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T h e J o u r n a l o f D e v e l o p i n g A r e a s
Volume 52 No. 1 Winter 2018
WALKING THROUGH A TIGHTROPE:
THE CHALLENGE OF ECONOMIC GROWTH
AND POVERTY IN AFRICA
Isaac B. Oluwatayo
University of Limpopo, South Africa
Ayodeji O. Ojo
University of Ibadan, Nigeria
Economic growth and poverty reduction now take the centre stage in most global policy discourse.
This is coming at a time that the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are fast gaining global
relevance. Africa has witnessed the highest but non-inclusive level of growth in the last decade
because the continent still grapples with high unemployment rate especially among the youths. This
paper therefore examines some drivers of and constraints to growth and poverty reduction in Africa.
The paper focused on Africa by using secondary data sourced from different such as the United
Nations Development Programme (UNDP), Transparency International (TI), Institute of
Economics and Peace (IEP) and National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) reports and Annual Abstract
of Statistics. Analytical methods employed were mainly descriptive statistics and comparative
statistics. Findings showed that economic growth recorded in the continent is a ‘jobless’ one
advancing inequality and poverty. More so, 75 percent of countries with low human development
are in Africa with the continent’s consistent economic growth imparting insignificantly on the
livelihoods of the people. In fact, 27 out of 54 African countries were reported to have GDP of less
than $USD 2000 per capita. GDP growth in sub-Saharan Africa was estimated at 4.9 percent in
2013 and this increased to 5.3 percent in 2014 and further estimated to rise to 5.5 percent in 2015.
The fight against inequality, poverty and unemployment is tantamount to aiming a moving target.
Youth unemployment remains a component of Africa’s growth owing to persistent low productivity
and underemployment in the informal sector. The resultant implication of this is manifested
through persistent inequality, poverty, armed conflict and unchecked migration of young people to
industrialised nations in search of the non-existing livelihood opportunities. This paper therefore
recommends increased and monitored investments in critical infrastructural facilities. There is a
need for multilevel and multinational partnership in the fight against corruption and social conflict
to attract foreign direct investment. Investment in social security programmes will also assist the
poor and vulnerable people in the continent.
JEL Classifications: F63, I31, I38, J13, N37, O55
Keywords: Africa, Change, Economic growth, Poverty, Youth unemployment
Corresponding Author’s Email Address: email@example.com
Africa is the second most populous and second largest continent in the world. The
continent is endowed with human and natural resources (AFDB et al., 2015). Africa has a
population of 1.033billion people with youths constituting majority of the population
(World Population Review, 2014). The average annual growth of real output increased
from 1.8 percent in the 1980-1989 periods to 2.6 percent in 1990-2000 and 5.3 percent
inthe period 2000-2010 (UNCTAD, 2014). The problem of income inequality is a great
constraint underlying inclusive growth in sub-Saharan Africa (AFDB et al., 2015). The
task of achieving economic growth remains the central component of most development
agenda. According to Ogunlela (2012), the health of an economy can be ascertained from
the answers to these three questions which are; What is the state of poverty? What is the
unemployment situation? What is happening to inequality? When there is a sustained
decrease in all of these, development results. However, if one or two of this central
problems increase, the economy is not developing even if per capita income increase in
Economic growth is the expansion in the production and marketing of good and
services in an economy owing to technological advancements within a year. Economic
growth sustained over time is referred to as economic development. A change is
departure from the obtainable to the desirable. The literature is unanimous on the
economic growth in Africa. However, inquiry into the nature of economic growth shows
that growth in Africa co-move with poverty, youth unemployment and inequality (Blanke
et al., 2013). In fact, the high inequality undermines growth elasticity of poverty
estimated at -0.7 compared to -2.0 in the rest of the developing world excluding China
thereby reducing the prospects of broad-based growth (WEF, 2013).
REALITIES OF THE AFRICAN ECONOMY
The performance of Africa in the realisation of the Millennium Development Goals
(MDGs) has not been particularly encouraging (UNDP, 2014, AFDB et al., 2015).
However, there are significant improvements in the area of universal primary education
access, combating Human Immune Deficiency Virus and Acquired Immunodeficiency
Syndrome (HIV/AIDs), Tuberculosis and other diseases. The problem of extreme hunger,
poverty, unemployment and inequality remained pervasive in the last decade (UNCTAD,
2014). The tale of economic growth in Africa is a mix of good and bad outcomes. This
is attributable to the differences in economic outcomes across countries (AFDB et al.,
2015). The constraints to broad-based economic growth have been traced to corruption,
debt relief and donor aids, insecurity and other negative externalities in Africa. The youth
population is growing faster than the available opportunities. For instance, in Nigeria and
Uganda an estimated half of the population is under the age of 15. Meanwhile, 69 percent
(33 out of 48) Least Developed Countries (LDCs) of the world and 75 percent of the
countries with low human development are in Africa (Sippel et al., 2011; AFDB et al.,
2015). Again, the region has the highest birth rates in the world. In fact, it is estimated
that the number of people in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) may double by the end of 2050
and quadruple by the end of 2100 (Sippel et al., 2011). The demographic dividend in
Africa has not been harnessed in terms of the dominance of youths. This is because
majority of the youths are unemployed consequently compromising the security status of
Africa manages to experience the highest economic growth globally despite the
challenges. In fact, GDP growth in sub-Saharan Africa was estimated at 4.9 percent in
2013, increased to 5.3 percent in 2014 and projected to rise by 5.5 percent in 2015 (AP,
2013; AFDB et al., 2015). Foreign Direct Investments (FDI) has skyrocketed by 7 folds
in one decade. The service sector, agriculture, building industry and manufacturing
industry remain the highest employer of African labour force. The service sector is the
most important driver of Africa’s growth with about 47 percent GDP contribution as
against 37 percent for industry and 16 percent for agriculture between 2000 and 2011
(UNCTAD, 2014). Economic growth is materialising in countries like Ghana,
Mozambique, Namibia and South Africa. Conversely, Somalia, Liberia and Eritrea has
not experienced economic breakthrough over time. This implies differences in the
economic outcomes across African countries.
The African business environment is still unfavorable compared to other
continents despite sustained economic growth. Transport costs still rank among the
highest in the world (AFDB et al., 2013). The share of manufacturing in total value added
fell from 13 percent in 1990 to 12 percent in 2000 and 10 percent in 2011 which depicts
deindustrialization (UNCTAD, 2014).
African economic growth though consistent over the years have imparted
insignificantly on the livelihoods of the people. In terms of stage of development, 27 out
of 54 African countries have GDP less than $USD 2000 per capita. They include Benin,
Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cameroon, Chad, Cote d’Ivoire, Ethiopia, Ghana, Nigeria,
Senegal etc. This shows about half of the African economies are at the lowest stage of
development (WEF, 2013). The medium stage of development ($USD 3000 to $USD
9000 GDP per capita) level consists of Cape Verde, Mauritius, Morocco, South Africa
However, there is no African country in the high/third stage of development
where GDP per capita is greater than $USD 17, 000. Africa accounts for 14 out of 20
lowest-ranked economies in terms of Global Competitiveness Index. African ranks
lowest in Global Competitiveness Index. The undesirable properties of the African
economy will be further deepened by increased urbanization as 41 percent of African
population lives in cities (Deloitte, 2014). This is projected to increase by 1 percent every
two years. This will increase pressure on the inadequate infrastructure in African cities if
unchecked (WEF, 2013).
Youth unemployment remains a component of Africa’s growth owing to
persistent low productivity and underemployment in the informal sector. Africa has the
highest youth (15-24years) population of 200 million and it is projected to increase by
200 percent by 2045 (ACET, 2014). Again, about 59 percent of the youths (20-24 years)
are projected to have had secondary education in 2030 compared with current 42 percent
(Blanke et al., 2013; ACET, 2014). Meanwhile, the private sector meant to employ the
youth face harsh economic conditions. Private companies now downsize rather than
employ. Thus, government employs a sizeable number of the youths. However, there is a
limit to what the government can employ. The government employs about 40 percent In
South Africa, Nigeria and Tanzania (Blanke et al., 2013). There are about 1.5 million
young people in Egypt while private organisations can only employ 600,000 people.
Similarly, South Africa has about 3 million young people not in employment, education
or training and 600,000 unemployed youths meant to fill 800,000 vacancies (Blanke et al.,
2013). Recent studies indicate a minimum of 7 percent annual growth rate and
investment rate of 25 percent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) on infrastructure is
needed to reduce poverty significantly in Africa (Foster, 2008; WEF, 2013). Africa
currently invests 18 percent (which is below the 25 percent benchmark) and the continent
has not achieved 7 percent growth rate (WEF, 2013). Therefore, the reason poverty
reduction remains a shifting target is not far-fetched. Currently, $USD 45 billion is being
invested on infrastructure in Africa as against the $USD 93 billion required. This implies
there is a deficit of $USD 50 billion annually if Africa must achieve her lofty
developmental goals (UNCTAD, 2014).
Again, recent estimates attest to the fact that Africa has the highest income
poverty headcount in the world. In fact about 50.9 percent of the people are poor using
the income poverty headcount approach and about 36 percent are near income poverty.
Again, 59.6 percent of the people in sub-Saharan Africa are multidimensionally poor (see
Table 1). This implies Africa has a lot of work to do in combating poverty.
TABLE 1: INCOME AND MULTIDIMENSIONAL POVERTY BY
Source: (UNDP, 2014)
CONSTRAINTS TO GROWTH IN AFRICAN COUNTRIES
There are many constraints to growth in the continent of Africa and the list is endless
ranging from man-induced constraints to natural constraints. Few of the notable ones are
Infrastructure deficit is an underlying constraint to broad-based economic growth in
Africa (Foster and Pushak, 2011; World Bank, 2013). This is because infrastructure
deficit renders businesses particularly unattractive and it depresses firm productivity by
around 40 percent (Escribano et al., 2008; Foster, 2008). The continent’s largest
infrastructure deficit occurs in the private sector (World Bank, 2013). The generation
capacity and electricity consumption or security of supply is inadequate. In fact, 48
countries of sub-Saharan Africa (with a total population of 800 million) have the same
level of power generation with Spain (with a population of 45 million people) (Foster,
2008; Mbekeni, 2013). The annual power consumption in Africa is estimated at
124kilowatt hours per capita and it is declining. This is 10 percent of consumption
elsewhere in the developing world. The power consumption is just enough to power 100
watt light bulb per person for 3 hours a day (Foster, 2008). The persistent power outages
account for 5 percent loss in sales of African firms and 20 percent for informal sector
firms unable to run on alternative power generating sets (Foster, 2008). More than 30
African countries experience power outages and frequent interruptions to service. This
can be linked to climate change impacts materializing through droughts as most African
countries rely on hydroelectric power. Africa loses about 12.5 percent production time to
power outages. The continental road freight cost (4 times) more than other continents;
power costs 14 US cents per kw/hr as against 5-10 US cents (Mbekeni, 2013).
Africa is progressing in terms of Information and Communication Technology
(ICT) compared to other parts of the world. However, Africa remains the world’s most
under-penetrated region with subscriber growth at nearly 12 percent (GSMA, 2015). Sub-
Saharan Africa has the lowest mobile internet subscriber penetration of 20 percent which
falls below the 33 percent global average. This implies Africa has a lot of work to do in
building a techno-driven economic growth while promoting financial inclusion in the
process (Oluwatayo, 2014; GSMA, 2015). The roads and weak rail network in Africa
leave more to be desired.
Africa has abundant water resources but majority of the people do not have
access to potable water. This constitutes a paradox of lack in the midst of plenty. This is
because of the absence of water storage and irrigation technology. The continent
experiences high level of hydrological variability with fluctuations in precipitation across
areas, across sectors and over time (Grey and Sadoff, 2008). This variability is expected
to be exacerbated due to climate change in the nearest future.
The high cost attached to the inadequate infrastructure constrains access in
Africa. In fact, power tariffs, water tariffs, road freight tariffs, international telephony and
internet dial-up service are higher in Africa compared to other developing regions (Foster,
2008). For instance, power tariffs range from 0.02 to 0.45 $USD/Kwh in sub-Saharan
Africa compared to 0.05-0.1 $USD/Kwh in other developing regions. The water tariffs
range between 0.86 and 6.56 US$/m3 in the region compared to 0.03-0.6 US$/m3 in other
developing countries (Foster, 2008). This indicates infrastructure deficit has been further
compounded by high prices pushing access beyond the reach of the poor. Meanwhile,
sub-Saharan Africa is the world’s poorest region with the highest headcount rate of 48
percent (World Bank, 2015).
The Challenge of Corruption
Corruption is a phenomenon difficult to define and measure (Idachaba, 2014). Apart from
the fact that there are dissenting views on the definition of corruption, the act is done
secretly and off-book. The World Bank defines corruption as the abuse of public power
for private interest (Ajodo-Adebanjoko and Okorie, 2014). Corruption is a societal-ill
with political, economic, social and environmental implications (Idachaba, 2014). The
Asian Development Bank defines corruption as the behavior on the part of the officials in
the public and private sectors in which they improperly and unlawfully enrich themselves
and/ or those close to them or induce others to do so by misusing the position in which
they are placed (OECD, 2008). Whichever way corruption is defined, it is a contagious
problem in Africa (Ajodo-Adebanjoko and Okorie, 2014). Corruption has been an
integral part of human activities from time immemorial (Oye, 2013). In 2014, 175
countries were captured in the 2014 Corruption Perception Index (CPI). The average
score for sub-Saharan Africa is the lowest at 33 and lesser than the global average of 43.
The highest is Botswana with 63 and the lowest is Somalia with a score of 8. In fact, 92
percent of African countries scored below 50 out 100 in the CPI (TI, 2015). The bottom
position in the CPI (as shown in Table 2) is occupied by Somalia, Sudan, South Sudan,
Libya, Eritrea, Guinea Bissau, Angola, Burundi, and Zimbabwe. There is no African
country in the first 40 positions in the Corruption Perception Index. This implies
corruption is pervasive and more concentrated in Africa.
TABLE 2: TOP 10 CORRUPT AFRICAN COUNTRIES
Democratic Rep. of Congo
Source: Transparency International (2015).
The African Union estimates that corruption costs in Africa are above $US 148 billion
dollars annually (Uneke, 2010). The corruption of leaders in Africa has resulted in
unquantifiable welfare losses (Idachaba, 2014). The people are left unaided in the fight
against poverty, unemployment and climate change-induced problems (floods, droughts,
malaria etc.). Corruption increases the cost of doing business, makes expected returns to
capital uncertain and reduces the attractiveness of African economy (Baliamoune-Lutz
and Ndikumana, 2007; Oye, 2013). Corruption influences the quantity of productive
public investment such that public resources are mobilized inefficiently and most times
towards unproductive activities.
Insecurity and Economic Growth in Africa
Insecurity is a global phenomenon with African dimensions. Insecurity undermines
economic development in Africa. This is especially so, for countries with youth
dominance in their population. The huge army of unemployed youths provides efficient
and effective labour force for violent uprisings, armed robbery, electoral violence,
kidnapping and other activities disrupting law and order. It is very worrisome that Nigeria
ranks first globally for its kidnapping risks accounting for 25 percent of the world
incidents (Burns and Wilcox, 2013). Similarly, Libya clinched the fourth position among
countries where kidnapping took place in 2014 (NYA, 2015). In fact, between January
and December 2014, Nigeria accounted for 15 percent of reported kidnap cases globally.
Libya and Sudan accounted for 6 percent and 3 percent respectively in the same period
Apart from the fact that the poor security situation has led to unquantifiable
welfare losses, businesses cannot grow sustainably hence the exclusive economic growth.
The emerging dimension to insecurity in Africa is terrorism premised on religious and
economic demands. Terrorism is a serious threat to global peace and development with
varying severity among countries. Meanwhile, terrorism has been conceptualised by IEP
(2015) as any event that satisfies at least two of the three conditions for terrorism. The
first is, the violent act meant for the achievement of political, economic, religious or
social objectives. The second is the violent act including evidence of an intention to
coerce, intimidate or convey some other messages to a larger audience (audiences) other
than the immediate victims. The third condition is met when the violent act was outside
the precepts of international humanitarian law.
Globally, 82 percent of the fatalities resulting from terrorist attacks in 2013,
occurred in five countries-Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Nigeria and Syria (IEP, 2015). The
bulk of the recorded deaths from terrorism in 2013 resulted from the activities of four
terrorist groups-ISIL, Bokoharam, the Taliban and al-Qa’ida and its affiliates (NYA,
2015; IEP, 2015). Currently, 7 out of 13 countries reported by IEP (2015) as being at risk
of increased terrorist activity are in Africa. The countries are Angola, Burundi, Central
African Republic, Cote d’Ivoire, Ethiopia, Mali and Uganda (NYA, 2015; IEP, 2015).
Nigeria recorded the fourth highest number of deaths (10.2 percent) from terrorism. As
shown in Table 3, 11 out of 30 countries occupying the top 30 positions in the 2014
Global Terrorism Index (GTI) are in Africa (IEP, 2015). This implies Africa is currently
plagued by terrorism hence the need for concerted efforts to stem the tide.
TABLE 3: TOP AFRICAN COUNTRIES ON THE GLOBAL
Democratic Rep of Congo
Central African Republic
Source: IEP (2015)
Ohiwerei (2014) reported activities of terrorist groups have resulted in high drop-out rates
of children from schools. He cited the example of about 7000 students forced out of
school with 14 schools closed down in Borno State, Nigeria. Soyinka (2014) reported
terrorism in Nigeria and by extension Africa is a product of unabated impunity, injustice
and corruption. It therefore follows that the destruction of livelihoods and infrastructure
based on religious, economic and social agitations will continue to make poverty
Dependence on Primary Products
Despite the huge endowments in terms of mineral resources, Africa benefits least from
trade. The African economy is import-dependent as it produces primary products and
exports raw materials to developed countries. Africa then imports the finished goods with
balance of trade tilting towards the industrialised world (Lee, 2012). Africa’s exports are
mainly primary products consisting of primary agricultural commodities, natural
resources and minerals that are extremely vulnerable to fluctuating prices and
environmental tariffs (Mutenyo, 2011). For instance, 94 percent in Angola are in crude
oil, in Burundi, 72 percent of exports are in coffee, in Equatorial Guinea, 99 percent of
exports are in oil and gas, 55 percent of exports in Malawi are in Tobacco, in Nigeria, 82
percent of exports are in crude petroleum, in Sierra Leone, 90 percent of exports are in
diamonds and in Zambia 70 percent of exports are in copper (Mutenyo, 2011).
Agriculture is the mainstay of most economies in Africa in terms of employment. This is
because agriculture employs about 60 percent of the active labour force in Africa (AGRA,
2014) .In terms of trade, African farmers are victims of dumping. The competition from
highly subsidized agriculture in advanced countries inhibits agricultural growth and trade
potentials in Africa (Oluwatayo and Ojo, 2016). Agriculture being a very important
sector in Africa remains underdeveloped due to climate change impacts, low level of
technology, conflicting government policies and poor market linkages among many
others. The continent is plagued by unstable food prices (World Bank, 2013) and soaring
cost of food imports.
CONCLUSIONS AND POLICY RECOMMENDATIONS
Africa is a land of untapped potentials in terms of human and material resource
endowments. Despite the rich mineral deposit in the continent, it is very appalling to
know that the inhabitants of a number of countries in Africa still grapple with the
problem of hunger, poverty and either underemployment or unemployment. The
continent is blessed but unfortunately the continent has the highest number of youths in
the world with both positive and negative dimensions. If engaged the youths can provide
the needed productive labour force thereby putting the economy on a sound footing
considering the fact the youths are the energy needed to drive the much clamored
Conversely, unemployed youths are efficient and readily available tool in the promotion
of violence and insecurity. The current wave of armed conflict and insurgency in many of
the states in Africa alluded to this problem. Africa has witnessed consistent economic
growth in the last decade. However, the poverty situation and inequality have not
improved. African growth is constrained by insecurity, corruption, infrastructure deficit
and heavy reliance on primary products. The implication of the aforementioned challenge
is that the growth in the continent is non-inclusive, advancing polarisation and rising
inequality among different segments of the society.
The constraints to broad-based growth in Africa have been X-rayed and discussed in this
paper and based on the foregoing, the following recommendations are made:
(1) Government and private sector should increase and monitor investments in
critical infrastructure (road, power, water etc) so as to attract the much needed
foreign direct investment (FDI) into the continent.
(2) There is the need for multilevel and multinational partnerships/collaborations in
the fight against corruption and terrorism in Africa. The developed world should
collaborate and not recolonize Africa in the struggle.
(3) There is also the need to design sustainable social security programmes for the
chronic poor by African government and humanitarian agencies.
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