WASHINGTON, April 14, 2014—The World Bank cautioned on April 12th against any complacency in tackling Africa’s enduring development challenges.
The warning came even as the World Bank praised Africa for being on course to mark 20 years of substantial growth with the region forecast to post a GDP growth rate of 5.1% in 2014.
“The last two decades have been very good for Africa which continues to reverse decades of decline vis-à-vis other regions of the world,” the Chief Economist for the Africa Region at the World Bank Francisco (Chico) Ferreira told a jammed-to-capacity auditorium of delegates attending this weekend’s Spring Meetings of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF) in Washington, DC.
Speaking at the same event, the Central Bank Governor of Tanzania, Benno Ndulu said Africa’s last two decades of growth “represent a quantum jump” especially when compared against the average annual growth rate of 0.8 percent posted by the continent over a 34-year period, from 1960 to 1994.
Mr. Ndulu revisited an old economic yardstick for Africa: “Sub-Saharan Africa’s economy,” he recalled, “used to be compared to Belgium’s only to point out that Africa’s economy was smaller than Belgium’s.”
Well – not anymore! According to Mr. Ndulu, “the GDP of Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) is now $1.7 trillion, while Belgium’s is $500 billion, meaning that the SSA economy is now three times bigger than Belgium’s.” The African economy, he added, is now bigger than Australia’s (estimated at $1.5 trillion) and is about the same size as the economies of Canada and India.
“Africa’s problem going forward is not only to invest more, but to invest better,” according to Jean-Claude Brou, the Industry and Mining Minister from Cote d’Ivoire, who spoke on behalf of Prime Minister Daniel Kablan Duncan.
Africa’s growth is not yet a tide that is lifting all boats. While the middle-income countries in Africa has risen from six in 1995 to 23 in 2013, inequalities have expanded and Africans today enjoy less than one-twentieth of the living standards of Europeans.
All is not bad news, though. Africa’s GDP per capita has expanded 40 percent since 1995. Some of the fastest per capita growers include Equatorial Guinea (15.7 percent increase in the last 17 years); Liberia with a 23 percent increase over the last seven years; Mauritius with above 3.9 percent increase for the past 29 years; and resource-poor Burkina Faso, whose per capita income has risen over the last 18 years.