Africans say growth has not improved their lives
Africa's breakneck growth is not improving the lives of ordinary citizens across the continent, according to a landmark survey across 34 countries.
Despite some of the world's highest economic growth rates, many Africans still report shortages of water, food, healthcare or cash according to an Afrobarometer survey of over 50,000 people.
The survey results appear to contrast with the perception of "Africa rising," a continent casting off old stereotypes as growth rates touch double digits in some countries.
"Meeting their basic daily needs remains a major challenge for a majority of Africans, even at a time when their countries are reporting impressive economic gains," the survey released Tuesday found.
The continent's economy as a whole is expected to grow by almost five percent this year.
But half of survey respondents said they occasionally lacked food, clean water, and medicine. One in five said they face frequent shortages.
"Either economic growth is not trickling down to average citizens and translating into poverty reduction... (or) there is reason to question whether reported growth rates are actually being realised," the researchers found.
People in West Africa and East Africa experienced most shortages, while North Africans reported the least.
The highest poverty levels were measured in nations which, according to the IMF, all grew at more than three percent in 2012: Burundi, Guinea, Senegal, Togo and Niger which grew at 11.2 percent, but which has been beset by conflict.
The study has been conducted roughly every three years since 1999, with more countries added to the survey each time round.
Carried out by independent African organisations, the Afrobarometer aims to measure poverty as an alternative to national income and expenditure surveys, which are often too costly for governments.
Of 16 countries studied for the past decade, the researchers measured little improvement in lifestyle, said Afrobarometer's Robert Mattes at the study's release in Johannesburg.
"Poverty has come down very, very slightly," said Mattes, who also heads the University of Cape Town's Democracy in Africa Research Unit.
People were poorer in areas where government spending on basic infrastructure lagged.
"The data show significant correlations between access to electrical grids, piped water, and other basic services in communities and lower levels of lived poverty," the survey found.
Low education levels also had a big influence on poverty.
But there were some bright spots.
Over the past decade Ghana showed the strongest improvement in people's living conditions, with the number of poor dropping from over two thirds to under half the population.
The lives of people in Cape Verde, Ghana, Malawi and Zambia also reportedly improved, as well as Zimbabwe.
There researchers attributed the improvement in Zimbabwe since 2008 to a "peace dividend" after a power-sharing government was formed following years of political and economic turmoil.
In this period however poverty went up in South Africa, Botswana, Senegal, Mali and Tanzania.
Over half the respondents on the continent rated their country's economy bad, while only a third thought the economy and their living conditions had improved in the past year.
Still, most thought things were looking up for the coming year.
The researchers urged governments to focus on reducing poverty rather than simply growing their economies.
"Investments in education and infrastructure may be among the most effective ways to extend economic gains to the continent's poorest citizens."
The Afrobarometer study echoes a World Bank report earlier this year which found growth in Africa has been less poverty-reducing than elsewhere in the world.
While strides have been made in reducing the levels of Africans living on less $1.25 a day, more than a third of the world's extreme poor still live in sub-Saharan Africa.
The UN's food agency Tuesday said the region had the highest prevalence of hunger, with 24.8 percent -- or 223 million people -- undernourished, though the figure dropped by almost a third over the past 20 years.
© 2013 AFP