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What will it take to end poverty in Africa?

Shanta Devarajan's picture

My colleague Jim Kim has launched a social media campaign on what it will take to end global poverty (please send your solutions via twitter to #ittakes.) I was reminded of a blog post I did about four years ago entitled “Ending poverty in Africa and elsewhere”. 

My answer then and now is:  Overcome government failure.  By “government failure,” I don’t mean that governments are evil or even that they are incompetent or ill-intentioned.  Analogous to “market failure,” government failure refers to a situation where the particular incentives in government lead to a situation that is worse than what was intended with the intervention.  

For instance, governments finance and provide primary education so that poor children can have access to learning.  But if teachers are paid regardless of whether they show up for work, and politicians rely on teachers to run their political campaigns, the result is absentee teachers and poor children who don’t know how to read or write—precisely the opposite of what was intended.  We see similar government failures in health care, water supply, sanitation, electricity, transport, labor markets and trade policy.

Sweetening Kenya’s future – The challenges of the sugar industry

Wolfgang Fengler's picture

Do you ever wonder, looking at the food in your plate, where it has come from and who produced it?

Surely you have thought about what explains its price on the shelf! Kenyans love sugar, which they use liberally in their tea: on average each Kenyan consumes 400 grams of sugar per week, much more than their Tanzanian neighbors who consume approximately 230 grams. In Africa, only the residents of Swaziland and South Africa have a sweeter tooth.

Globally, 70 percent of the sugar that is produced is consumed in the same country and only 30 percent is exported. In principle this is good for customers in sugar-producing countries, as long as the supply is sufficient to keep prices low. In Kenya, this is not the case: there are occasional sugar shortages and, when they can be anticipated, prices rise to extraordinary levels. 

Africa’s Learning Crisis

Shanta Devarajan's picture

Hardly a week goes by without someone pointing out that, despite being enrolled in school, many of Africa’s primary school-age children don’t seem to be learning very much. 

Today’s salvo is from the Brookings Institution’s Center for Universal Education, whose Africa Learning Barometer estimates that 61 million children (half of the primary school-age population) “will reach their adolescent years without being able to read, write or perform basic numeracy tasks.”  

Last week, my colleagues Elizabeth King and Ritva Reinikka called on Africa’s education system to “put learning first for all students.”  We have documented disappointing learning outcomes in Tanzania on this blog.  Despite being a middle-income country and having substantially increased public spending on education, South Africa’s performance in standardized tests is below the average for African countries.

Kenya’s education dividend

Wolfgang Fengler's picture

Despite positive news and the talk of an African “renaissance,” many still doubt whether the continent is ready for take-off. Rapid population growth and the resulting “youth bulge” remain major concerns in a context of widespread un(der)employment. How can a country like Kenya create one million jobs each year, just to accommodate new entrants into the labor force? 

 

But young people don’t just need jobs, they also create them. Therefore, what matters most is to make sure that the education system delivers the skills needed in emerging economies, and incubates entrepreneurs. In turn, as people become more educated and healthier, they will have fewer children. This is already happening: As Kenya continues to welcome about a million new citizens each year, family size is slowly declining. 

“Death on Wheels” in sub-Saharan Africa: How to prevent it?

Patricio V. Marquez's picture

On the eve of the 2010 World Football Cup, former South Africa President Nelson Mandela experienced a tragedy that is all too common across sub-Saharan Africa: his great-granddaughter was killed in a car crash returning home after a concert in Soweto. The car's driver was arrested and charged with drunk driving.

Thousands of African families have experienced the pain of the Mandela family: according to WHO data, close to 250,000 people die each year on African roads, representing one-fifth of the world's road deaths, and about 500,000 sustain non-fatal injuries.

Severe underreporting hides the real magnitude of the problem; for example, in Mozambique, estimates done in 2011 by a Harvard University team indicated that road deaths and non-fatal injuries were twice as high as those reported in official statistics.

As the map shows, the sub-Saharan African countries, with an estimated death rate of 32.2 people per 100,000 population, have some of the highest road death rates in the world although they possess only 2% of the world’s registered vehicles.  

Leveraging Regional Integration for Rwanda

Birgit Hansl's picture

For Rwanda to become an emerging middle-income economy, it will need to unleash its export potential. The country has a natural comparative advantage in services, including tourism, and can serve as a gateway between Anglophone East Africa and Francophone Central Africa. But Rwanda can only reap these benefits if it integrates with its neighbors.

Regional integration can bring substantive benefits to all EAC members. But will progress affect all countries in a similar fashion? The answer is no.

Three countries are landlocked (Burundi, Rwanda, and Uganda), and two are coastal (Kenya and Tanzania). Kenya’s GDP (PPP) is similar to Tanzania’s, but 5 times that of Rwanda and almost 20 times that of Burundi. 

Why are Kenyans still brilliant runners but disappointing footballers?

Wolfgang Fengler's picture

 When Churchill was asked for the secret of his long and healthy life, he famously quipped: “No sport!” (that was Winston, not Kenya’s beloved entertainer). The British PM would have been a poor ambassador for the London Olympics, which just ended in great fanfare.

Today, many would challenge his perspective. Obesity is a massive problem in rich societies and rapidly becoming one in emerging economies too. As a result, heart disease and diabetes are also on the rise.

But for me, sport means so much more than just personal fitness. I practiced Judo competitively as a child, which helped me to stay focused, taught me important life skills –especially teamwork— and formed friendships that have lasted until this day. My passion for sport has been reenergized in Kenya, where you can be outdoors all day long and all year round… much better than sitting in front of the TV (football games excepted).

But at the macro level, is sport also contributing to national development? Does it help or hurt in building a nation and growing an economy?

Tanzania: Let's think together

Jacques Morisset's picture

Every Sunday the World Bank in Tanzania in collaboration with the newspapwer The Citizen want to stimulate your thinking by sharing data from recent official surveys and ask you a few questions. 

Are all Tanzania children really going to school?

Over the past decade, Tanzania has been close to reaching almost its universal primary education targets according to official statistics. However, when Tanzanian households were asked directly in recent surveys, they reported that: 

 

  • 17% of their seven to thirteen year-olds were not attending school 
  • 30% of the seven or eight year-olds in rural areas were not attending school and as much as 45% for those in the poorest quintile
  • 45% of those of the seven or eight year-olds not attending school in the rural areas are among the poorest people
  • About 1/3 (400,000) of the 1.2 million seven-year-olds are out of school, with rural boys less likely to go to school than girls.

 

Those responses warrant a number of questions:

How Kenya became a world leader for mobile money

Wolfgang Fengler's picture

What if anyone owning a cell-phone, whether rich or poor, also had access to financial services with the ability to save and send money safely, no matter where they are located?  This is not science fiction; in fact it is already happening in Kenya, which has become the world’s market leader in mobile money.

Today, Kenya has more cell-phone subscriptions than adult citizens and more than 80 percent of those with a cell phone also use “mobile money” (or “M-PESA” which is very different from “mobile banking” as Michael Joseph–the former Safaricom CEO, and the man behind that revolution—can explain passionately!).  

Internet access is also increasing rapidly, even though many are complaining about poor service by some operators. Within the next two years, Kenya could become one of the most connected, and modern economies in the developing world, and a unique case among the world’s poorer countries, that have an average annual income of below US$ 1000 per capita (see figure).

Ending the Communicable and Non-communicable Disease Divide in Africa

Patricio V. Marquez's picture

Co-authored with Jill Farrington

The 2011 UN Summit on Non-communicable Diseases (NCDs) elevated the importance of NCDs as a pressing global health challenge.  While this recognition was long overdue, are we at risk of establishing a new vertical program, in direct competition for scarce funding with existing communicable diseases control programs and health system strengthening initiatives?

 

If we pay close attention to available evidence, that should not be the case.  The health situation in sub-Saharan Africa nicely illustrates this point, as we have learned from an extensive review of the literature.

 

While the focus in this region has been on communicable diseases and maternal, perinatal and nutritional causes of morbidity and mortality, less attention has been paid to the extent to which these conditions contribute to the growing NCD burden and to potential common intervention strategies. Indeed the biggest increase in NCD deaths globally in the next decade is expected in Africa, where they are likely to become the leading cause of death by 2030. 

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