 percent in 2008.  This rate of decline of about one percentage point a year is a welcome change from the previous decade when growth was much slower and the poverty rate increased. 

Natural Resources and the Washington Consensus

Shanta Devarajan's picture

In a recent interview on the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, I reacted to statements by Patrick Bond on Africa’s export of raw materials and on structural adjustment policies. I said that the problem with natural resources was not that Africa exports them, but that many African governments have not used the revenues from these resources productively. On structural adjustment, I said that policies followed by the better-performing African countries over the last 15 years were quite similar to

Africa as a BRIC

Shanta Devarajan's picture

My colleague and good friend, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, gave an inspiring speech at Harvard where she described Africa as the next BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India and China).  Everything she says in the speech is music to my ears (confession—I provided some background materials to her staff)—that Africa’s growth prospects are strong, that reforms seem to have taken hold—and her idea of African Development Bonds is innovative and worthy of discussion.
 
My only concern is the labeling of Africa as the next BRIC.  First, Africa is not a country, whereas each of the BRICs is.  Africa is 47 countries, some of which are quite small (20 countries have populations less than 5 million).  The distinguishing feature of the BRICs is that they are both middle-income and large.  So it’s not clear how any individual African country can aspire to being a BRIC. Countries such as Malaysia or Chile may be more appropriate models for most African countries.

Domestic demand, net exports and Africa’s growth

Shanta Devarajan's picture

At the recent Africa Economic Conference, UN under-secretary general and executive secretary of UNECA, Abdoulie Janneh, said "[Africa’s] previous growth, while benefiting from improved macroeconomic management, was largely dependent on commodity exports and resources flows from outside the continent." 

Are Fragile States "Too Poor to Grow?"

Shanta Devarajan's picture

Boy plays with tireA recent paper by my colleagues Humberto Lopez and Luis Serven entitled “Too Poor to Grow” asks whether, controlling for other factors, countries with higher poverty rates grow more slowly.  Their answer is “yes”.  The implication is that countries with high poverty may be caught in a poverty trap—they grow more slowly, so poverty rates stay high or even increase, which means they grow even more slowly, and so on. 

The idea echoes the one in Martin Ravallion’s post on this blog about why poverty rates are not converging. 

The two papers got me thinking about the large number (20) of fragile states in Africa.   These states have lower per-capita incomes and growth rates than non-fragile states.  More importantly, many of them have remained fragile states for a long time. 

Could it be that these countries are caught in a low-level equilibrium trap?  And if so, should aid policy—which treats them as worse-performing versions of non-fragile states—be adjusted to take into account the possibility that these countries are “stuck” in low growth, high poverty and poor governance?
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UPDATE: August 27, 2009:

Thanks to all who are taking the time to share their views on this post. Many of you seem to think that education can offer a way out of this vicious cycle. Some don't see hope for Africa until corruption can be successfully tackled. A few others advocate for more individual responsibility.  I was particularly impressed by the story David Kamulegeya shared with us (see the comment titled "it is about the attitude that people have about themselves") in which he describes his own experience navigating out of poverty.