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African Growth Threatened by Higher Food, Fuel Prices

Economists specializing in Africa say the continent's five-year run of record economic growth is threatened by sharply rising fuel and food prices. VOA's Barry Wood reports on a Capitol Hill forum Thursday sponsored by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

Peter Lewis, the director of African studies at Johns Hopkins University, said food and fuel price increases have been devastating, threatening to erode five years of impressive economic gains.

"The scale and scope and speed of the accelerated price hikes have really been quite stunning," he said.

Peter Ondiege, a research economist at the African Development Bank, said continuing growth in 2008 is being negatively influenced by price increases.

"It had been assumed that oil prices would stabilize at around $90 a barrel," he said. "And [now] we are seeing it approaching $135 to $140 a barrel. So this is a big threat to the African economies, especially those that are importing oil."

Global food prices nearly doubled over the past year while oil costs four times as much as it did in 2003. African economies have registered growth for five consecutive years, expanding five point seven percent last year.

Ondiege says he worries that higher food and fuel prices could prompt some governments to roll back market-based reforms.

"They might attempt to provide subsidies," he added. "They might try to over-borrow to cushion the poor."

The International Monetary Fund last month forecast that sub-Saharan Africa would register growth of 6.6 percent in 2008. The extent to which that forecast is being scaled back is not yet known.