Africa ‘much like China was 30 years ago’

In a recently released document titled ‘Africa’s Future and the World Bank’s Role in it, the World Bank says that “Africa could be on the brink of an economic takeoff, much like China was 30 years ago, and India 20 years ago”.

The World Bank gave four reasons for why it thinks the continent has “an unprecedented opportunity for transformation and sustained growth.”

“First, until the onset of the global economic crisis, economic growth was averaging 5% a year for a decade, accelerating to 6% for 2006-8. Growth was widespread: some 22 non-oil exporters had 4% or higher growth from 1998-2008. While Africa was badly hit by the global crisis, thanks to prudent macroeconomic policies and financial support from multilateral agencies, the continent avoided an even worse growth shortfall in 2009, and has rebounded in 2010.

“Second, alongside the acceleration in growth, progress on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) has been sufficiently rapid that many countries (such as Malawi, Ghana and Ethiopia) are likely to reach most of the goals, if not by 2015 then soon thereafter. Africa’s poverty rate was falling at one percentage point a year, from 59% in 1995 to 50% in 2005. Child mortality rates are declining; HIV/AIDS is stabilising; and primary completion rates are rising faster in Africa than anywhere else.

“Third, Africa’s private sector is increasingly attracting investment, with much of the funding coming from domestic banks and investors. Returns to investment in Africa are among the highest in the world. Success of ICT, especially mobile phone penetration, shows how rapidly a sector can grow. Private capital flows are higher than official development assistance (and FDI is higher than in India). China, India and others are investing large sums in Africa.

“Fourth, the climate for market-oriented, pro-poor reforms is proving robust. Although the payoffs to economic reforms fell during the global crisis, policymakers continued with prudent economic policies, even in the face of contradictory policies elsewhere – because the public demanded them. The voice of civil society is increasing, as evidenced by Uwezo on education in Kenya, citizen report cards in Ghana, and the various groups demanding accountability for resource revenues.”

The World Bank added that despite its optimism, “African countries still have to tackle persistent, long-term development challenges, such as undiversified production structure, low levels of human capital, poor service delivery, and weak governance, including corruption”.