Africa: Jobs, Justice and Equity

African growth
Africa is projected to maintain strong growth

Africa is rising and African economies are growing faster than those of almost any other region in the world. However, the current pattern of trickle-down growth is not benefitting many people stuck in a spiral of poverty. Indeed, benefits measured by poverty reduction, maternal mortality and childhood survival fall far short of what Africans have a right to expect.

The 2012 Africa Progress Report, which will be launched next week during the World Economic Forum on Africa in Addis Ababa, looks at the issues around jobs, justice and equity that are needed to ensure that Africa’s impressive economic growth is translated into shared growth for all Africans.

Commentary on Africa has swung from episodes of pessimism to bouts of euphoria. In the early 2000s, after a decade of slow economic growth and even slower human development, The Economist called Africa “the hopeless continent”. Last year, The Economist ran with a very different headline: “Africa rising: the hopeful continent”. Another widely cited report noted that Africa has now become a continent of economic “lions on the move”. Others have focused on Africa’s “rising middle class”, the “dynamic African consumer market”, and “growth opportunities for investors”.

In the forthcoming 2012 Africa Progress Report, the Africa Progress Panel will argue that the current wave of unchecked optimism surrounding Africa is as misplaced as the extreme pessimism expressed a decade ago. Despite the real gains made, after a decade of strong economic growth, there are still deep and enduring inequalities in evidence across the continent. These inequalities are ethically indefensible, economically inefficient, and politically destabilizing.

The future is never entirely predictable – but there are three areas, covered in detail in the report, in which the Panel believes that policy failure today will have highly predictable, and damaging, consequences for the future.

The first is youth unemployment, which renders countries increasingly vulnerable to political and social instabilities. Africa must reap its demographic dividend to harness youth potential and create just and prosperous societies. The second area that requires urgent policy attention is smallholder farmers, where there is potential for dramatically increased productivity and employment. The third area is a final push towards achieving the 2015 Millennium Development Goals.

Africa was never a “hopeless continent”. It was – and remains – a region of immense potential, much of it unfulfilled. With decisive and more transparent leadership and sustained and transparent support from aid partners and the private sector, there is now an opportunity to unlock that potential and to set course for a future of shared prosperity, more equal opportunity, and greater political stability.

The 2012 Africa Progress Report will be launched at the World Economic Forum on Africa in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia on 11 May 2012.

Caroline Kende-Robb is the Executive Director of the Africa Progress Panel, a group of distinguished individuals, chaired by Kofi Annan, dedicated to encouraging progress in Africa.