Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Africa and Poverty

by Rakib Miah 

The “Africa rising” narrative, brought into the mainstream by The Economist in late 2011 (for examples, see this and this), presents the continent as booming on the back of high rates of economic growth, with the continent having more than half of the 20 fastest growing economies in the world: Africa will ‘rule the 21st Century’ (African Business, 2013; Taylor, 2014).  According to this narrative, Africa is moving away from centuries of economic malaise and is firmly on the path to fast-paced development. An avid reader of The Economist, and many such other western publications, may be forgiven for believing that Africa (specifically, the economic and political elite within the continent) are making great strides to reduce poverty; more so, when you consider the drastic change in the opinion of western publications, such as The Economist – from ‘The hopeless continent’ to ‘Africa Rising’ (see image below).

Yet, poverty in Africa remains one of the single, most important development challenges facing the continent. Because of this, any narrative on a booming Africa, in order to be credible, has to be based on poverty in Africa substantially declining. However, what is evident from data provided by the World Bank (2015) is that Africa’s apparent “rise” is not reflected in its poverty-reduction results. To be sure, extreme poverty, measured at the International Poverty Line (IPL) of living on, or below, $1.25 per day, has fallen, as indicated by Figure. 1; yet the absolute number of poor individuals in Africa has steadily risen between 1981 and 2011, from 210 million to 416 million people. More so, when one compares the percentage rate of change in extreme poverty levels (using IPL $1.25) between 2002 and 2011 across every region on earth, Africa’s pace in reducing extreme poverty does not support the narrative that Africa is “rising”; Africa has the slowest pace of change in its poverty levels in the world. This lack of substantiveness in poverty-reduction is more prominent if you raise the IPL to $2.50 (see Figure. 2).

The purpose of this blog post is not to reproduce tired clichés regarding the continent, nor for critics to counteract by claiming that this post is playing to the negative stereotypes of Africa. Of course individual countries (and individual Africans themselves) have their own success stories, and some countries are themselves an example of success (this piece from The New Yorker from 2011 does a great job in highlighting some of Africa’s successes). The purpose of this blog post is to provide an honest assessment of Africa’s achievements, with regards to poverty, and to not allow those with influence to create a (mis)perception. Without wanting to sound dramatic, it is up to everyday individuals to see past media sensationalization, as failing to do so risks absolving those who are responsible for the situation which Africa’s most vulnerable people find themselves in of responsibility.

Works Cited:

World Bank PovcalNet. 2015. PovcalNet. [Online]. [Accessed 21st July 2015]. Available from: http://iresearch.worldbank.org/PovcalNet/

African Business. 2013. Why Africa Will Rule the 21st Century. African Business. [Online]. 7 January. [Accessed 21st July 2015]. Available from: http://africanbusinessmagazine.com/profiles-andinterviews/profile/why-africa-will-rule-the-21st-century/

The Economist. 2011. The Hopeful Continent: Africa Rising. The Economist. [Online]. 3 December. [Accessed 21st July 2015]. Available from: http://www.economist.com/

−−−−. 2013. A hopeful continent. The Economist. [Online]. 2 March. [Accessed 21st July 2015]. Available from: http://www.economist.com/

Okewow, A. 2011. Ten Biggest Positive Africa Stories of 2011. The New Yorker. [Online]. [Accessed 21st July 2015]. Available from: http://www.newyorker.com/news/news-desk/ten-biggest-positive-africa-stories-of-2011

Taylor, I. 2014. Is Africa Rising? Brown Journal of World Affairs. [Online]. XXI(1), pp.143-161. [Accessed 04th May 2015]. Available from: http://0-search.proquest.com.wam..ac.uk/

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