These are tumultuous times for the global economy. The recovery in the United States is sluggish, the debt crisis in Europe is unresolved and there are signs of slower growth in China. The global economic crisis that started in 2007 has not bypassed Africa. According to the 2011 African Economic Outlook produced jointly by the African Development Bank, the OECD, UNECA and UNDP, economic growth in Africa slowed from an average of six percent in the years prior to the onset of the crisis to just over three percent in 2009. In 2011 high food and fuel prices and political unrest in several North African countries also slowed growth. However, since then the recovery has picked up and is forecast at 5.8 percent in 2012 - close to pre-crisis levels.
Growth prospects are underpinned by an expected continuation of good economic policies, strong demand from emerging markets and from within the region, and rising commodity prices. However, several risks remain for the growth prospects for Africa. These risks are linked to the uncertainty in the global economy, lingering political challenges within several countries and the narrower space that exists in many countries for further counter-cyclical policies. Countries which face structural constraints related to undiversified economies, poorly developed infrastructure, shrinking export revenues, and a lack of long-term financing are particularly vulnerable.
With the uncertain outlook for economic growth in the world and Africa come deep concerns about the prospects for continued reduction in poverty and improvements in other measures of development. Even before the crisis, accelerating progress towards meeting the Millennium Development Goal of halving poverty by 2015 was a challenge. There has also been insufficient progress in critical areas such as food security, employment creation, and child and maternal health. These challenges are being exacerbated by persistent inequalities in development outcomes. Moreover, issues of sustainability of the development process itself are intensifying, given pressure from rapidly growing populations and the increasingly negative effects from environmental degradation and climate change. These pressing issues will need to be effectively addressed in a post-2015 agenda that must be shaped by the people of Africa.
Bolstering economic growth in Africa is critical but it is clearly not enough. Recent events in North Africa and elsewhere have once again shown that aggregate advances in economic and social indicators, impressive as they may be, must be accompanied by empowered citizens and equal opportunities.
Policy makers must be fully aware that growth translates into broader gains in human welfare, that the benefits of development accrue more evenly and that issues related to sustainability of development are effectively addressed. A central question facing Africa today is therefore how to foster inclusive and sustainable development in the current age of global economic uncertainty? This complex question forms the overarching theme for the 2012 African Economic Conference, which will take place in Kigali, Rwanda from 30 October to 2 November 2012.