Africa's much trumpeted growth is real. It is a significant historical achievement to be able to almost triple GDP in one and half decade. The business of attribution is always a risky undertaking and it would be no different in this case. To say this achievement was provoked by the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) is very partial. To say it was despite the MDGs would be nonsense. Africa's growth has been possible by a combination of factors, some internal, some external. Megatrends such as demographic, technological and environmental changes have been crucial for the transformation of the continent's future. The policy space allowed by the transition from a prescriptive structural adjustment era to a goal targeting 'do-it-your-way' mode helped a great deal too. Significant debt reduction, more than ODA per se, changed the macroeconomic fundamentals. Africa's agency benefitted from the confidence given by new partnerships with rising developing countries' economies, contributing to attitudinal change.
However, growth without quality is what we got so far. Africans are celebrating a potential more than the results. The latter would require a focus on employment creation, inclusiveness and poverty reduction. Even though MDGs remain unfinished business for Africa; there is no denying that the continent has accelerated progress on a number of goals and targets despite unfavourable initial conditions. Significant achievements, include increasing women’s representation in national parliaments, enrolling more children in primary schools, bridging the gender gap in primary enrolment, reducing child and maternal deaths as well as the prevalence of HIV/AIDS or malaria related deaths. In addition, notable progress in technology indicators have been witnessed with mobile telephone subscriptions that surpass the global average as well as the fastest annual average growth of internet users. Africa is also leading many of the world's women representation indicators.
Growing inequalities are in part attributable to the lack of attention to economic and social inequalities in the MDG-related interventions. Global experience to date indicates that inequalities do not self-correct, instead, they perpetuate and reproduce over generations, therefore, efforts aimed at addressing extreme poverty, promoting socio-economic development and safeguarding the interests of future generations have to squarely address inequalities. Inequalities diminish the productive capacities of those who suffer, depriving societies of their needed contributions.
Income inequalities may be the most pronounced form of inequalities. Africa is no exception, with a number of countries showing sharper increases in income inequalities. With an average Gini coefficient of 43.9% over the period 2000–2009, income inequality in Africa is second only to Latin America, which averaged 52.2% over the same period. In 2010, six out of the ten most unequal countries worldwide were in Africa, and more specifically in Southern Africa, which appears as the most unequal sub-region of the continent.
But notwithstanding the high levels of inequality in Africa there has been a decline over time even though substantial country variations are observed. Out of a total of 35 African countries with data, 13 (37.1%) experienced an increase in income inequality while 19 (54.3%) experienced a decline over the period 1990–2012. In contrast 58% of countries in Asia experienced rising inequality versus 32.3% which experienced falling inequality. Latin American countries also experienced net reductions in inequality during this period; inequality rose in 20% (4 out of 20) of the countries in this region and fell in 70% (14 out of 20) of the same.
For Africa to reverse its record there is a need to do business unusual. More of the same policies and practices is not an option. What is now widely recognized is the need for the continent to pursue aggressive industrial policies, the only investment capable of simultaneously pulling agricultural productivity, benefit from the urban and demographic dividends and modernize economies that have been anchored too much on informal sector survival. We will then be able to celebrate growth….with quality!
This article was published in French in Libération on 30 September 2015: