Published on Africa Can End Poverty

My top three and Bono's top ten

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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:

1. Sustained and widespread economic growth in Africa. 

For the first time in three decades, growth in Africa was equal to that of all developing countries (except China and India). Until the global crisis of 2008-9, average economic growth had been accelerating from around 4 percent in the early part of the decade to 5.7 percent in 2006 to 6.1 percent in 2007 (with a pre-crisis forecast of 6.4 percent in 2008). This growth was not just due to high oil prices either—22 non-oil-exporters sustained better-than-four-percent average annual growth between 1998 and 2008.

2. African response to the global economic and financial crisis.

African countries were perhaps the worst hit by the global crisis—as private capital flows, remittances, tourism, primary commodity prices and foreign aid either slowed down or declined. The response of African policymakers was to continue the prudent macroeconomic policies of the past—running modest countercyclical policies when they had fiscal space—sustain as much as possible the medium-term development agenda, and in some cases even accelerate reforms. As a result, the policy environment for economic growth and the productive use of external resources in Africa has never been better.

3. The ICT revolution

Although Africa continues to have a massive infrastructure deficit, one component—information and communications technology—really took off during the decade. The number of mobile phone users rose from 10 million in 2000 to 180 million in 2007; some 94 percent of the population is covered by the Global System for Mobile Communication (GSM). Farmers in Niger now get price information from different markets on their cell phones before deciding where to sell; M-PESA’s mobile banking enables poor rural households in Kenya to receive remittances from anywhere in the world.


Shanta Devarajan

Teaching Professor of the Practice Chair, International Development Concentration, Georgetown University

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