Last year two of my friends welcomed new babies into their families: James and Maureen (not their real names). Both babies were born in Metropolitan Nairobi - the fastest growing urban area in the country. Their births added to the growing urban popluation in Kenya, which will double to 24 million by 2035 and more than triple to 40 million by 2050. The Kenya Urbanization Review projects that by that time, that there will be nearly as many Kenyans living in urban areas as there are Kenyans today. Kenya’s urban transition has begun.
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.
Static poverty measures fail to distinguish between an individual who has been in poverty all her life, and another who happens to have had a small misfortune for the year the measurement was carried out. But these distinctions matter. The forces that conspire to condemn some individuals to remain stuck in poverty for years are generally somewhat different from those that randomly drag them down for a brief period. The latter group may need only some temporary relief – perhaps only some short-term employment insurance till they get the next job – while the former would need also longer-term interventions aimed at breaking the persistence of poverty. Indeed, the longer people spend in poverty, the lesser tends to be their chance of exiting it. As Africa rose, has its poverty remained mainly chronic, or has it become a more transient state of affairs?
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.
Africa’s robust annual economic expansion of 4.5% during 1995-2013 has come along with appreciable progress in human welfare. African newborns can now expect to live 6.2 years longer than in 2000, the prevalence of chronic malnutrition among children under five declined by six percentage points, and the number of deaths of violent events dropped from 20 (in the late 1990s) to four. Africans are also more empowered, manifested, among others, through greater participation of women in household decision making.
At the same time, for every five adults, two remain illiterate, life expectancy still only stands at 57— 10 years less than in South Asia – and the number of violent events has been on the rise again since 2010. The human development challenge remains substantial. Moreover, despite being a major force behind Africa’s growth renaissance, citizens in resource-rich countries did not experience a commensurate jump in their education or health status. On the contrary, results from the World Bank’s recent Africa Poverty Report “Poverty in a Rising Africa,” suggest that it is especially resource-rich countries which are bad at converting their economic fortunes into better human development.
Africa’s remarkable economic growth has been accompanied by the concern that the benefits of the economic growth are not shared broadly. Growth may only go so far; when inequality and lack of social mobility persist, children are effectively born disadvantaged.
There have been gains in schooling in the region. Data from the UNESCO shows that the primary adjusted net enrollment ratio increased from 59% in 1999 to 79% in 2012. Education is becoming more inclusive, but that doesn’t mean African children have an equal chance.
One way to view whether educational opportunities are becoming more equal across children is to look at “education mobility” between generations. Does the next generation of children have more educational mobility than their parents? In Poverty in a Rising Africa report, we investigate trends in the intergenerational transmission of education over 50 years. This work draws on two indicators of mobility traditionally used to access such mobility: the intergenerational gradient and the correlation coefﬁcient between parents and children years of schooling. The intergenerational gradient is simply the regression coefficient of parents’ education as a predictor of children education. It measures intergenerational persistence--a lower the value indicates more intergenerational mobility. The correlation between parents and children years of schooling shows how much of the dispersion in children's education is explained by parental education -- a lower value also indicates more intergenerational mobility.
In 2016, the world faces uncertainty and volatility – as well as huge opportunities for significant progress. Africa stands not just to gain from these major shifts, but also to lead some of them.
The global landscape is certainly challenging, with the political and economic news dominated by slowing growth, rocky stock markets, falling commodity prices, risks in emerging markets (especially China), increasing numbers of refugees, geopolitical tensions and the threat of violent extremism.