Africa’s education and gender equality goals ‘well achieved’

5 November 2015

Africa is on track with goals such as promoting gender equality and empowering women, according to the 2015 Millennium Development Goals Report released at the 10th African Economic Conference this week.

The conference was held in Kinshasa, in Democratic Republic of Congo from 2 to 4 November. Increasing government spending on health care, education and support of vulnerable groups such as the elderly, were key topics discussed by experts at the conference.

The annual conference is organised by the African Development Bank (AfDB), the United Nations Development Programme and the UN Economic Commission for Africa. The theme of this year’s event was: “Addressing poverty and inequality in the post-2015 development agenda”. It provided a forum to explore the policy, institutional, and investment frameworks needed to boost Africa’s equitable, inclusive and environmentally sustainable development.

Pali Lehohla, the statistician-general at Statistics South Africa, was one of the speakers at the event.

Watch Lehohla explain the issues that need to be solved in Africa:

Implementing better policies

Conference discussion included debate about the call from economists for better policies to promote income distribution in Africa, according to the AfDB.

While Africa as a whole had made considerable progress on poverty reduction since the mid-1990s as a result of rapid economic growth, it had yet to have a significant impact on income distribution, said the bank.

“Since mid-2000, Africa’s (gross domestic product) growth has been high, averaging 5%, and well above the global average of 3% per year, instilling optimism about the continent’s economic prospects. However, the growth has not been inclusive or equitable, and has made little impact on poverty,” it said on its website.

AfDB also said that better social policies could enhance income growth and income distribution, including “improving the complementarity between physical capital and education, especially at the basic educational level”.

In addition, there was a need for policymakers in Africa to put greater emphasis on addressing income inequality, empowering women, narrowing the gaps in health, nutrition and education, and challenging prejudices and stereotypes that fed discrimination and marginalisation.

Watch Abebe Shimeles, the acting director of development research at AfDB, talk about why poverty will continue in Africa unless policies are tackled per population:

Speaking in a session at the conference, Steve Kayizzi-Mugerwa, the acting vice-president and chief economist of AfDB, underscored the need to take into account the political economy to effectively address income inequalities.

“Public policy needs to take (into) account the role of local bureaucracy because they are affected by the same policies,” Kayizzi-Mugerwa said, pointing out that economic managers needed to consult local administrative structures in policy formulation to make it effective. He also spoke about agricultural productivity and industrialisation as necessary to feed the continent and for it to achieve sustainable development.

According to experts, a small number of African countries is relying primarily on improving income distribution to reduce poverty. However, worsening income distribution is the major culprit in the majority of countries experiencing poverty exacerbation.

Statistics also show that other regions of the world have performed better, showing that the gap between Africa and the developed world is increasing. This suggests that Africa must perform even better and set up measures to address income inequality to catch up with the rest of the world.

There was a greater risk of high inequality in resource-dependent countries as 55% of resource-rich countries had experienced an increase in inequality compared to 50% of non-resource-rich countries, Professor Haroon Bhorat, of the University of Cape Town, in South Africa, argued in his presentation, “Resource dependence and inequality in Africa: impact, consequence and solutions”.

He pointed out that high resource-dependent economies were associated with lower levels of civil society organisation, less transparent electoral processes and less effective government. Bhorat argued that drivers of inequality in resource- dependent economies included high initial capital cost of entry into natural resources and poor employment generation.

“There is need for strong institutions and good governance to manage resources. There is also a need for greater emphasis on social protection,” he said, pointing out that while there were no clear success stories, countries such as Ghana and Botswana could provide some positive lessons to guide institutional arrangements that governed resource wealth.

Report on Africa’s goals

The Millennium Development Goals Report revealed that three of the seven goals for Africa were on track. These are:

 

 

  • Combating HIV/Aids, malaria, and other diseases: a downward trend is observed in the incidence, prevalence and death rates associated with HIV/Aids, malaria and tuberculosis, especially since 2000.

 

 

  • Promoting gender equality and empowering women: for example, Africa has made the most progress in increasing the number of seats held by women in national parliaments, with an average increase of 15% between 2000 and 2014.

 

 

  • Achieving universal primary education: the average primary completion rate stands at 67%, and the youth literacy rate reached 69.61% in 2012, in part owing to increased access to universal primary education.

 

 

The goals that were not on track in Africa, were:

 

 

  • Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger: poverty is perpetuated by rising inequalities, unemployment, the youth bulge, unplanned urbanisation, lack of diversification, et cetera. Hunger declined by 8% in Africa excluding North Africa between 1990 and 2013.

 

 

  • Reduce child mortality: the under-five mortality rate fell by 55% between 1990 and 2012, while the infant mortality rate fell by 40%. Only Egypt, Liberia, Malawi and Tunisia achieved both targets on reducing child mortality.

 

 

  • Improve maternal health: by 2013, Africa had 289 maternal deaths per 100 000 live births, compared to the world average of 210 maternal deaths per 100 000 live births.

 

 

  • Ensure environmental sustainability: declining forest cover in Africa.

 

More than 250 participants from across the continent and outside it, including policymakers, academics, and leaders of civil society and the private sector, attended the 10th African Economic Conference.

Source: African Development Bank Group