Over the past five years, the Agence Française de Développement (AFD) and the World Bank Group have coproduced 20 volumes on various dimensions of development in Africa. The Africa Development Forum (ADF) book series has addressed subjects including the agricultural, demographic, climatic, and environmental challenges facing African countries, as well as the various methods of financing infrastructure, cities, and social safety nets. In-depth research brings to light specific and diverse situations encountered around the continent. Moving beyond the results of such endeavors, the question remains of how to conduct research that can make a pertinent and meaningful contribution to public policy. Two fundamental tools are required: robust, and often times original, data and cutting-edge research. This research must not only be connected to international realities; it must be firmly anchored in African realities and geared toward public policy making.
Most parents in Africa will tell you that their children’s education is the most important investment they can make. Over the past decade, great progress has been made in terms of getting children into school, with countries such as Benin, Cameroon, Rwanda and Zambia recording primary net enrollment of over 90 percent. But across the continent, primary school completion and youth literacy rates remain unacceptably low.
Climate change imposes stark challenges in West and Central Africa, where droughts and floods are already frequent. Vast portions of the region’s populations are poor, dependent on natural resources for their livelihoods, and unable to prepare and respond adequately to extreme weather events. Weak monitoring and information systems, absence of proper infrastructure, and limited governance capacity render countries in the region unable to manage their climate risks, threatening food and energy security, economic development, ecosystem health, and overall regional stability.
This blog is the latest in a series of posts reflecting on the findings in the 2016 World Bank Poverty in a Rising Africa report, released in its entirety this month. We look forward to your questions and comments regarding this and other blogs in the series.
The consumer price index (CPI) is the most commonly used measure of inflation in the world, and Africa is no exception. But do CPIs reliably reflect the actual change in the cost of living? And if not, how does this affect our understanding of how poverty has evolved in the region?
The CPI is derived from a fixed and supposedly representative basket of goods and services provided in the domestic market to measure a cost-of-living index. To keep up with changing consumption patterns, the basket weights need to be updated regularly. But often they are not. Most get updated every decade or even less frequently, so they become less and less representative of the items that consumers actually purchase.
In Nigeria, Africa’s largest and most populous country, more women are engaging in work than ever before. By 2011, more than half (57%) of women 15-64 years old were in some form of employment. The increase in women working has been driven by women with the least amount of schooling finding work –these are the women who are more likely to be out of work than those who have had access to more schooling.
Consumer Price Indexes (CPIs) can be subject of heated debate. Plans by the US administration in 2013 to modify the way social security benefits are adjusted for inflation led to protests of federal workers. The new method, which involved a shift from one version of the CPI to another, was designed to make the adjustment more sensitive to consumer substitution behavior. For instance, consumers may shift from blueberries to strawberries if the price of blueberries increases disproportionately – failure to account for such behavior change leads to ‘substitution bias’ in the CPI. However, the move proved deeply unpopular, in part because it was perceived – in Paul Krugman’s words – as “purely and simply, a benefit cut”. Eventually, President Obama dropped the proposal.
Today, four in five African primary-school-age kids are enrolled in school, with more joining at a later age. This is a major change and achievement, and should bode well for Africa’s upcoming generations. Only 20 years ago, barely half the kids were in school. Progress has been faster even for girls, with the gender gap in net primary school enrollment now down to four percentage points (compared with eight percentage points in 1995).
Following the adoption of the Millennium Development Goals in 2000, attention to education increased dramatically. At least in terms of enrollment, this seems to have paid off, so much so that education has lost its earlier top spot on the international development agenda. Since 2000, the solutions train has been set in motion, the illiteracy challenge seems to be taken care of, and attention has shifted elsewhere.
Against this background, the latest Word Bank report “Poverty in a Rising Africa” finds that 42% of Africa’s adults, about two in five, or a whopping 215 million people, are still illiterate, down from 46% in 1995. And make no mistake; this does not imply functional literacy for the remaining part of the population. The literacy tests applied are simply too rudimentary, and gross secondary school enrollment rates also only still stand at 46%.
In recent years, growing evidence supports the value of cash transfers. Research demonstrates that cash transfers lead to productive investments (in Kenya, Tanzania, and Zambia), that they improve human capital investments for children (in Burkina Faso, Tanzania, Lesotho, Zambia, and Malawi), and that they don’t get spent on alcohol (all over the world).
At the same time, the vast majority of governments invest large sums in training programs, whether business training for entrepreneurs or vocational training for youth, with the goal of helping to increase incomes and opportunities.
Africa’s Infrastructure: A Time for Transformation, the inaugural report in the Africa Development Forum series in 2010, was the fruit of an unusual confluence of circumstances. Seldom have donors put such a solid funding base behind primary data collection and analytical work on infrastructure, seldom has World Bank management been able to dedicate such significant human resources over a multiyear horizon to study these issues, and seldom has an infrastructure knowledge project brought together such a broad coalition of stakeholders including the key regional bodies in Africa. The catalyst was the high level of political commitment on African infrastructure made at the G8 Gleneagles Summit in 2005 based on the background work conducted for the Blair Commission Report on Africa.