In the Africa Chief Economist’s Office, we seek to generate knowledge on key development issues around the continent. We also host the Gender Innovation Lab, which – as the name suggests – specifically generates evidence on how to close the gender gap in Africa. Over the course of 2018, we’ve produced a range of products (regional reports and updates), but we also produce academic articles and book chapters seeking to answer key, specific development questions.
Last month, I attended the International Family Planning Conference in Kigali, Rwanda, where policymakers from across the world gathered to strategize about ways to achieve a demographic dividend—the increase in gross domestic product (GDP) per capita that comes from having a young and productive labor force driving economic growth that is faster than population growth. I was heartened to be joined by ministers of finance and representatives of the highest levels of government, all of whom agreed that women’s empowerment–which centrally includes access to reproductive health services–-is essential for inclusive, sustainable growth.
The Ghana government’s new Coordinated Program strives to create opportunities for all Ghanaians; safeguard the natural environment and ensure that it is resilient; deepen governance to fight corruption and enhance public accountability to maintain a stable, unified, and peaceful Ghana; and create a competitive business environment to build a strong and resilient economy.
The impact of growth on poverty in Ghana has slowed substantially over the years. Ghana’s largest fall in poverty, 2% a year, was experienced during 1991–1998. Between 2012 and 2016, the poverty rate declined by only 0.2% per year. The growth elasticity of poverty (percentage reduction in poverty for each percentage point in economic growth) has decreased, from −1.18 between 1992 and 1998 to −0.07 between 2012 and 2016. This may reflect the declining contribution of agriculture, in which the majority of poor households are engaged, the limited job opportunities for higher productivity in the services sector, and a largely capital-intensive industrial development.
Ghana is a politically, economically, ethnically and demographically diverse country. The origins of economic and social inequality between the north and south of Ghana are largely due to geography and historical legacies of inequality established in colonial times. Still, the country had and has been successful in preventing tensions and conflicts, in part because Ghanaian government has maintained ethno-regional balances in representation.
Much has changed in Mozambique since the turn of the century. Today, the typical Mozambican lives 10 years longer than in 2001, largely due to a significant decline in infant and maternal mortality, reduced levels of morbidity across the population and improved access to health care services. Children are now more likely to participate in school than ever before, and the average household has a better chance of consuming safe water and being connected to the electricity grid. More Mozambicans live in better quality dwellings, scroll drown through messages received on their cellphones, and watch football games on flat screen TVs.
This progress has taken place in the backdrop of remarkable growth. Mozambique witnessed one of the fastest growth rates across Sub-Saharan Africa with its gross domestic product (GDP) expanding at an annual average rate of 7.2% between 2000 and 2016. As a result, average incomes have doubled even though fertility rates have remained relatively high.
Expanding the coverage of safety net programs in Africa represents a serious fiscal challenge. While there is substantial variation across countries, on average governments in Africa spend about 1.3% of gross domestic product (GDP) on social safety nets (see figure). This is lower than the spending on other sectors such as energy, health care, education, and, in some cases, the military. Crucially, this level of spending is inadequate to face the high chronic poverty rates and vulnerability to shocks households face in Africa.
The design of the safety net program is perfect; it is based on the latest data and evidence; it enjoys political support at the highest levels, and it has sufficient financing.
So why can this safety net program not even get started after a year?
Maybe the answer has something to do with institutions. Accounting for the formal and informal “rules of the game” for social safety nets is key to the success of any program or system. In our chapter “Anchoring in Strong Institutions to Expand and Sustain Social Safety Nets” in the recently-released regional study on safety nets, we discuss some critical aspects of institutions that can make (or break) a social safety net program and how these evolve as programs grow in Africa.
The Triple Threat, as it is referred to in South African policy circles, remains a key policy priority for the government; namely, inequality, poverty and unemployment. The latter – unemployment – was 27.2% in the second quarter of 2018 and at such high rates, it is a critical development issue in contemporary South Africa.