Africa’s Pulse: Global Economic Weakness Continues to be a Drag on Africa’s Economic Growth

Latest Issue: 
  • April 2016


  • The latest Africa’s Pulse shows economic growth in Sub-Saharan Africa decelerated to 3.0% in 2015 from 4.5% in 2014
  • The plunge in global commodity prices, particularly in the price of oil underpin the region’s subdued performance
  • Urbanization and well-managed cities provide an opportunity for economic diversification and growth

WASHINGTON, April 11, 2016 – Amid falling commodity prices and continuing weakness in global growth, Sub-Saharan Africa’s gross domestic product (GDP) growth decelerated to an estimated 3.0% in 2015 from 4.5% in 2014, according to the latest World Bank projections. This low pace of growth, which translates into an increase in the region’s GDP per capita of less than 0.5%, was last seen in 2009 following the global financial crisis, and contrasts sharply with the robust 6.8% average annual GDP growth in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) from 2003-2008. 

These latest figures are outlined in the World Bank’s new Africa’s Pulse, the twice-yearly analysis of economic trends and the latest data on the continent. The analysis shows that the slowdown comes amidst a sharp drop in global commodity prices, weak global growth that was underpinned by a slowing of growth in emerging market economies, including China, and volatile financial markets.

The fall in commodity prices represents a significant shock for the region, as fuels, ore and metals account for more than 60% of the region’s exports. The impact is seen most in oil-exporting countries, where average growth is estimated to have slowed from 5.4% in 2014 to 2.9% in 2015. Growth fell sharply in Nigeria, the Republic of Congo, and Equatorial Guinea. Activity also weakened significantly in non-energy mineral-exporting countries, including Botswana, Sierra Leone, South Africa and Zambia. In several commodity exporters, adverse domestic developments, such as electricity shortages, severe drought conditions, policy uncertainty, and security threats, exacerbated the direct impact of declining commodity prices.

There were some bright spots, mostly among oil importers, where economic activity remained robust. Côte d’Ivoire saw broad-based growth, supported by a favorable policy environment, rising investment, and increased consumer spending. Ethiopia and Rwanda continued to post solid growth, supported by public infrastructure investment, private consumption, and a growing services sector. Elsewhere, growth remained buoyant in Kenya, amid improving economic stability; Tanzania registered strong growth, underpinned by expansion in construction and services sectors.  

Africa’s Pulse finds that the recent commodity price drops have deteriorated the region’s terms of trade in 2016 by an estimated 16%, with commodity exporters seeing large terms-of-trade losses. Some 12 countries, housing nearly 36% of the region’s population and representing about half of its economic activity, are considered vulnerable in terms-of-trade losses that are expected to exceed 10%. About 17 countries with more than 25% of SSA’s population, fall into the group of countries with terms-of-trade gains.

With commodity prices expected to remain low for longer amid a gradual pickup in global activity, the Pulse forecasts that average growth in the region will remain subdued at 3.3% in 2016. For 2017–18, growth is projected to average 4.5%. The projected pickup in activity in 2017–18 reflects a gradual improvement in the region’s largest economies—Angola, Nigeria, and South Africa—as commodity prices stabilize and policies become more supportive of growth.

“With external conditions likely to remain less favorable than in the past, African countries need to accelerate the pace of structural reforms aimed at boosting competitiveness and diversification,” said Punam Chuhan-Pole, World Bank Africa acting chief economist and author of the report. “In most countries this will mean improving the business climate, reducing the cost of cross-border trade, reforming the energy sector to ensure affordable, reliable, and sustainable energy services, and making the financial sector more inclusive.”

Looking Ahead

The rapid decline in oil and commodity prices has signaled an urgent need for economic diversification in Africa. Africa’s Pulse examines the spatial development of African cities, and finds that well-managed cities provide a major opportunity for much needed economic diversification. Today cities in Africa are crowded, disconnected, and costly for families and for companies, according to World Bank research. To build cities that work policy makers will need to direct attention toward the deeper structural problems that misallocate land, fragment development, and limit productivity.

The Report’s Key Messages

  • Global growth has been weak, and the external environment facing Sub-Saharan Africa is expected to remain difficult in the near-term. Commodity prices are expected to remain low and volatile and external financing conditions are expected to tighten.
  • Key policy challenges to the region’s economies include adjusting to a new, lower level of commodity prices, addressing economic vulnerabilities, and developing new sources of sustainable, inclusive growth.
  • Africa now has a narrow window of opportunity to harness the power of cities as engines of economic growth. But for urbanization to bring the benefits that it should, governments should reform land markets and urban regulations to enable investment and development, and coordinate early infrastructure investments. Cities must offer services, amenities, and housing for the poor and the middle class.
  • Successful urbanization will also support Africa’s agricultural and rural transformation by effectively absorbing the labor being released by these sectors; by providing a market for agricultural produce; and by financing further transformation and commercialization.
  • For most countries in the region, the adjustment to the low commodity prices will need to include stronger efforts to strengthen domestic resource mobilization to reduce overdependence on revenue from the resource sector.
  • Sharp commodity price drops have deteriorated the region’s terms of trade in 2016 by an estimated 16%, with commodity exporters seeing large terms-of-trade losses.