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1 Introduction

More than two decades ago, international donor groups began focusing attention on the idea of pro-poor growth in Africa (Page 2006; Patillo et al. 2006; OECD 2006). Research showed that Africa was the only developing region in which the number of people living below the international poverty level of $1.00 a day had increased for over 25 years. In response to this dire situation, donor organizations began placing the poor at the center of development assistance policy in the early 1990s. A new nomenclature appeared in the development literature when groups began advocating for “pro-poor growth” strategies in Africa. Renewed emphasis by bilateral and multilateral development agencies increased the focus on halving income and non-income poverty, for example, through the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) by 2015. The issue is being revisited, especially following recent gains in economic growth by African countries. Largely because many African economies were not growing, research works such as Ravallion (2001), Thomas et al. (2000), UN (2000), and World Bank (2000) identified pro-poor growth as the most important ingredient for achieving sustainable poverty reduction.

Page (2006) indicates, for example, that the poverty reduction strategy paper (PRSP) initiative of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, launched in 1999, appeared to reinforce the mindset at the time in associating the PRSP with lending instruments by encouraging governments in Africa to focus on poverty reduction strategies, primarily on increases in social expenditures[1]. Starting from the mid-2000s governments in Africa grew more vociferous in their demand to place economic growth at the center of their poverty reduction strategies (World Bank 2004). Moreover, donor agencies at the same time have been expressing concern about increasing gaps in infrastructure and declining agricultural productivity in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) in particular, by asking questions about the role of development assistance in ameliorating those gaps. Recently, among the eight key areas recognized by the African Union as important in achieving the African Union Agenda 2063, are regional integration and the agenda for social and economic development (African Union 2013). The overall objective of the exercise is to develop a plan which will chart Africa's development trajectory over the next 50 years. It is also described as a shared strategic framework for inclusive growth and sustainable development.

A report by a High-Level Panel of Eminent Persons (HLP) was delivered to the UN Secretary-General in 2013. The HLP argues for a series of five transformative shifts considered important to the post-2015 development Agenda. Three of the transformative cores are to leave no one behind, put sustainable development at the core, and transform economies for jobs and inclusive growth. On April 17, 2014, the World Bank (2014a) released results of a study that revealed that the number of people living on less than $1.25 per day [2] has decreased dramatically in the past three decades, from half the citizens in the developing world in 1981 to 21 % in 2010, despite a 59 % increase in the developing world population. The report also indicated that there were still 1.2 billion people in the world living in extreme poverty, and despite recent impressive progress, the SSA region accounted for more than one-third of the extreme poor.

This paper is motivated by recent reports and prognoses that contrary to previous expectations by researchers in the mid-2000s, many African economies have generally been experiencing accelerated growth through the last decade. Indeed, the African Development Bank's Economic Outlook (2012) reports that on average, excluding the distortions by volatile gross domestic product (GDP) developments in Libya, Africa's economic growth was 4.2 % in 2012 and was projected to accelerate to 4.5 % in 2013 and further to 5.2 % in 2014. The forecast assumes a gradual improvement of global economic conditions. However, especially where countries have recently discovered petroleum, reports bemoan the lack of inclusiveness in the enjoyment of economic benefits by significant segments of the population, giving rise to high unemployment and economic inequities. Against this background, this paper seeks to determine whether the recent growth trajectory in SSA has been pro-poor and to discuss potential policies in making growth more inclusive.

The OECD (2006) reports that their Development Assistance Committee (DAC) in its Guidelines on Poverty Reduction show that poverty has multiple and interlinked causes and dimensions: economic, human, political, socio-cultural, and protective/security. This paper takes on the challenge of reducing poverty from one dimension of that bigger picture; and that is reducing economic poverty through inclusive pro-poor growth. The paper is organized as follows. The second section draws from a survey of literature to explain what has been learned about the concept of pro-poor growth. The third section provides some regional evidence of growth in per capita income compared to the per capita income of the poorest quintile of the population. The fourth section delineates some country examples of economic growth and poverty reduction. In the fifth section, the paper determines whether the recent reported African growth episode has been inclusive. The sixth section outlines lessons learned from promoting inclusive growth that is pro-poor. Finally, conclusions are drawn from the study.

  • [1] See the discussion in World Bank (2004a).
  • [2] The World Bank (2014a) uses the $1.25 a day threshold to define those living in extreme poverty
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