Africa’s Success: More Than A Resource Story


Antoinette SayehBy Antoinette M. Sayeh

When meeting with people outside Africa, I’m often asked whether Africa’s growth takeoff since the mid-1990s has been simply a “commodity story”—a ride fueled by windfall gains from high commodity prices. But finance ministers and other policymakers in the region, and I was one of them, know that the story is richer than that.

In this spirit, in our latest Regional Economic Outlook: Sub-Saharan Africa a team of economists from the IMF’s African Department show that Africa’s continued success is more than a commodity story.  In fact, quite a few economies in the region have become high performers without basing their success on natural resources—thanks in no small part to sound policymaking.

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Shared Frustrations: How to Make Economic Growth in Sub-Saharan Africa More Inclusive


By Antoinette M. Sayeh

(Version in Français)

Suddenly it’s the thing everyone is talking about. Income inequality. Not just between countries, but inequality within countries.

In North Africa and the Middle East, jobless youth sparked the Arab Spring. In the United States, the growing gap between rich and poor is the “meta concern” of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Worldwide, frustrations appear to be on the rise.

What about sub-Saharan Africa? Sustained economic growth has certainly produced some tremendous advances. But a large proportion of the population is still living in poverty. So frustrations about the inclusiveness of growth are also shared within the region.

Complex story

Is the story really as negative in sub-Saharan Africa as the relatively slow reduction in the incidence of poverty and some people’s frustration suggest? Or is the underlying situation a little more complex?

In July, I wrote about the importance of inclusive growth and whether economic growth was a necessary or a sufficient condition for poverty reduction. The IMF’s latest Regional Economic Outlook for Sub-Saharan Africa takes that thinking a step further. The new analysis looks at how living standards for the poorest households have actually been changing in some countries in the region.

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Beyond Growth: the Importance of Inclusion


By Antoinette Sayeh

(Version in  Français)

Economists care about growth.  Governments care about what it can achieve:  more jobs and more income for more people.  An increasing number of African countries have been growing robustly for more than a decade. But while growth is a necessary condition for poverty reduction and employment creation, is it also sufficient?

When growth first takes off, it is typically associated with steady progress in several dimensions of poverty reduction: incomes rise and countries are able to finance more spending on health and education, which translates into much-needed progress toward the Millennium Development Goals. But after this initial spurt, other questions arise. In particular, a number of countries are increasingly concerned about how inclusive growth is; are the benefits well-spread or do they accrue only to the few? Continue reading

Africa and the Global Economic Crisis: Weathering the Storm


By Antoinette Sayeh

Last week, my colleague Hugh Bredenkamp talked about how the IMF is helping the low-income countries overcome the global  economic crisis. This week, I want to follow this theme, but hone in more on sub-Saharan Africa. I know this region reasonably well, both from current and past vantage points. In my present role, I am the director of the IMF’s African department. Previously, I was minister of finance in Liberia and, before that, I spent a significant part of my long World Bank career working on African countries. Grappling with the kinds of economic challenges that affect the lives of millions of Africans is a passion for me.

In this first post, I want to talk about growth prospects for Africa. Let’s take a step backwards. Before the global recession, sub-Saharan Africa was generally booming. Output grew by about 6½ percent a year between 2002 and 2007—the highest rate in more than 30 years. This acceleration was broader than ever before, going beyond the typical short-lived commodity driven booms and touching many more countries. Hopes were high that the region was slowly but surely turning the corner.

Workers making footwear in Nigeria at a factory funded by Hong Kong investment. (photo: Qiu Jun/Xinhua)

Workers making footwear in Nigeria at a factory funded by Hong Kong investment. (photo: Qiu Jun/Xinhua)

Then, in a great reversal of fortune, the global economy went into a tail-spin. Initially, we hoped that the fallout in Africa would be limited. And, indeed, when the global financial tsunami made landfall, it first hit the relatively small number of countries with well-developed financial linkages to international capital markets. South Africa in particular faced difficult challenges as portfolio outflows spiked. Together with Ghana, Uganda and several other frontier markets, its currency plunged, confidence dipped, and foreign direct investment slowed.

But the impact didn’t stop there.  Falling export demand and commodity prices battered economic activity in many more countries, including oil exporters in western and central Africa, causing fiscal and external balances to deteriorate significantly. Remittances from the diaspora shrank and credit dried up. The result, in many countries, was stalled growth.

 

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