In recent years, global rates of extreme poverty categorised as subsistence on less than $1.90 (€1.64) a day, have witnessed a remarkable plunge. The count has plummeted from a staggering 1.9 billion in 1990 to approximately 736 million in the present day. Nevertheless, a troubling reality lurks beneath these numbers: about 413 million African individuals are trapped in extreme poverty, accounting for more than half of the global total.
The Disturbing Rise of Poverty in Sub-Saharan Africa
In an intriguing yet disturbing twist, Sub-Saharan Africa remains the only region in the world where the sheer number of individuals living in extreme poverty is witnessing an escalation rather than a contraction, as highlighted by the World Bank’s latest poverty and shared prosperity report.
The Dire Consequences of Conflict and Fragility
Undeniably, conflict, institutional fragility, and violence are intricately linked with surges in poverty. These issues, quite sadly, are rampant in numerous African nations. Prominent examples include the Central African Republic, South Sudan, and Somalia, where the lack of law and order significantly impedes progress and accentuates poverty in the region.
The Role of Rapid Population Growth and Economic Disparities
Another contributing factor to Africa’s poverty problem is the region’s rapid population growth, particularly noticeable in the Sahel and parts of West Africa. This swift expansion in numbers invariably coincides with a rise in poverty levels. Additionally, when compared over extended periods, economic growth in Africa has notably lagged behind other regions like Asia. It is also worth mentioning that the growth witnessed in Africa has been lower and less pro-poor, needing to be more effective at reaching the impoverished and improving their conditions.
The Impact of Conflict and Dependence on Extractive Industries
The pervasive conflict across Africa, coupled with a heavy reliance on extractive industries, has further fuelled the region’s poverty rates. Whether Nigeria’s dependency on oil, Zambia’s reliance on copper, or the DRC’s dependence on a myriad of minerals, many African countries remain firmly anchored to their extractive industries. This dependence creates an economy that doesn’t have many linkages to the rest of the economy and hence doesn’t adequately benefit the local population.
Towards Economic Diversification and Inclusive Growth
To address this issue, it is imperative to rethink growth strategies. Efforts need to be directed either towards shifting the growth pattern towards sectors and regions where people experiencing poverty reside or towards redistributing the benefits of growth by investing in human capital and infrastructure services.
Diversifying the economy is particularly crucial in countries heavily reliant on one or a few extractive industries. Sustainable, long-term growth can be derived from extractive industries if the benefits are channelled back into more sustainable resources.
Investing in Human Capital and Infrastructure
An effective route to prosperity, as evidenced by nations like Germany, Denmark, or the US, is to invest in educating, nurturing, and enhancing the productivity of the populace. This strategy must be replicated in Africa beyond merely constructing schools or healthcare facilities. It’s about ensuring these establishments are adequately staffed and functional, investing in infrastructure like roads and reliable electricity that can genuinely enhance productivity.
Fostering Democratic Governance and Rule of Law
It’s crucial to understand that these efforts will yield minimal results if not underpinned by solid democratic governance and the rule of law. Regardless of the economic growth witnessed in Africa, its impact on poverty reduction has needed to be more active when compared to other regions or countries.
Despite these challenges, there have been glimmers of hope. Ethiopia, for instance, has exhibited commendable economic performance and has made strides in diversifying its economy and reducing poverty, despite the political hurdles it continues to face.
Lessons from Success Stories
Drawing lessons from success stories outside Africa, countries like China and Vietnam have made significant strides in implementing pro-poor growth strategies. Interestingly, these strategies could be tailored to fit the African context, particularly in rural regions where extreme poverty is prevalent and where people primarily engage in low-productivity agriculture.
Investments targeting these rural areas can bring about a significant reduction in extreme poverty. As a case in point, the electrification of a previously unconnected village or the construction of new wells can drastically cut down the hours women spend collecting water, leading to meaningful improvements in their quality of life.
A Foreseeable Future: Dire or Hopeful?
Suppose African countries continue on their current trajectory. In that case, projections for 2030 indicate that poverty in sub-Saharan Africa could still stand at a high of 25 per cent, while in the rest of the world, it might be as low as 2 per cent.
However, this isn’t an inescapable fate. Africa, with its vibrant, creative, and entrepreneurial population, has the potential to transform its fortunes radically. To effect this transformation, Africa needs to invest in improving governance quality, human capital, and infrastructure, which, in turn, can lead to a more diversified and inclusive economy.
Despite the grim statistics, hope pervades the African landscape, powered by its people, whose ingenuity and resilience could propel the continent to a future where poverty is the exception, not the rule.