There has been a lot of hopeful talk about Africa in the past year.
For instance, the World Bank has noted that several African countries, including Ethiopia, Mozambique, Niger, Sierra Leone and Rwanda are among the fastest growing countries worldwide. The authors of The Fastest Billion: The Story Behind Africa's Economic Revolution also report that Africa now has more of the fastest-growing economies globally than any other continent. In its 2013 Annual Development Effectiveness Review, the African Development Bank echoes the same theme, that Africa has become the world's fastest growing region. And the Economist reports that over the past ten years real income per person on the continent has increased by more than 30 percent.
Amidst these optimistic assessments, the Afrobarometer released new survey findings from 34 African countries (with fieldwork spanning October 2011 through June 2013), which prompted some caveats to the emerging Africa thesis. Some of the results that comprise the Afrobarometer's Lived Poverty Index findings across all 34 countries indicated that:
- About two in ten overall report experiencing frequent shortages (going "many times" or "always" in the past year) in water (22%), medicines and medical care (20%), and food (17%).
- One in ten say they have experienced a frequent shortage in cooking oil (13%).
- Four in ten have experienced frequent shortages of cash income (44%).
- Shortages were more often experienced in rural than urban areas. Those in Burundi, Guinea, niger, Senegal and Togo experienced the highest average levels of lived poverty.
These results motivated some writers to highlight the disconnect between these findings and the Africa Rising narrative (for example, in the Christian Science Monitor and on the Afrobarometer's website). If nothing else, the results seem to show that advances in Africa's GDP growth are uneven and are not trickling down to the substantial impoverished segments of these populations. The authors of Afrobarometer Policy Brief 1 that also compared trends across the decade and found that while lived poverty was decreased in some countries, "there are as many where lived poverty has increased."
This is especially apparent within the context of other demographic trends. An African Development Bank brief shows that 44 percent of Africans fall below the poverty line of $1.25 a day, though this percentage has fallen about 4 percentage points since 2000. Sixty percent live below another often-used international poverty line of $2 dollars a day. The McKinsey Global Institute's Lions on the Move report found in their 27-country sample that 63 percent of Africans work in subsistence farming and informal employment, are therefore vulnerable to tremors in the global economic system.