News / Africa

Africa's Bright, Dark Economic Spots Get Attention

Economists say more outside investment is needed to boost Africa's recent economic growth
Economists say more outside investment is needed to boost Africa's recent economic growth


Nico Colombant

As the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank spring meetings kick off in Washington this week, Africa's economies are the talk of both guarded optimism and cause for concern.

Since the mid-1990s, economic growth in Africa has accelerated. The upward trend is continuing now despite sluggish recoveries elsewhere. World Bank officials expect the region's economy to grow 5 percent this year.

Economists and experts warn however against considering Africa as a homogeneous entity.  Brookings Africa Growth Initiative Director Mwangi Kimenyi is among these.  He spoke at a conference in Washington last month organized by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

"It is very important to disaggregate these countries, remove the oil countries, because the drivers are different," said Kimenyi.  "Coastal [countries] are sometimes different from the landlocked, North Africa, and so on. But if you look at the countries that are doing well and they are not natural resource rich countries, they have tried to diversify their economies and they have become competitive in particular sectors."

Bright spots in African economies include Ghana's agricultural sector, Kenya's mobile banking, Lesotho's light manufacturing, Cape Verde's tourism and Botswana's mining.

Major obstacles in most African countries include insufficient schooling beyond primary levels, huge gaps between a small rich elite and the majority of poor, a lack of outside investment and limited regional integration.

Harry Broadman, the chief economist of U.S.-based Albright Capital Management, says the main impediment to better growth is poor governance.

"We can have all the other reforms that we want in the world, whether it is trade reform, whether it is education or the like, but unless we have a confluence between civil society and the political and economic leadership, we are not going to get very far in a sustainable way on the continent moving forward," said Broadman.

Shanta Devarajan, the chief economist of the World Bank's Africa region, also points to low labor productivity, which measures the ratio of output per hour's work.

"You see 70 to 80 percent of the labor force in the informal sector, mostly in single family household enterprises working on very low productivity activities and also unable to take advantage of any economies of scale, even of the type where you have a firm of 50 people you might be able to buy a machine that can increase your productivity," said Devarajan.

Devarajan says Africa's labor force is getting bigger and bigger, which is both a source of potential but also problems.

"We have seven to 10 million young Africans entering the labor force every year adding to a total stock of about 200 million," added Devarajan.

Beyond the overall numbers which point to strong growth, economists say there are more than a dozen African countries which are extremely fragile economically.

They also say most Africans continue to be extremely vulnerable to external shocks which can severely affect their livelihood, from soaring food and fuel prices, to climate change induced natural disasters, and the outbreak of health epidemics and recurring political violence.

You May Like

Syrian Rebels Poised for Anti-Russia Collaboration

Forty-one insurgent groups issue joint statement vowing retaliation for Russian air offensives More

Political Maneuver Revives Export-Import Bank's Chances

Parliamentary tactic gets bill out of committee, but it faces opposition in the Senate More

Beijing Warns US on S. China Sea Patrols

Warning follows news reports Thursday that US military is planning to sail warships close to artificial islands Beijing has been aggressively building More

This forum has been closed.
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
House Republicans in Chaos as Speaker Favorite Withdrawsi
Jim Malone
October 09, 2015 12:32 AM
The Republican widely expected to become the next speaker of the House of Representatives shocked his colleagues Thursday by announcing he was withdrawing his candidacy. The decision by Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy means the race to succeed retiring Speaker John Boehner is now wide open. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone reports.

Video House Republicans in Chaos as Speaker Favorite Withdraws

The Republican widely expected to become the next speaker of the House of Representatives shocked his colleagues Thursday by announcing he was withdrawing his candidacy. The decision by Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy means the race to succeed retiring Speaker John Boehner is now wide open. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone reports.

Video German, US Officials Investigate Volkswagen

German officials have taken steps to restore some of the reputation their car industry has lost after a recent Volkswagen diesel emissions scandal. Authorities have searched Volkswagen headquarters and other locations in an effort to identify the culprits in the creation of software that helps cheat on emission tests. Meanwhile, a group of lawmakers in Washington held a hearing to get to the bottom of the cheating strategy that was first discovered in the United States. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Why Are Gun Laws So Hard for Congress to Tackle?

Since taking office, President Barack Obama has spoken out or issued statements about 15 mass shootings. The most recent shooting, in which 10 people were killed at a community college, sparked outrage over the nation's gun laws. But changing those laws isn't as easy as many think. VOA's Carolyn Presutti reports.

Video Hungary Criticized for Handling of Refugees

Amnesty International has accused Hungary of breaking multiple international and European human rights laws in its handling of the refugee crisis. As Henry Ridgwell reports, thousands of migrants and refugees continue to travel through the Balkans to Hungary every day.

Video Iraqi-Kurdish Teachers Vow to Continue Protest

Sixteen people were injured when police used tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse teachers and other public employees who took to the streets in Iraq’s Kurdish north, demanding their salaries from the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG). VOA’s Dilshad Anwar, in Sulaimaniya, caught up with protesting teachers who say they have not been paid for three months. Parke Brewer narrates his report.

Video Syrian Village Community Faces Double Displacement in Lebanon

Driven by war from their village in southwestern Syria, a group of families found shelter in Lebanon, resettling en masse in a half-built university to form one of the biggest settlements of its kind in Lebanon. Three years later, however, they now face being kicked out and dispersed in a country where finding shelter as a refugee can be especially tough. John Owens has more for VOA from the city of Saida, also known as Sidon.

Video Bat Colony: Unusual Tourist Attraction in Texas

The action hero Batman might be everyone’s favorite but real bats hardly get that kind of adoration. Put more than a million of these creatures of the night together and it only evokes images of horror. Sarah Zaman visited the largest urban bat colony in North America to see just how well bat and human get along with each other.

Video Device Shows Promise of Stopping Motion Sickness

It’s a sickening feeling — the dizziness, nausea and vomiting that comes with motion sickness. But a device now being developed could stop motion sickness by suppressing certain signals in the brain. VOA’s Deborah Block reports.

Video Making a Mint

While apples, corn, and cranberries top the list of fall produce in the US, it’s also the time to harvest gum, candy, and toothpaste—or at least the oil that makes them minty fresh. Erika Celeste reports from South Bend, Indiana on the mint harvest.

Video Activists Decry Lagos Slum Demolition

Acting on a court order, authorities in Nigeria demolished a slum last month in the commercial capital, Lagos. But human rights activists say the order was illegal, and the community was razed to make way for a government housing project. Chris Stein has more from Lagos.

Video TPP Agreed, But Faces Stiff Opposition

President Barack Obama promoted the Trans-Pacific Partnership on Tuesday, one day after 12 Pacific Rim nations reached the free trade deal in Atlanta. The controversial pact that would involve about 40 percent of global trade still needs approval by lawmakers in respective countries. Zlatica Hoke reports Obama is facing strong opposition to the deal, including from members of his own party.

Video Ukranian Artist Portrays Putin in an Unusual Way

As Russian President Vladimir Putin was addressing the United Nations in New York last month, he was also being featured in an art exhibition in Washington. It’s not a flattering exhibit. It’s done by a Ukrainian artist in a unique medium. And its creator says it’s not only a work of art - it’s a political statement. VOA’s Tetiana Kharchenko has more.

VOA Blogs