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Background

The theme for the 2015 African Economic Conference (AEC) is Addressing Poverty and Inequality in the Post 2015 Development Agenda. As outlined in the African Union's (AU) Agenda 2063 and the Africa's Common Position on Post 2015 documents, the vision is for "an integrated, prosperous and peaceful Africa, driven by its own citizens and representing a dynamic force in the global arena." Key among Africa's aspirations is to achieve prosperity that is based on inclusive growth, and development that is people driven and that also unleashes the potential of women and youth. Given this stated goal of the Common Position and the central aim of Agenda 2063 to eradicate poverty in all its ramifications in one generation and to build shared prosperity through social and economic transformation; the theme of this conference is very timely.

The AEC will bring together policy-makers, researchers and development practitioners from Africa and from around the world to make a strategic contribution to the implementation of Africa's vision and the identification of concrete actions necessary for poverty and inequality reduction in the context of the post-2015 development agenda. The Conference will provide an opportunity to assess the impact of current growth strategies on poverty, inequality and human development in Africa. In addition, the conference will discuss successes, lessons learned and identify remaining gaps, challenges and emerging issues on the topic. It will encompass in-depth presentations of policy-oriented research by both established academics and emerging researchers from the continent who will debate and recommend policy options on how to reduce poverty and inequality for Africa's equitable, inclusive and environmentally sustainable development.

Achieving human development and the MDGs in Africa

Comparable to other regions of the world, African countries have made significant strides in all the dimensions of human development, including in education, health and income indicators. The 2014 UNDP Human Development Index (HDI) shows that 17 out of 52 African countries have achieved high and medium levels of human development. HDI values for countries in Central, East, Southern and West Africa increased by 26% from 1990 to 2013, making it the third fastest growing region after East Asia (36%) and South Asia (34%). In comparison, HDI levels in the Arab States and Latin America for the same period were 19% and 18% higher, respectively. Improvements in human development in Africa can be attributed to rapid economic growth based on increased resource flows from natural resource extraction, growth in agriculture and services, human capital development and improved governance.

However, recent MDG Progress Reports on Africa (e.g. African MDG Report 2014) show that the region is on track to meet only two out of the eight MDGs-the goals related to universal primary education and gender parity at primary level of education. In contrast, insufficient progress has been made with respect to the poverty and hunger goals. The limited inclusiveness of economic growth and low growth and inequality elasticity of poverty are key factors in explaining the slow progress on these particular goals. The environment and health goals are the least likely to be met even though some appreciable 3

progress has been recorded in recent times. Moreover, progress achieved to date is vulnerable to reversals due to countries' weak capacity to respond to various shocks that is compounded by inadequate and poorly funded social protection systems.

Addressing poverty and inequality in Africa

Africa's GDP growth has been high and has remained robust since the mid-2000, with growth rates averaging 5% and well above the global average of 3% per annum (African Economic Outlook, 2014). Improved macroeconomic management, robust domestic demand, steady remittance flows, favourable commodity prices and increased export volumes have been supportive of the continent's growth, such that midway through 2014, Africa was riding a high wave of growth whilst the rest of the world was still in recession. The high average continental growth rate nonetheless masks significant variation across sub-regions and various country typologies i.e. resource rich countries, land-locked countries, fragile states, as well as across low income countries (LICs) and middle income countries (MICs). While agriculture and services have been the main engines of growth, oil and mining activity in resource rich countries has weakened as a result of the fall in commodity prices, especially crude oil. Manufacturing production increased in a few countries but often declined or remained too small to boost growth. The service sector, including traditional services such as transport, trade, real estate and public and financial services, and new services, such as information and telecommunication technologies (ITC), are boosting growth in many countries. It is important to note that structural economic transformation in Africa has bypassed the manufacturing sector. Factors of production moved away from agriculture to services instead of into the manufacturing sector-value added in manufacturing fell from 14 percent to 10 percent of GDP between 2000 and 2008.

The past decade of relatively high growth has bred a new and optimistic narrative on Africa and its economic prospects. However, the continent continues to face many challenges. For instance, there is broad consensus among Africa's leaders and development practitioners that structural transformation and progress in terms of equitable and sustainable development has been limited in Africa, despite the volume of wealth created from recent growth. The growth process has neither been inclusive nor equitable. It has also not been transformational enough to respond to challenges ushered by external and internal economic shocks, high unemployment rates, rapid urbanization and changing demographic patterns largely characterized by a youth bulge. Most importantly, countries have not succeeded in substantially reducing poverty and inequality across the continent so that in spite of the appreciable growth over the past decade, the fall in poverty (percentage of people below $1.25 a day) from 56.5 percent in 1990 to 48.5 percent in 2010 [2014 African MDG Report] was relatively small. The inescapable conclusion is that African growth has not been people-centered.

Africa's socio-economic progress faces significant reversals due to weakening governance and institutional frameworks, lingering conflicts and growing radicalization, high unemployment rates-particularly for the youth and women; and environmental degradation and climate change. In addition, there is growing concern that the high levels of income inequality throughout Africa are holding back progress. Africa has the second highest unequal distribution of income and consumption within countries after Latin America and the Caribbean. But there is evidence that the Gini index fell from 0.458 to 0.439 between 1990-99 and 2000-09 - one of the most appreciable declines across developing groups (African MDG Report 2014). In addition, a large proportion of Africa's population is living in countries where inequality is rising (UNDP forthcoming).

A post 2015 agenda for Africa

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) currently under negotiation respond to Africa's challenges and take on global issues that require a global partnership for sustainable development. The overarching objective of the SDGs is to eradicate poverty by 2030. These goals include a focus on the achievement of sustained and inclusive economic growth, full and productive employment as well as decent work for all. The agenda beyond the MDGs now focuses on a shared future with shared responsibilities and one universal and transformative agenda for sustainable human development. In this regard, African institutions and countries have a key role to play in meeting the unfinished agenda of the MDGs and accelerating equitable and sustainable development in Africa. Sustaining the momentum achieved by governments, civil society and private sector actors during national and regional consultations on the post-2015 development agenda, is vital to producing clear goals and developing implementation and monitoring frameworks that respond to new challenges including climate change and social protection.

The draft SDGs advocate for renewed action on poverty eradication at the global level and include transformational elements as outlined in the report of the High-Level Panel of Eminent Persons on the Post-2015 Development Agenda (UN, 2013). The five proposed transformational "shifts" include: (i) leave no one behind; (ii) put sustainable development at the core; (iii) transform economies for jobs and inclusive growth; (iv) build peace and effective, open and accountable institutions for all; and (v) forge a new global partnership.

African countries now have the opportunity to review policy options and implementation frameworks that would accelerate the economic and social transformation of the continent towards a more sustainable growth path that results in reduced inequalities and the eradication of poverty. As such, the AEC 2015 will contribute to the policy dialogue and advocacy on inclusive growth by presenting the latest empirical evidence on poverty and inequalities in Africa and provide critical thinking on how policy makers, development partners, the private sector, CSOs and academia should support the planning and implementation of the post-2015 agenda.

AEC Partners