What do we know about growth and poverty in Africa?

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The literature on Africa's development abounds in big theories--structural transformation, pro-poor growth, inclusive growth, among others. 'Growth miracles' (with or without a question mark) are sought and often proclaimed. The World Bank has even pondered whether Africa can overcome its ongoing challenges to claim the 21st century.

All well and good but, given the very different economics of sub-Saharan Africa, what kind of evidence exists at the country level? What evidence do we have on their growth, poverty reduction, and prospects for the future? Some countries, such as Mali, Sudan, Somalia and Zimbabwe, lack the adequate data and security required to conduct in-depth research--in others the research climate is better, but the UN is right to call for a data revolution.

Growth and poverty in Africa

A recent UNU-WIDER book, Growth and Poverty in Sub-Saharan Africa, offers two cheers for growth and poverty reduction in the region. But why only two cheers, not three?

One reason is that some of the largest economies--which would have to function well for the continent to thrive as a whole--are providing disappointing results. Furthermore, Nigeria, South Africa and Kenya--regional powers in West, South, and East Africa--house 29% of the continent's population, but none are experiencing quick economic growth or living up to their full potential. This is cause for concern, especially since Nigeria is projected to have the world's third largest population by 2050.

Problems with economic growth go back half a century and beyond; the years 1970-90 are often referred to in SSA as 'lost decades'. Results for the two most recent decades are better, which at least shows some movement in a positive direction.

The book--stemming from UNU-WIDER's GAPP project--consists of 16 national case studies which can be split into these performance categories:

* Countries with rapid economic growth and poverty reduction: Ethiopia, Ghana, Malawi, Rwanda, Uganda

* Countries with rapid economic growth and limited poverty reduction: Burkina Faso, Mozambique, Nigeria, Tanzania, Zambia

* Uninspiring growth and limited poverty reduction: Cameroon, Cote d'Ivoire, Kenya, Madagascar, South Africa

* Low-information economies: Democratic Republic of the Congo

It is hard to contradict the editors' conclusion that 'the development process is, almost always, a long hard slog involving a challenging process of structural transformation'.

Growth and Poverty in Sub-Saharan...

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