Africa’s growth promise: ‘equality key’

11 May 2012

If African leaders can deliver on jobs, justice and equity, they will turn Africa’s population boom into a demographic dividend and ensure that the continent’s massive growth promise is fulfilled – if not, they will court disaster, according to the 2012 Africa Progress Report.

The report is the flagship publication of the Africa Progress Panel, a group of distinguished individuals dedicated to encouraging progress in Africa.

Released during the World Economic Forum on Africa in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia on Friday, the report warns that the continent’s strong economic growth trajectory – the region is forecast to grow at over 5 percent over the next two years – is at risk because of rising inequality and “the marginalisation of whole sections of society”.

“Disparities in basic life-chances – for health, education and participation in society – are preventing millions of Africans from realizing their potential, holding back social and economic progress in the process,” former UN secretary-general Kofi Annan, the panel’s chair, states in the report.

The report notes that Africa has seven of the world’s fastest-growing economies, with 70% of continent’s population living in countries that have averaged economic growth rates in excess of 4 percent over the past decade.

However, it also records, most countries are not on track to achieve the UN’s Millennium Development Goals by 2015, flagging slow progress in areas such as child nutrition, child survival, maternal health and education.

‘Profound demographic shift under way’

The need for equitable growth is all the more critical, the report states, because of Africa’s “profound demographic shift”, which will see the continent’s population double over the next three decades and continue to rise into the second half of the twenty-first century.

The report highlights that today there are 70-million more Africans aged under 14 than there were a decade ago. Over the next decade, that number will rise by another 76-million.

The report calls for a “relentless focus” by policymakers on jobs, justice and equity to ensure sustainable, shared growth that benefits all Africans. Failure to generate equitable growth could result in “a demographic disaster marked by rising levels of youth employment, social dislocation and hunger”.

Africa’s governments and development partners must urgently draw up plans for a big push towards the 2015 Millennium Development Goals, the report says.

Challenges highlighted

Challenges highlighted as demanding urgent action from governments include:

Youth employment: Africa’s youth population (15-24 year olds) will rise from 133-million at the start of the century to 246-million by 2020 – requiring another 74-million jobs over the next decade simply to prevent youth unemployment from rising. The report sets out an agenda for raising skills and generating rural jobs through off-farm employment.

Smallholder agriculture: In the absence of a concerted effort to raise the productivity of smallholder agriculture, the report cautions that Africa will remain vulnerable to food security crises. It identifies “land grabs” by foreign investors and speculators as a major threat and urges African government to consider stronger regulation.

Education: The report calls for urgent action to tackle what it describes as a “twin crisis” in access and learning. With 30-million children out of school and many of those in school failing to master basic literacy, Africa is ill-equipped to generate jobs and take its place in a knowledge-based global economy. The report calls for a strengthened focus on education and the creation of appropriate funding mechanisms.

Global economic governance and aid: The report notes that Africa still has a weak voice in areas – such as trade, finance and development assistance – that have a critical bearing on its citizens. The report adds that aid remains vitally important and that African governments and development partners must deliver on their commitments in a transparent and accountable way.

Growth ‘not benefiting enough people’

“Africa is rising and African economies are growing faster than those of almost any other region in the world,” Caroline Kende-Robb, the panel’s executive director, said in a statement on Friday.

“However, the current pattern of trickle-down growth is not benefiting enough people. Indeed, benefits measured by poverty reduction, maternal health and childhood survival fall far short of what Africans have a right to expect.”

The Africa Progress Report “calls for renewed focus on jobs, justice and equity to ensure that Africa’s impressive economic growth is translated into shared growth for all Africans,” Kende-Robb said.

Annan said the overall message of this year’s report was positive, noting that Africa was on its way to becoming “a preferred investment destination, a potential pole of global growth, and a place of immense innovation and creativity.

“But there is also a long way to go – and Africa’s governments must as a matter of urgency turn their attention to those who are being left behind.

“I believe Africa and its leaders can rise to this challenge,” Annan said. “If they do, Africa will become more prosperous, stable and equitable. This is a prize which we all, wherever we live, will share.”

SAinfo reporter