News / Africa

    Africa Survey Links Infrastructure Spending to Poverty Reduction

    FILE - A utility pole supporting wires for electricity distribution is seen in Nairobi, Kenya.
    FILE - A utility pole supporting wires for electricity distribution is seen in Nairobi, Kenya.
    William Eagle

    A new study about Africa shows the importance of developing roads, electrical grids, health clinics and other forms of infrastructure for promoting development — and reducing poverty.  

    The survey by the polling firm Afrobarometer, a nonpartisan research network, found that more than 20 countries in Africa have improved economic growth and living conditions with active government support.

    The report found that 22 out of the 33 countries surveyed showed impressive improvements in some of the “development infrastructure” that lifts living standards, such as food, clean water, cooking fuel, health care and income. The study's conclusions were based on interviews with nearly 53,000 people across Africa.

    Robert Mattes, a senior adviser for the Africa-wide polling firm and a professor of political science at the University of Cape Town in South Africa, said that in general, poverty levels were lower in urban areas and among those with secondary and postsecondary educations.

    Government support

    But the survey found that improvements, especially in rural areas and among those without education, depended to a large degree on government action.

    “[Former U.S. President] Bill Clinton used to like to talk about giving people a hand up rather than a hand out,” said Mattes, “and you can see how this applies. These are not direct relief services to people, like providing them with food or government employment strategies. It’s simply building things … paved roads, putting electricity in, putting a sewage network in. People seem to be able to use that to get on with their lives in a much better way than where government hasn’t done those basic things.”

    FILE - The Henri Konan Bedie toll bridge, which was named after a former Ivory Coast president, is seen in Abidjan, Dec. 15, 2014.
    FILE - The Henri Konan Bedie toll bridge, which was named after a former Ivory Coast president, is seen in Abidjan, Dec. 15, 2014.

    North African countries, many with authoritarian regimes, scored highest in the survey.

    “We’ve only been conducting surveys in North Africa for four years,” said Mattes, “but we were surprised at the level of infrastructural development. It was substantially higher than what we’ve seen [in other parts of Africa] in previous surveys.”

    “What is clear,” he continued, “is the authoritarian regimes in those areas — maybe simply as a means to stay in power — have invested a substantial share of oil wealth into education, health clinics, sewage, electricity, et cetera.”

    In sub-Saharan countries, there were both successes and failures.

    Mozambique, Benin and Liberia were among five countries with the largest increases in poverty, while five others showed no improvement. People in areas with conflict and health emergencies, such as Central and West Africa, reported having the most frequent shortages.

    Sub-Saharan successes

    On the other hand, living standards have increased in several countries.

    Among them are Cape Verde, Zambia and Ghana — countries that have used to their advantage the support of international funding sources like the Millennium Challenge Corporation. Mattes said the three countries were the only ones to show a long-term trend in reducing poverty since 2002.

    Senegal, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe showed decreases in poverty going back to 2008. Mattes attributed South Africa's improvement to its expansive social welfare network, which accounts for a large part of the budget.

    FILE - Students wait to eat at a school canteen, near a sign on the wall that reads "Eating well to learn better," in N'zikro, Aboisso, Ivory Coast, Oct. 27, 2015.
    FILE - Students wait to eat at a school canteen, near a sign on the wall that reads "Eating well to learn better," in N'zikro, Aboisso, Ivory Coast, Oct. 27, 2015.

    For many years, poor policy decisions and international sanctions contributed to increased poverty in Zimbabwe, which has been ruled for decades by the ZANU-PF party led by Robert Mugabe. But that changed when a government of national unity took power in 2013, and the opposition Movement for Democratic Change held Cabinet posts affecting finance and economic development.

    “One of the ironies,”  said Mattes, “is the policies the MDC brought to the table were largely responsible for stabilizing the country and bringing back decent living conditions ... though they couldn’t claim credit, largely because of the ZANU-PF government’s control of the state news media.

    “They found it very hard getting state TV and radio to cover them," Mattes said, so the MDC "often abandoned the field, and ZANU-PF claimed they improved living conditions.”

    Mattes said to ensure further decreases in poverty, African governments have to improve their tax systems. He said it’s not clear whether many states have the capacity to tax national and international companies. Their taxes are essential if governments are going to have enough money to invest in development.

    You May Like

    US-Russia Tensions Complicate Syria War

    With a shared enemy and opposing allies, Russia and the US are working to avoid confrontation

    Video Re-opening Old Wounds in Beirut's Bullet-riddled Yellow House

    Built in neo-Ottoman style in 1920s, it is set to be re-opened in Sept. as ‘memory museum’ - bullet-riddled walls and bunkered positions overlooking city’s notorious ‘Green Line’ maintained for posterity

    Cambodian-Americans Lobby for Human Rights Resolution

    Resolution condemns all forms of political violence in Cambodia, urges Cambodian government to end human rights violations, calls for respect of press freedom

    This forum has been closed.
    Comment Sorting
    Comments
         
    by: Anonymous
    January 31, 2016 10:42 AM
    Robert Mattes and William Eagle, gentlemen, please don't blame sanctions when it comes to Zimbabwe. Research will give you the
    reasons and enable your reports creditable and newsworthy, tragic as the circumstances are.

    by: meanbill from: USA
    January 31, 2016 8:24 AM
    Once upon a time, an African diplomat was asked if more infrastructure and business would fix Africa's economic problems, [and he allegedly replied], who would buy goods and products that read "Made in Africa." .. Perception? .. the Africans have to prove they can produce and manufacture products equal or better than other competing countries? .. think about it?
    In Response

    by: anonymous
    February 01, 2016 4:57 AM
    The only requirement that is paramount is good governance and an impartial judicial system. However with genocide, corruption and vote rigging, economic viability including agriculture is not going to succeed. Contemplate the facts, but the realities are right before our eyes. Don't worry about "once upon a time stories", they don't earn foreign exchange, pure & simple.

    By the Numbers

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Brexit Vote Plunges Global Markets Into Uncharted Territoryi
    X
    June 24, 2016 9:38 PM
    British voters plunged global markets into unknown territory after they voted Thursday to leave the European Union. The results of the Brexit vote, the term coined to describe the referendum, caught many off guard. Analysts say the resulting volatility could last for weeks, perhaps longer. Mil Arcega reports.
    Video

    Video Brexit Vote Plunges Global Markets Into Uncharted Territory

    British voters plunged global markets into unknown territory after they voted Thursday to leave the European Union. The results of the Brexit vote, the term coined to describe the referendum, caught many off guard. Analysts say the resulting volatility could last for weeks, perhaps longer. Mil Arcega reports.
    Video

    Video Orlando Shooting Changes Debate on Gun Control

    It’s been nearly two weeks since the largest mass shooting ever in the United States. Despite public calls for tighter gun control laws, Congress is at an impasse. Democratic lawmakers resorted to a 1960s civil rights tactic to portray their frustration. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti explains how the Orlando, Florida shooting is changing the debate.
    Video

    Video Tunisian Fishing Town Searches for Jobs, Local Development Solutions

    As the European Union tries to come to grips with its migrant crisis, some newcomers are leaving voluntarily. But those returning to their home countries face an uncertain future.  Five years after Tunisia's revolution, the tiny North African country is struggling with unrest, soaring unemployment and plummeting growth. From the southern Tunisian fishing town of Zarzis, Lisa Bryant takes a look for VOA at a search for local solutions.
    Video

    Video 'American Troops' in Russia Despite Tensions

    Historic battle re-enactment is a niche hobby with a fair number of adherents in Russia where past military victories are played-up by the Kremlin as a show of national strength. But, one group of World War II re-enactors in Moscow has the rare distinction of choosing to play western ally troops. VOA's Daniel Schearf explains.
    Video

    Video Experts: Very Few Killed in US Gun Violence Are Victims of Mass Shootings

    The deadly shooting at a Florida nightclub has reignited the debate in the U.S. over gun control. Although Congress doesn't provide government health agencies funds to study gun violence, public health experts say private research has helped them learn some things about the issue. VOA's Carol Pearson reports.
    Video

    Video Trump Unleashes Broadside Against Clinton to Try to Ease GOP Doubts

    Recent public opinion polls show Republican Donald Trump slipping behind Democrat Hillary Clinton in the presidential election matchup for November. Trump trails her both in fundraising and campaign organization, but he's intensifying his attacks on the former secretary of state. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone reports.
    Video

    Video Muslim American Mayor Calls for Tolerance

    Syrian-born Mohamed Khairullah describes himself as "an American mayor who happens to be Muslim." As the three-term mayor of Prospect Park, New Jersey, he believes his town of 6,000 is an example of how ethnicity and religious beliefs should not determine a community's leadership. Ramon Taylor has this report from Prospect Park.
    Video

    Video Internal Rifts Over Syria Policy Could Be Headache for Next US President

    With the Obama administration showing little outward enthusiasm for adopting a more robust Syria policy, there is a strong likelihood that the internal discontent expressed by State Department employees will roll over to the next administration. VOA State Department correspondent Pam Dockins reports.
    Video

    Video Senegal to Park Colorful ‘Cars Rapide’ Permanently

    Brightly painted cars rapide are a hallmark of Dakar, offering residents a cheap way to get around the capital city since 1976. But the privately owned minibuses are scheduled to be parked for good in late 2018, as Ricci Shryock reports for VOA.
    Video

    Video Florida Gets $1 Million in Emergency Government Funding for Orlando

    The U.S. government has granted $1 million in emergency funding to the state of Florida to cover the costs linked to the June 12 massacre in Orlando. U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch announced the grant Tuesday in Orlando, where she met with survivors of the shooting attack that killed 49 people. Zlatica Hoke reports.
    Video

    Video How to Print Impossible Shapes with Metal

    3-D printing with metals is rapidly becoming more advanced. As printers become more affordable, the industry is partnering with universities to refine processes for manufacturing previously impossible things. A new 3-D printing lab aims to bring the new technology closer to everyday use. VOA's George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Big Somali Community in Minnesota Observes Muslim Religious Feast

    Ramadan is widely observed in the north central US state of Minnesota, which a large Muslim community calls home. VOA Somali service reporter Mohmud Masadde files this report from Minneapolis, the state's biggest city.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora