Africa is growing fast but transforming slowly. This is the message of the 2014 African Transformation Report, launched last week by the African Center for Economic Transformation (ACET). The report addresses a worry on the minds of many: in spite of impressive growth, the structure of most sub-Saharan African economies has evolved little in the past 40 years, with a poorly diversified export base, limited industrialization and technological progress, and a large informal economy whose economic potential remains mostly overlooked. In many African economies, manufacturing—the sector that has led rapid development in East Asia—is declining as a share of GDP. The worry is that without a major transformation Africa’s recent growth may soon run out of steam. The report argues that for growth to continue, Africa needs to invest in “DEPTH”–diversification, export competitiveness, productivity, and technological upgrading, all for the purposes of human well-being.
africa economic growth
Most of the literature about Africa’s growth, “Africa Rising”, “Lions on the Move”, etc., refer to the present or the future. An oft-quoted World Bank report said, “Africa could be on the brink of an economic takeoff, much like China was 30 years ago and India 20 years ago.”
Meanwhile, Alwyn Young has recently published a paper that claims that per-capita consumption on the continent has been growing at 3.4-3.7 percent a year for the last two decades—about three to four times the growth rates documented in other studies. Instead of using national accounts data (which, as we know, suffer from several deficiencies), Alwyn adopts the Demographic and Health Surveys (DHS), which calculate the households’ ownership of assets and other indicators of well-being (ownership of a car or bicycle; material of the house floor; birth, death or illness of a child, etc.).
Hardly a week goes by without an African investors’ conference or growth summit. Portuguese professionals are looking for opportunities in Angola. Silicon Valley companies are coming to Kenya to learn about its homegrown ICT revolution. This is not an irrational fad. Since the turn of the century, Africa’s growth has been robust (averaging 5-6 percent GDP growth a year), making important contributions to poverty reduction. The current boom is underpinned by sound macro policies and political stability. Unlike in some rich countries, public debt levels in most of Africa are sustainable.
One way to track Africa’s progress is by charting the number of countries that have achieved “Middle Income status”.
Over half the countries in Sub-Saharan Africa subsidize fuel to protect consumers from high and volatile prices. But fuel subsidies are neither cheap nor likely to be sustainable (see the full analysis in the new Africa's Pulse).
Data for 2010-11 show that fuel price subsidies consumed, on average, 1.4 percent of GDP in public resources: The fiscal cost in oil exporters was almost two-and-a-half times that in oil importers. In the face of high (and rising) world fuel prices, a number of countries have raised domestic prices to stem fiscal costs.
For example, Ghana raised fuel prices by about 30 percent in January 2011. The Nigerian government removed the subsidy on gasoline this January, although a portion of the subsidy was subsequently reinstated. With oil prices likely to remain elevated, fuel subsidies will continue to weigh on government budgets in Africa.
But who benefits from fuel price subsidies?
Expenditure data for seven African countries show that the distribution of these subsidies is disproportionately concentrated in the hands of the rich. Richer households spend a larger amount on fuel products, and, consequently, benefit more than poorer households from any universal subsidy on these products. On average the richest 20% receive over six times more in subsidy benefits than the poorest 20%.
Sub-Saharan African countries bucked the slowdown in the global economy and grew at a robust pace in 2011 (see Africia's Pulse, February 2012 Update).
The region’s output expanded by an estimated 4.9 percent, faster than in 2010 and just shy of the pre-crisis (average of 2003-08) level of 5 percent. Excluding South Africa, the regional growth rate was 5.9 percent. Particularly notable is the fact that this growth was widespread: over a third of countries posted 6 percent or higher growth; another 40 percent grew at between 4-6 percent. Equally important is the fact that several countries saw sustained growth rates of over 6 percent a year in both 2010 and 2011.
So what can Sub-Saharan Africa expect in 2012? Barring a serious deterioration in the global economy, the outlook for the region seems bright, with a pickup in GDP growth to 5.3 percent in 2012 and 5.6 percent in 2013. High commodity prices and strong domestic demand, especially buoyant private consumption, are expected to sustain the expansion.
But these factors also point to Africa’s vulnerability.
Despite a slowdown in the global economic recovery and an increasingly difficult global environment, Sub-Saharan African countries are continuing to post solid growth.
Following a 4.6 percent expansion in 2010, the region’s output is expected to grow by 4.8 percent this year (5.8 percent excluding South Africa) and by more than 5 percent in 2012 and 2013.
Indeed, African countries are amongst the fastest growing countries in the world: Ghana is projected to grow by well over 10 percent this year; and nearly 40 percent of the countries in the region are likely to see 6 percent or higher growth rates. Growth in Africa remains closely linked to the evolution of international commodity prices—oil, metals, and non-food agricultural commodities—which have remained generally buoyant.
Not surprisingly, a sharp deterioration in global conditions would weigh down on the region's prospects. Moreover, this time around African countries will be more constrained in their policy options: because they have less fiscal space than they had in the wake of the 2008 global financial and economic crisis. Read the full analysis on Africa's Pulse.
For the World Bank's internal website, I was asked to list the three most important developments of the past decade. To elicit a broader discussion, I am sharing it on this blog. In a subsequent post, I will list the three most important challenges and opportunities for the coming decade. One or two of my items are also reflected in Bono's excellent piece in yesterday's New York Times, "Ten for the Next Ten." Here are my top three:
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."