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Economic growth not improving Africans’ lives

Published on 05/05/2011

African economies are among the world's fastest-growing but leaps in output have not been a silver bullet for better living standards, delegates at the World Economic Forum said Thursday.

Some African countries had shown massive spurts in growth but had failed to address anti-poverty needs, like basic housing, water and health, said activist Graca Machel who urged that growth and development go hand in hand.

“In terms of growth, they’ve made a huge leap ahead, but look at the social indicators — they are among the worst. So growth alone is not a response,” said Machel whose husband is South African anti-apartheid hero Nelson Mandela.

Investor interest in Africa is growing and seven African countries are expected to be among the world’s 10 fastest-growing economies this year but the growth masks huge disparities on the world’s poorest continent.

Zimbabwean Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, whose country is clawing its way out of economic meltdown, told the Forum that the challenge was to improve living standards and economic potential.

“As we improve our economic performance and there is a spread of wealth, the better for this continent,” he said.

“If there are more people who are hungry, there are more people who are poor, and there is no improvement in the standard of living of the people, we can not build a democratic value system.”

The International Monetary Fund predicts that sub-Saharan Africa’s gross domestic product will grow by 5.5 percent this year and 5.8 percent next year.

Presenting an annual report on the continent’s development, former UN secretary general Kofi Annan said Africa needs strong leadership to harness the region’s economic growth to benefit its people.

“The primary responsibility for progress remains with ourselves, with African leaders and their population who need to translate the continent’s wealth into results and for the benefit of the people,” he said.

“On one hand we’ve seen encouraging success stories, but there is no doubt that we have a lot to be done and there are many challenges ahead.”

The Africa Progress Report compiles an overview of the continent, and gives a scorecard to show countries’ efforts in reaching targets such as maternal health, education and hunger.

There was no single formula to solve the continent’s challenges, said Machel.

“The reality is that the picture is mixed, not only from country to country but within the countries themselves,” she said.

Governance problems remain in countries such as Somalia, Ivory Coast and Zimbabwe while political progress in many others looked fragile, the report said.

Despite the strong overall growth, many countries rely too heavily on exports of commodities — sometimes single commodities — rather than diversifying in manufacturing or other value-added industries, the report added.

“To the detriment of hundreds of millions of Africans, the continent’s strong economic growth has not translated into widespread job creation and poverty reduction,” said the report, which also cites rising inequality between rich and poor.

“The need for greater progress in urgent.”

Despite political positives such as the south Sudan referendum and moves towards democracy in north Africa, conflicts remain a problem with unrest in nine countries affecting one fifth of the continent’s people.

“Most security challenges in Africa continue to be a direct result of weak or poor governance,” said the report.

The report also sounded an alarm over rising global food prices, warning that some countries could face social unrest if subsidies and price controls were no longer affordable.