Towards the Glorious Thirty Years in AfricaAug 10, 2015
By Abdoulaye Mar Dieye
Sub-Saharan Africa is the only place in the world where living standards stagnated and even declined throughout the 1980s and 1990s. It was during those two lost decades that the continent earned its reputation for war, famine, corruption and incurable poverty.
Things are now very different. Africa’s prospects began to change radically in the late 1990s, with its growth rate close to five percent per year ever since. Three separate factors explain that turnaround: the continent’s primary commodity boom, the emergence of a new generation of leaders, focused on better economic, social and political governance, and the continent’s growing middle class.
Africa has made concomitant gains in the social sphere. It has made remarkable progress on primary education, child mortality, slowing down HIV and Aids or increasing the numbers of women in parliament.
These trends are encouraging but transformation of Africa’s economies and harmonious, balanced development are still a long shot away. For instance, with only five percent growth, it will take another twelve years for Africa as a whole to halve its poverty rate.
By 2030, however, when the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) come to an end, it may be possible to say that Africa has concluded its Glorious Thirty Years. To fulfill that vision, the continent would have to consolidate and bring to scale the achievements of the last fifteen years, focusing on five crucial dynamics.
First, Africa urgently needs to close, and even eliminate, the gender gap. The continent is losing on average $73bn – around 4 percent of its GDP -- every year because women are being excluded from development and politics. Ending that exclusion would also allow them to participate in and benefit from the economy.
Second, Africa is losing on average US$60bn in illicit financial outflows, the equivalent of 3.5 percent of GDP and far exceeding incoming aid in 2014. Capital flight drains much-needed development resources and fuels inequality. The problem can only be effectively addressed if measures are put into place to strengthen the rule of law and bolster international cooperation.
Third, Africa isn’t mobilizing enough resources domestically. For instance, in many countries around the region, taxes represent around 17 percent of GDP – lower than the SDG threshold of about 20 percent needed to catalyze rapid growth. Boosting Africa’s ability to collect taxes is essential for enabling governments to develop their fiscal space, fulfill their basic political and administrative functions, promote the economy and deliver services to their populations.
Fourth, Africa accounted for only 3.5 percent of world merchandise exports in 2012 and that position is strategically fragile. In order to become a meaningful player in the international economy and to boost its development, Africa will need to participate more effectively in the global production of goods and services.
That effort involves diversifying the economy and integrating its various sectors, investing in new and more productive areas, promoting value chains, building skills and jobs, acquiring new technology and advancing the continent’s economic integration.
Finally, sustaining growth and development will be impossible unless nations and communities can anticipate, shape and adapt to the many shocks and challenges they face. The Ebola epidemic, which will cost West Africa up to US$15bn in the next three years is a case in point. Investments now in prevention and preparedness for all hazards, natural to man-made, public health or energy, will minimize risk and future costs.
The launch of the Millennium Development Goals marked the beginning of a new era in Africa’s development and the continent heeded that call. The post-2015 global development agenda, in turn, offers the continent a fresh new chance to eliminate poverty, exclusion and inequality. Africa’s Glorious Thirty Years are within reach. It is now time for all of its citizens to invest themselves towards making that project a reality.