Over the past three decades, income inequality has gone up in most advanced economies and in many developing ones as well. Why? Much of the research on inequality has focused on advances in technology and liberalization of trade as the main drivers. While technology and trade are global trends that are difficult to resist, IMF studies have shown that the design of government policies matters and can help limit increases in inequality. (more…)
Growth is essential for improving the lives of people in low-income countries, and it should benefit all parts of society.
Traveling through Africa in the last few days, I have been amazed by the vitality I have witnessed: business startups investing in the future, new infrastructure under construction, and a growing middle class. Many Africans are now making a better living and fewer are suffering from poverty. My current host, Uganda, for example, has more than halved its absolute poverty rate to about 35 percent from close to 90 percent in 1990.
But we have also seen a flip side. Poverty, of course, but inequality as well remain stubbornly high in most developing countries, including in Africa, and too often success is not shared by all. (more…)
When meeting with people outside Africa, I’m often asked whether Africa’s growth takeoff since the mid-1990s has been simply a “commodity story”—a ride fueled by windfall gains from high commodity prices. But finance ministers and other policymakers in the region, and I was one of them, know that the story is richer than that.
In this spirit, in our latest Regional Economic Outlook: Sub-Saharan Africa a team of economists from the IMF’s African Department show that Africa’s continued success is more than a commodity story. In fact, quite a few economies in the region have become high performers without basing their success on natural resources—thanks in no small part to sound policymaking.
Sub-Saharan Africa is the second fastest-growing region of the world today, trailing only developing Asia. This is remarkable compared to the current complicated state of the global economy, with Europe still struggling and the United States slowly on the mend.
In 2012, Sub-Saharan Africa maintained solid growth, with output growth at 5 percent on average. The factors that have supported the region through the Great Recession—strong investment, favorable commodity prices, and generally prudent macroeconomic management—continued to be at play.
Governments in low-income countries are having to deal with a lot of bad news these days. Slow growth in the advanced economies is dampening demand for their exports and affecting inflows of investment, aid, and remittances. Changes in credit conditions elsewhere influence the availability of trade finance. Volatility in commodity prices creates problems for both importers and exporters. Meanwhile, climactic and other natural disasters continue to occur at the local and regional level.
Economists care about growth. Governments care about what it can achieve: more jobs and more income for more people. An increasing number of African countries have been growing robustly for more than a decade. But while growth is a necessary condition for poverty reduction and employment creation, is it also sufficient?
I believe that Africa’s needs must be fully reflected in any global response to this unprecedented recession. With similar intentions, leading policymakers and stakeholders in Africa gathered in Tanzania last March to discuss how to work with the IMF on this. Under the leadership of President Kikwete and IMF Managing Director Strauss-Kahn, the participants agreed to build a new, stronger partnership.
More than just rhetoric, these common goals included the IMF seeking more resources for Africa and reacting more rapidly, responsively, and flexibly. While much remains to be done, I think it is a fair to say that we have achieved a remarkable amount on both fronts—more in fact than I could have imagined when I started in my job just a little over a year ago.
As a reminder, the IMF agreed to mobilize $17 billion through 2014 for lending to low income countries, mostly in Africa—trebling our lending capacity to these countries. This goes far beyond the promise given by our Managing Director in Tanzania to seek a doubling of concessional resources. The financial terms of IMF support have also become more concessional, with zero interest until the end of 2011, and will remain more concessional thereafter.
And the IMF has moved quickly to deploy these resources in Africa. Among international institutions, it has an extraordinary capacity to react early to a country’s needs, as I know from my own experience as a policymaker in my home country of Liberia. Indeed, in the first eight months of 2009, we committed over $3 billion in new resources to countries in sub-Saharan Africa, trebling the total stock of outstanding commitments this year alone.
Last week, my colleague Hugh Bredenkamp talked about how the IMF is helping the low-income countries overcome the global economic crisis. This week, I want to follow this theme, but hone in more on sub-Saharan Africa. I know this region reasonably well, both from current and past vantage points. In my present role, I am the director of the IMF’s African department. Previously, I was minister of finance in Liberia and, before that, I spent a significant part of my long World Bank career working on African countries. Grappling with the kinds of economic challenges that affect the lives of millions of Africans is a passion for me.
In this first post, I want to talk about growth prospects for Africa. Let’s take a step backwards. Before the global recession, sub-Saharan Africa was generally booming. Output grew by about 6½ percent a year between 2002 and 2007—the highest rate in more than 30 years. This acceleration was broader than ever before, going beyond the typical short-lived commodity driven booms and touching many more countries. Hopes were high that the region was slowly but surely turning the corner.
Then, in a great reversal of fortune, the global economy went into a tail-spin. Initially, we hoped that the fallout in Africa would be limited. And, indeed, when the global financial tsunami made landfall, it first hit the relatively small number of countries with well-developed financial linkages to international capital markets. South Africa in particular faced difficult challenges as portfolio outflows spiked. Together with Ghana, Uganda and several other frontier markets, its currency plunged, confidence dipped, and foreign direct investment slowed.
But the impact didn’t stop there. Falling export demand and commodity prices battered economic activity in many more countries, including oil exporters in western and central Africa, causing fiscal and external balances to deteriorate significantly. Remittances from the diaspora shrank and credit dried up. The result, in many countries, was stalled growth.