The world is under a hard economic condition. We cannot disregard that the global supply chains, especially energy and grains, are disrupted due to the Ukraine-Russia crisis, and it is obviously understandable that African countries are vulnerable due to their fragile economies, like any other developing country.
This follows the effects of COVID-19 that have hampered different sub-Saharan economies. However, economic hardships are not new to Africa, they have been there for decades. Then my question today is, “Is there something that Africa is not doing right to attain sustainable development and build a prosperous population?” If no, why does it have a fragile economy like this? If so, what should be done to turn things around?
In this post, I will explore different economic aspects of Africa to spot the weak points of the continent, especially for sub-Saharan economies that prevent them from attaining sustainable development in terms of human development.
The State of Economy of African Countries
A majority of countries in Africa are low-income economies. As we speak, Africa is composed of 54 countries, of which 33 are in the least developed countries category (i.e., developing) according to the UN https://www.un.org/africarenewal/magazine/august-2011/africas-least-developed-lands-opportunity.
Moreover, based on the updated list of the World Bank (2022), only one country has changed its income category, Mauritius which was downgraded from high-income country to upper-middle income country https://blogs.worldbank.org/opendata/new-world-bank-country-classifications-income-level-2021-2022.
Population and Economy in Africa
Africa is the second most populated country in the world with more than 1.3 billion of population (Asia being the first with more than 4.6 billion) Population Reference Bureau. (2020). Demographic Trends May Make Us Vulnerable to Pandemics Data Table.. Since 1960, Sub-Saharan Africa has experienced spiking population growth, where it grew from 227 million in 1960 to more than 1 billion in 2018. This is nearly a five-times increase https://blogs.worldbank.org/opendata/worlds-population-will-continue-grow-and-will-reach-nearly-10-billion-2050.
Despite this high population, Africa has one of the weakest economies in the world. As of 2022, Africa has the lowest GDP per capita (current prices) compared to other continents, with only 2,182 US dollars IMF Data Mapper. This can be a sign of poverty, and there is no doubt that Africa, especially Sub-Saharan Africa, has a significant level of poverty and a quite high number of people below the poverty line.
Based on World Development Indicators https://databank.worldbank.org/, the population growth of sub-Saharan Africa has been decreasing over the past 8 years. However, real GDP growth has no clear trend, and it shows spontaneous movements over time. Especially in 2020, the pandemic (COVID-19) effects have caused a recession in the region, consequently SSA recording a negative value for real GDP growth.
The decline in population growth is appreciable, but the productivity of the continent is still among the crucial concerns that need special attention, and it is the responsibility of the continent to improve the livelihoods of the population.
Human Development is the backbone of economic success for Africa
In this part, I want to look at what Africa is doing to develop its human capital as any economy’s strong factor. Different scientific studies have revealed that human capital development is crucial and has a significant and positive effect on economic development Dinh Su, T., & Phuc Nguyen, C. (2020). Foreign financial flows, human capital and economic growth in African developing countries. International Journal of Finance & Economics.Ogundari, K., & Awokuse, T. (2018). Human capital contribution to economic growth in Sub-Saharan Africa: does health status matter more than education?. Economic Analysis and … Continue reading.
Who does not know that education is a crucial element in economic progress of any economy? What is the current position of Africa on the matter?
Among the three dimensions of the Human Development Index, the education index is one of them and is deemed to contribute to economic growth as well as development https://hdr.undp.org/data-center/human-development-index#/indicies/HDI.
Let’s take a look on the education status of the sub-Saharan Africa:
It can be noticed that sub-Saharan Africa has a large number of enrollments in primary schools (comes after East Asia and the Pacific). I can relate the statistics to the higher attainment of the second goal of the MDGs (Universal Primary Education), but the numbers fall steeply when it comes from primary education numbers to secondary education numbers, and the same happens when comparing those who enrol in secondary with those who enrol in tertiary education UIS UNESCO, which brings us to the view that Education for All (EFA) has not been achieved at all.
I can notice that this gap between primary education enrollment and other levels of education weakens the region in terms of creating high skilled labors that may increase the continent’s productivity. This lack of progression in tertiary education leaves the sub-Saharan Africa behind in economic development.
Another matter of concern is the gender disparities in education where a significant number of girls don’t attend school due to cultural beliefs and norms that leave girls behind Local Burden of Disease Educational Attainment Collaborators. Mapping disparities in education across low- and middle-income countries. Nature 577, 235–238 (2020). … Continue reading. These disparities are expected to be amplified by the aftermath of the COVID-19 Pandemic Wu, M., Yu, Q., Li, S. L., & Zhang, L. (2022). Geographic and gender disparities in global education achievement during the COVID-19 pandemic. International Journal of Applied Earth … Continue reading.
According to UNESCO, some 31 million children in sub-Saharan africa do not attend school whom among them 53% are girls UNDP. (2017). UNESCO and gender equality in Sub-Saharan Africa: innovative programmes, visible results; 2017 – 259590eng.pdf. https://unesdoc.unesco.org/ark:/48223/pf0000259590.
However, an interesting point by the UN stresses out that girls in rural areas are out of school not due to cultural resistance or refusal of enrollment however, poverty is the main obstacle to girls in rural areas of sub-Saharan African communities https://www.un.org/en/chronicle/article/importance-educating-girls-and-women-fight-against-poverty-african-rural-communities.
Despite some current progress in improving living standards like fighting against poverty, fighting a multitude of epidemics and diseases there is still a long way to go for Africa to make economic revolution.
Compared to other regions and continents, it is evident that Africa has the lowest life expectancy at birth of all regions at 62 years, with females (64 years) having the highest expectancy than males (60 years).
Not only is Africa the least of all other regions, but also there is a proportionally high gap between SSA and other regions, where SSA is the only region that has a life expectancy of 60 years. I can attribute these impediments to African population longevity to the effects of high mortality rates, prevalent epidemics and diseases, extreme poverty and malnutrition as well as illiteracy, to name a few Bhattacharyya, S. (2009). Root causes of African underdevelopment. Journal of African Economies, 18(5), 745-780..
Can we say that a majority of people in SSA have decent living standards? The answer is simple. No. According to the World Bank, as of 2018, more than 433 million Africans are estimated to live below the $1.90-a-day poverty line, which makes up 40% of the population, rising from 287 million in 1990 (which was 56%) https://blogs.worldbank.org/opendata/number-poor-people-continues-rise-sub-saharan-africa-despite-slow-decline-poverty-rate.
We can appreciate a reduction in the rate of extreme poverty. However, it is evident that this decline is at a slower pace compared to the population growth over time. Moreover, the consequences of the pandemic are expected to push the numbers even higher. In addition, UNICTAD facts and figures show that in 2021 the number of people in extreme poverty will increase to roughly 490 million due to the pandemic https://unctad.org/press-material/facts-and-figures-7.
Even though the gap between the total population and people who live below the poverty line grows, the numbers of people below the poverty line themselves do not fall; instead they grow (at a slow pace compared to population growth, but they increase either way). The underlying problem is hidden in the figure above because what is needed is to “eradicate extreme poverty,” not to increase the poverty gap between the total population and people who live in extreme poverty.
Conclusion and Recommendations
In summary, I wanted to explore the economic aspects of Africa with special attention to its population and economy, especially in human and economic development aspects. I saw that the continent has a large population despite its unstable and least reliable GDP per capita growth.
Secondary, looking at the human development aspects, some of the findings is the gap between education level enrollment where there is a large gap between those who attend primary education and advanced education levels; it is not clear the causes, but among the issues highlighted include the issue of gender disparities in school attendance, especially in sub-Saharan Africa.
I also stressed the matter of weak implementation of education for all where the rate of enrollment is still low in SSA and this may lead to low productivity due to lack of unskilled labor.
Moreover, looking at the life expectancy SSA is nowhere near other regions (i.e., Asia and Europe for example) which is attributed to different roots like epidemics, diseases and extreme poverty which takes us to the point of standards of living.
As a conclusion, Africa still has a tough road to walk towards sustainable development due to some drawbacks, especially in human development, economic growth, and policies. Then, what policy recommendations can make after all the above discussions?
1. Set up strong policies in human development sectors:
Human development and empowerment in Africa is still a hard objective to achieve, which discourages attainment of sustainable development.
Governments need to put in place strong policies including empowerment of labors in all productive sectors and industries in terms of education by converting unskilled into semi-skilled, as well as semi-skilled into skilled labors.
Quality education is also necessary, hence, governments should not only think about numbers of enrollment but also the quality of content in all levels of education through monitoring and regular reviews of the content provided by private and public education institutions.
2. Provide education to girls in remote areas:
The governments in Africa need to put efforts into promoting girls education by providing them with necessary needs for them to be included in education.
Due to a quite high number of girls out of school out of school especially in remote and rural areas where education is not yet a developed amenity where cultural resistance favor boys than girls, governments have to put focus on these areas by encouraging and increasing equal education of girls and boys in those areas.
If this is done, it can increase number of skilled labor and equality as well as benefit from the potential of girls, hence, increase the the overall productivity.
3. Creating a strong system to reduce poverty:
Africa shall put efforts in reducing poverty in terms of numbers of poor instead of reducing the gap between the total population and number of poor people. This action will reduce the number of people in extreme poverty and reduce overall poverty.
This can be done through putting efforts in developing and employing people in highly productive activities and investing in activities of population of low income. This will raise overall living standards as well as population in poverty.
|Population Reference Bureau. (2020). Demographic Trends May Make Us Vulnerable to Pandemics Data Table.
|IMF Data Mapper
|Dinh Su, T., & Phuc Nguyen, C. (2020). Foreign financial flows, human capital and economic growth in African developing countries. International Journal of Finance & Economics.
|Ogundari, K., & Awokuse, T. (2018). Human capital contribution to economic growth in Sub-Saharan Africa: does health status matter more than education?. Economic Analysis and Policy, 58, 131-140.
|Local Burden of Disease Educational Attainment Collaborators. Mapping disparities in education across low- and middle-income countries. Nature 577, 235–238 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41586-019-1872-1
|Wu, M., Yu, Q., Li, S. L., & Zhang, L. (2022). Geographic and gender disparities in global education achievement during the COVID-19 pandemic. International Journal of Applied Earth Observation and Geoinformation, 111, 102850.
|UNDP. (2017). UNESCO and gender equality in Sub-Saharan Africa: innovative programmes, visible results; 2017 – 259590eng.pdf. https://unesdoc.unesco.org/ark:/48223/pf0000259590
|Bhattacharyya, S. (2009). Root causes of African underdevelopment. Journal of African Economies, 18(5), 745-780.