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Africa’s Pulse in Five Charts: Boosting Resilience Through Social Protection

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Boosting Resilience Through Social Protection

Since emerging from its first recession in 25 years, economic growth in Sub-Saharan Africa is estimated at 4% in 2021, up by 0.7 percentage point from the October 2021 projections, and up from -2.0% in 2020. However, growth recovery in the region has slowed in the second half of 2021 due to the impact of the Delta COVID-19 variant, elevated debt levels in many countries, lingering supply bottlenecks, the plateauing of metal and mineral prices, rising inflation and tightening financial conditions.


Africa’s Pulse is a bi-annual publication of the Office of the Chief Economist in the World Bank Africa Region. It analyzes the short term economic prospects for the continent and current development challenges, as well as a special development topic.


The latest edition of Africa’s Pulse says growth recovery has slowed as the region faces new economic threats, including new COVID-19 (coronavirus) variants, global inflation, supply disruptions and climate shocks. These challenges are compounded by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which has led to increasing international prices on commodities, particularly food staples, fertilizers, oil and gas. As global inflationary pressures increase, African economies are also faced with the likelihood that advanced economies will withdraw the policy stimulus deployed at the start of the pandemic.

Since emerging from its first recession in 25 years, economic growth in Sub-Saharan Africa is estimated at 4% in 2021, up by 0.7 percentage point from the October 2021 projections, and up from -2.0% in 2020. However, growth recovery in the region has slowed in the second half of 2021 due to the impact of the Delta COVID-19 variant, elevated debt levels in many countries, lingering supply bottlenecks, the plateauing of metal and mineral prices, rising inflation and tightening financial conditions.

Here are the top five highlights from the April 2022 issue:

1.       Economic Outlook

Growth in Sub-Saharan Africa is projected to decelerate from 4% to 3.6% in 2022, and estimated at 3.9% or 4.2% in 2023 and 2024 respectively. The growth deceleration in 2022 reflects several short-term headwinds, the slowdown in the global economy, lingering effects of the coronavirus pandemic, elevated inflation, rising financial risks owing to high public debts reaching unsustainable levels, continued supply disruptions, and the war in Ukraine. Of the region’s three largest economies, South Africa’s growth is expected to decline by 2.8 percentage points in 2022, dragged by persistent structural constraints, while Angola and Nigeria are projected to continue with the momentum of 2021, up by 2.7 and 0.2 percentage points, respectively, thanks partly to elevated oil prices and good performance of the non-oil sector.

Pulse SM 22 Figure 1.41
Source: World Bank staff projections. Note: Change in inventories and statistical discrepancy are not displayed in figure 1.41. e = estimate; f = forecast; GDP = gross domestic product.

Pulse SM 22 Figure 1.42
Source: World Bank staff projections.

2.       COVID-19 Recent Developments

After two years of the pandemic crisis, Suh-Saharan Africa seems to have avoided the catastrophic health scenario predicted by experts, although limited testing capacity may cause an underestimation of the spread of COVID-19. Around eight million cases of COVID-19 and more than 169,000 deaths were registered, mostly in Eastern and Southern Africa subregion, compared to early predictions that as many as 70 million Africans would be infected by June 2020 and more than three million deaths. The number of fatalities, hospitalizations, and intensive care unit admissions have remained low on the continent throughout the recent Omicron wave of the pandemic, suggesting a potential end to the emergency phase of the pandemic. However, it is important to continue surveillance of the pandemic as new variants may arise, and the long-term effects of COVID-19 are being assessed.

Pulse SM 22 Figure 1.5
Source: Our World in Data, Coronavirus Pandemic (COVID-19 Statistics). Note: Data are as of March 20, 2022. The figures present seven-day averages of new daily cases and deaths in the region.

Pulse SM 22 Figure 1.6
Source: Our World in Data, Coronavirus Pandemic (COVID-19 Statistics). Note: Data are as of March 20, 2022. The figures present seven-day averages of new daily cases and deaths in the region.

3.       COVID-19 Vaccine Rollout

Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) has been disproportionately affected by the inadequate vaccine rollout of coronavirus vaccines, and vaccine hesitancy and logistical challenges have contributed to low vaccine rates. As of mid-February 2022, the continent had received nearly 669 million doses, nearly 6% of all vaccines, and administered 405 million. According to the African Centers for Disease Control, nearly 10% of the population of SSA is fully vaccinated, compared to 64% in the United States, and 85% in Great Britain. Only eight countries in SSA exceeded the World Health Organization target of 40% of the population with a first dose of the vaccine by end-2021, and the probability of most countries reaching the 70% target by mid-2022 is very small.  As access to vaccines improves, enhancing the logistics associated with getting doses into arms and overcoming vaccine hesitancy among the population are critical.

Pulse SM 22 Figure 1.10
Source: Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention. Note: Vaccination figures are as of March 17, 2022. The dotted lines represent the World Health Organization targets of full primary immunization against coronavirus of 40 percent by end-2021 and 70 percent by mid-2022.

4.       Implications of Ukraine-Russia Conflict for Sub-Saharan Africa

As the conflict in Ukraine continues, it is likely to affect Sub-Saharan economies through a number of direct and indirect channels associated with foreign trade and persistently high commodity prices on food fuel and headline inflation, tightening global financial conditions, and smaller flows of foreign financing into the region.  Given the sources of growth in the region and the nature of economic linkages with Russia and Ukraine, the war in Ukraine might have a marginal impact on economic growth and overall poverty—as it is affecting mostly the urban poor and vulnerable people living just above the poverty line. However, its largest impact is on the increasing likelihood of civil strife as a result of food- and energy-fueled inflation amid an environment of heightened political instability. Despite the low exposure to overall trade with Russia and Ukraine, some countries are highly exposed to the price of cereals, and more specifically wheat, edible oils especially sunflower seed oil, and fertilizers. Although all households will be affected by rising food inflation, poorer households of countries with high shares of national food expenditure will suffer most.

Pulse SM 22 Figure 1.12
Source: International Trade Centre (ITC) data.

Pulse SM 22 Figure 1.19
Source: International Household Survey Network (IHSN). Note: Low, medium, and high food spending propensity is defined by the 33 and 67 percentiles of the distribution of the national food budget share across 38 countries in the region. Budget shares do not account for household production.

5.       Looking Ahead: Strengthening Social Protection in Africa

Sub-Saharan Africa has seen a remarkable expansion in access to social safety net programs over the past two decades. The expansion of social safety accelerated during and in the aftermath of the global food, fuel, and financial crises of the 2000s. Just prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, 45 countries in Sub-Saharan Africa—three times as many as those at the end of the 1990s—had introduced social safety net programs to tackle chronic poverty by increasing consumption among poor and vulnerable people. There is strong evidence on the positive impacts and cost-effectiveness of social protection for poverty reduction, human capital formation, job creation, resilience building, and female empowerment. At the same time, the recent pandemic experience has also demonstrated the critical role social protection plays in responding to covariate shocks such as those resulting from epidemics, climate change and natural disasters, or conflict. Social protection programs should continue building the resilience of poor and vulnerable households by supporting them in investing in productive assets and human capital. Choosing the right mix of social protection instruments (from cash transfers to public works to productive economic inclusion measures) will be paramount. Such tools can protect and enhance households’ education, nutrition, and health, while allowing communities to make better use of their natural resources and promoting investments in productive assets for income-generating activities.

The COVID-19 experience reinforces the urgency of building on the existing social protection platforms toward achieving greater resilience, more opportunities, and broader equity.

Pulse SM 22 Figure 2.21
Source: ASPIRE data presented in Beegle, Coudouel, and Monsalve 2018.