Twelve years ago, the influential Economist magazine described Africa as “the hopeless continent”. Last year the same publication ran the headline: “Africa rising: the hopeful continent”, noting that some of the fastest-growing economies in the world are in Africa.
According to the 2012 Africa Progress Report, seven in every 10 people on the continent live in countries that have enjoyed an economic boom – growth rates averaging in excess of four percent for the past decade. From 2005 to 2009, Ethiopia recorded higher growth than China, and Uganda outperformed India.
The World Bank’s most recent estimates suggest that the number of poor people in the sub-Sahara region fell by around nine million between 2005 and 2008.
While there is clear evidence that in the past decade the continent has made significant gains in areas such as reducing infant mortality, curbing the spread of HIV/Aids, tuberculosis and malaria, and promoting economic growth, the findings of the report show that for the vast majority of Africans, life on the “hopeful continent” remains a daily challenge.
Entitled, “Jobs Justice And Equity – Seizing Opportunities in Times of Global Change”, the 2012 Africa Progress Report (APR) says that after a decade of “buoyant growth”, wealth disparities within and across African countries are “increasingly visible”, with almost half of Africans still living on less than U.S.$1.25 a day.
“The current pattern of trickle-down growth is leaving too many people in poverty, too many children hungry and too many young people without jobs,” says the APR. It notes that governments are “failing to convert the rising tide of wealth into opportunities for their most marginalised citizens” and that unequal access to health, education, water and sanitation is “reinforcing wider inequalities”.
The report also finds that smallholder agriculture has not been part of the growth surge, leaving rural populations trapped in poverty and thus vulnerable to disease and marginalisation.
The Africa Progress Panel – a group of 10 individuals chaired by the former United Nations secretary-general Kofi Annan, publishes the APR. Other members include Mozambique humanitarian and former South African first lady Graca Machel, former Nigerian president Olusegun Obasanjo, Ivorian businessman Tidjane Thiam, Bangladesh Nobel laureate Muhammad Yunus, French economist Michel Camdessus and musician and activist Bob Geldof.
The panel says it chose to highlight justice and equity in the 2012 report because “they are missing from the lives of too many Africans, making the present growth socially unsustainable”.
Nonetheless, the continent’s economic growth has helped it make significant progress towards the United Nations Millennium Development Goal (MDG) targets. In the past decade, the number of children who die before their fifth birthday has fallen by half from the number who died before the age of five in the decade from 1990 to 2000.