Hardi M. Yakubu
Chairman of Research Committee, University Students’ Association of Ghana
Formerly, Speaker of University of Ghana Parliament House
Kwame Nkrumah wrote in his book “I Speak of Freedom 1961” that “Although most Africans are poor, our continent is potentially extremely rich”. He was making reference to the paradox of a continent blessed with so much rich natural resources (much of it unexploited) but whose people still languish in abject poverty. Africa has about 55% and 60% of the world’s gold and diamond reserves respectively, 62% of its aluminum silicate and a host of other precious minerals (Twerefou, 2009). The inability of the continent to convert these into reliable sources of revenue and livelihood has accounted for what the NewAfrican magazine refers to as the “great conundrum”, the paradox of a rich man who is at the same time poor. At the time Nkrumah made the above statement, much of the continent were just reeling from the ravages of colonialism, others were still struggling to cast it off. Since then, much has changed either for good or for bad, depending on how one looks at it.
The past decade has been Africa’s decade of high economic growth, being one of the major outliers. Many of the world’s high growth nations are in Africa. According to the Africa Progress Report 2013, Equatorial Guinea, a small country in Africa was the highest growing economy in the world from 2000 to 2011. Its GDP grew by an average of 16.9% whilst per capita income rose by 272% between 2000 and 2011. Angola, Ghana, Chad, Tanzania among others have also been growing rapidly with average GDP growth of 10%, 6.4%, 8.3% and 6.7% respectively (Africa Progress Panel 2013).
The continent as a whole grew by 5% annually between 1994 and 2008 (UNU-WIDER 2011). Many other regions of the world are either slowing in growth or not growing at all. For example, the United States economy has slowed down in growth. Although it remains the biggest economy in the world with a GDP of 16.7 trillion dollars, it has failed to grow beyond 3% annually for the past few years except for the third quarter of 2013 when a 4.1% growth was recorded. US GDP growth slowed to as low as 0.1% for the first quarter of 2014. European economies are not also exempt from the slow or no growth. Undoubtedly, high growth has become a major bait for foreign direct investment and changing partnerships.For instance, trade between Africa and the rest of the world tripled over the last decade and the continent’s share of global FDI rose to 4.5% in 2010 from less than 1% in 2000. China, with growing interest in Africa has particularly been a major source of business with the continent. In 2009, it surpassed the US as the largest trading partner to Africa and in 2011, trade between china and the continent reached $166 billion, a more than 1000% increase from 2000.
Inequality and the Poor Africans Who Are Not Rising
Despite the impressive growth, inequality and persisting poverty are threatening to be our major undoing making the growth only as relevant as the figures. For instance Angola, Rwanda, Ethiopia and other high-flying GDP nations have large proportions of their populations living below the poverty line. Meanwhile, most countries are not even growing; they are either stagnating or declining, with poverty being a pervasive feature. In some 29 African countries for example, average GDP per capita grew by less than 3% between 2002 and 2012. Also, there are 16 countries whose average GDP per capita is either in negative growth or is growing at less than 1%. The Africa Progress Panel(2014) has estimated that it will take these countries 76 years to double average incomes. So the inequality is not just within countries, it is also between countries.
At the continental level, poverty is still prevalent. The number of people living below the poverty line increased from 22% of global poverty in 1990 to 33% of global poverty in 2010.Other indicators of human development including school enrollment, maternal mortality, child mortality etc are still at unacceptable levels despite some progress. A continent that is rising must not have such high levels of worrying statistics on vital indicators. It is fair therefore to assert that if Africa is rising, this large proportion of its population is being left behind and is not rising. More definitely has to be done.
Inequality as a Global Phenomenon
Of course, inequality is not peculiar to Africa. The Office of National Statistics of the UK recently revealed that only five (5) families in the UK own as much wealth as 12 million people combined. Also, the top 1% of the UK’s 63.7 million population owns the equivalent of the combined wealth of the poorest 55%. Globally, as Christine Lagarde, the IMF Chief Director, indicated recently at the Conference on Inclusive Capitalism, the richest 85 people in the world own wealth equivalent to the combined wealth of a half of the world’s total population i.e. 3.5 billion people. The Governor of the Bank of England, Mark Carey has even warned that the current levels of inequality if not checked will be the Achilles’ hill of capitalism.
Africa has the potential to save itself from this growing global canker of inequality. If the continent fails to encourage more inclusive growth and development, then some sections of the population will never rise.
Agriculture: The Neglected Savior
A significant portion of Africa’s population is engaged in agriculture. It accounts for about 60% of the continents total employment. At the country level, the statistics are even more instructive. In Ghana, 54.2% of the population are farmers according to the Ghana Statistical Service (2013); in Malawi, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Ethiopia, Guinea, Guinea Bissau, Mali, Mozambique and several other countries, the percentage is between 80% and 90% (AfDB, OECD, UNDP 2014). In almost all the cases cited above, agriculture is only a minute contribution to GDP as a consequence of unsatisfactory expenditure in the sector. African leaders for instance agreed, as part of the Maputo Declaration in 2003, to spend at least 10% of national income on agriculture. As the NewAfrican has established, less than one fifth of African nations have met this target. The large population engaged in agriculture has led some to conclude that the sector holds the key to lifting people of Africa out of poverty. The NewAfrican magazine for instance has noted that growth in the agriculture sector is 11% more effective at lifting people out of poverty in sub-Saharan Africa than growth in other sectors. Others have estimated this at a much lower rate without necessarily discounting this fact.
The question is “why are African nations neglecting this economic savior?” one hardly knows. It is certain however that for Africa to facilitate all-inclusive growth and development and rise with the masses, agriculture cannot continue to be neglected.
In sum, the Africa rising mantra is catching up with the continent and the rest of the world. It is rightly based on the impressive growth recorded by the continent over the past decade. However, most Africans are not rising along. A significant portion is still mired in the quandary of penury, not enjoying the fruits of the high growth figures being bandied about and the number of such people appears to be increasing. Only a few people are enjoying the fruits of growth. Agriculture which employs majority of the continent’s people and has the capacity of lifting them out of poverty is sadly being neglected. But to bring all-inclusive growth and development about, this trend has to be reversed.
AfDB, OECD & UNDP (2014). African Economic Outlook 2014: Global Value Chains and Africa’s Industrialization
Africa Progress Panel (2014).Africa Progress Report 2014
Jere, J. R. (2014). “How Africa Can Feed Itself: Beyond Food Aid and Corporate Greed.” NewAfrican, March, pp, 8-16.
Ghana Statistical Service (2013).2010 Population and Housing Census: National Analytical Report. Accra. Ghana Statistical Service
Page, J. (2011).Should Africa Industrialize? Finland. UNU-WIDER.
Twerefou, D.K (2009). Mineral Exploitation, Environmental Sustainability and Sustainable Development in EAC, SADC and ECOWAS Regions.Economic Commission for Africa.