For many of Africa’s people, rapid growth and rising wealth has failed to translate into better lives. The Africa Progress Report 2012 looks at three of the most critical ingredients for transforming a promising economic upturn into a sustained recovery and lasting human development – jobs, justice and equity.
Africa’s economies are consistently growing faster than those of almost any other region – and at twice the rate of the 1990s. For the first time in over a generation, the number of people living in poverty has fallen. Fewer children are dying before their fifth birthday and more are getting into school. Democracy is growing deeper roots. Governance standards are improving.
Yet there is another side to the balance sheet. Countries across Africa are becoming richer but whole sections of society are being left behind. After a decade of buoyant growth, almost half of Africans still live on less than $1.25 a day. Wealth disparities are increasingly visible. The current pattern of trickle-down growth is leaving too many people in poverty, too many children hungry and too many young people without jobs. Unequal access to health, education, water and sanitation is reinforcing wider inequalities. Smallholder agriculture has not been part of the growth surge, leaving rural populations trapped in poverty and vulnerability.
The deep, persistent and enduring inequalities in evidence across Africa have consequences. They weaken the bonds of trust and solidarity that hold societies together. Over the long run, they will undermine economic growth, productivity and the development of markets.
The Africa Progress Report 2012 highlights jobs because livelihoods play such a fundamental role in people’s life-chances – and because Africa urgently needs to create jobs for a growing youth population. It highlights justice and equity because they are missing from the lives of too many Africans, making the present growth socially unsustainable.
Africa has an unprecedented opportunity to set a course for sustained economic growth, shared prosperity and a breakthrough in poverty reduction. But this journey will not happen without determined action and crucial changes to make growth much more equitable.
In the world’s economic growth league, Africa has moved to the premier division. Africa’s overall record on development, however, does not match its economic growth. Most African countries will fail to reach most Millennium Development Goal targets because they are being held back by deeply entrenched inequalities.
The challenge is to harness economic growth to a more equitable distribution of opportunity and income by mobilizing revenues from growth towards the basic services and economic infrastructure that offer poor people greater opportunities. Governments across Africa must also develop more employment-intensive patterns of growth with higher levels of skills and productivity.
Africa’s governments and their development partners should initiate as a matter of urgency a “big push” towards the MDGs. Many donors have failed to honour their part of the MDG pledge. While the global partnerships on health have delivered results, other critical areas, such as water, sanitation and education, have faced problems in mobilizing support.
Africa’s prospects will be shaped not only by its people and its governments, but also by the wider forces of globalization. Five global trends have a particular influence on Africa’s future:
Demography and human geography – preparing for the youth surge: If young Africans gain the education and the jobs they need to realize their potential, Africa could experience a demographic revolution – but it also risks demographic disaster.
Global food security – more people on a warming planet: Agriculture, demography, economy and ecology are set on a collision course. What do these emerging strains in the global food system mean for Africa?
Tectonic shifts in economics and politics – the rise of the emerging powers: Global economic shifts offer Africa enormous opportunities for economic transformation, as long as the region can enter higher value-added areas of trade.
Science, technology and innovation – fuelling growth and development: Information and communications technologies hold huge potential to help Africa leapfrog over infrastructure insufficiencies and other barriers that rich nations had to overcome on the path to development.
The rising tide of citizen action: Across Africa, there is growing evidence that citizens are demanding more accountability from their governments.
In governance, as in economics, the story of the past decade has been one of steady progress in Africa, but there have been many reminders that the roots of democracy have to be protected with vigilance.
Multiparty democracy is now firmly established in most of Africa, but political parties need to extend their appeal beyond the narrow identities that divide people, to address the problems that people share and build a sense of common identity.
Meanwhile, there is good news and bad news on conflict. The level of armed violence is diminishing, but Africa still accounts for 23 per cent of refugees and 42 per cent of internally displaced people worldwide.
Africa needs good-quality domestic and foreign investment in order to enter higher value-added, employment- intensive areas of production, but corruption and lack of transparency remain pervasive concerns, undermining social, economic and political progress at many levels.
Governance of natural resources is of particular importance for Africa’s development. Minerals and oil can represent over 40 per cent of the continent’s combined budget revenues. The financial capital embedded in natural resources must be converted into physical infrastructure and human capital on which dynamic growth, employment creation and shared prosperity depend.
Knowledge is the engine that drives economic growth, fuels innovation and creates jobs. Learning equips countries – and people – with the skills they need to escape from poverty and build shared prosperity. It enables people to build more secure livelihoods, enjoy better health and participate in political processes that affect their lives. For all of these reasons, Africa’s ongoing education crisis demands the urgent attention of political leaders and aid partners.
On the current trajectory, the target of universal primary education by 2015 will be missed by a wide margin, with millions of children still not in school – and there are worrying indications that progress may be slowing. Meanwhile, many of the children in school are receiving an education of such abysmal quality that they are learning very little.
Africa has some of the world’s most glaring education inequalities. All too often, being born poor, female or in a rural or conflict-affected region is a marker for extreme disadvantage in education.
Every government needs to redouble its efforts to ensure that all children are in school by 2015. Far greater attention must be directed towards the quality of education and learning achievement. And governments need to put equity and quality at the centre of their education strategies.
To meet its young people’s aspirations for better lives, African countries need to diversify the sources of growth from natural resources and other commodities to sectors that have greater potential to create jobs and prosperity, such as manufacturing and services. This requires mobilizing and strengthening the sources of domestic finance, as well as managing development assistance.
There is a widespread public perception in rich countries that international aid remains the dominant form of development financing for Africa. That perception is wide off the mark. Africa is more dependent on aid than other regions, but domestic resource mobilization – the public and private finance raised within countries, through taxes and savings – far outweighs levels of development assistance.
African countries need to mobilize more domestic resources, however. They should further encourage domestic savings, increase levels of revenue collection, and strengthen tax administration, including reducing tax avoidance and getting a fair share from the exploitation of natural resources. At the international level, donors should enhance their cooperation in support of efforts to reduce tax avoidance.
Governments also need to increase foreign direct investment by further enhancing the business environment and encouraging investments outside the natural resource sector.
Africa has immense potential, much of it unfulfilled. With decisive leadership at home and sustained support from development partners, there is now an opportunity to unlock that potential and to set a course for a future of shared prosperity, more equal opportunity and political stability. This report’s recommendations include:
Keeping the MDG promise: African governments should develop action plans for a “big push” towards the 2015 Millennium Development Goal targets.
Agriculture and food security: Governments should put smallholder farmers and agricultural productivity at the centre of national food security and nutrition strategies, with a focus on women farmers.
Education and skills: Governments need to expand early childhood care and education; accelerate access to primary education; target disadvantaged schools, regions and pupils; and reform assessment, teacher training and curricula.
Good governance and democracy: African regional institutions should take the lead in consolidating democracy and promoting good governance.
Jobs, growth and trade: Governments and their partners need to provide a supportive environment for small and medium-sized companies, the informal sector, off-farm rural enterprises and smallholder agriculture.
Resource mobilisation: While Africa should gradually reduce dependence on aid, donors should not be pulling back just when the productivity of aid to a growing continent is at its peak.
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