November 7, 2013 | By Dina Smeltz

Africa May Be Rising, but Not Lifting All Equally

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 Reviewthe African Development Bank echoes the same themethat 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.

As others  (Javier Blas, Jan Hofmeyr, etc.) have pointed out, poverty reduction has not moved as quickly as GDP growth rates. As Africa's economy expands, it appears its inequality gap may as well.

About

The Chicago Council on Global Affairs highlights critical shifts in American public thinking on US foreign policy through public opinion surveys and research conducted under the Lester Crown Center on US Foreign Policy. 

The annual Chicago Council Survey, first conducted in 1974, is a valuable resource for policymakers, academics, media, and the general public. The Council also surveys American leaders in government, business, academia, think tanks, and religious organizations biennially to compare trends in their thinking with overall trends. And collaborating with partner organizations, the survey team periodically conducts parallel surveys of public opinion in other regions of the world to compare with US public opinion. 

The Running Numbers blog features regular commentary and analysis from the Council’s public opinion and US foreign policy research team, including a series of flash polls of a select group of foreign policy experts to assess their opinions on critical foreign policy topics driving the news.

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