There are many reasons why deeper financial development—the increase in deposits and loans but also their accessibility and improved financial sector efficiency—is good for sustainable growth in sub-Saharan Africa. For one, it helps mobilize savings and to direct funds into productive uses, for example by providing the start-up capital for the next innovative enterprise. This in turn facilitates a more efficient allocation of resources and increases overall productivity.
The sub-Saharan Africa region is facing severe shocks associated with the steep decline in commodity prices and tightening global financial conditions. Against this background, it’s a good time to look back at the region’s recent growth experience and examine the relationship between growth rates and competitiveness. The extent to which sub-Saharan African companies are able to compete against their foreign competitors (that is, the extent to which they are competitive) could indeed play a role in sustaining growth going ahead.
If, as has been observed, demography is destiny, this will be the African century.
Most countries in sub-Saharan Africa are on the cusp of a demographic transition—the years when the share of young and old in the population declines and those in working age range (15-64 years) increases.
Elsewhere, this transition has generally been accompanied by higher savings, incomes, and economic growth. Our latest Regional Economic Outlook for sub-Saharan Africa looks at how the transition might play out and the implications for economic policies.
Tremendous efforts are under way to upgrade sub-Saharan Africa’s infrastructure. But the needs on the ground are still immense as evidenced by the frequent electricity blackouts, poor roads, and insufficient access to clean water in many countries.
Infrastructure is one of the key challenges facing policymakers in the region—I experienced it first hand when I was finance minister of Liberia before coming to the IMF. The benefits are fairly clear: with improved infrastructure, new growth opportunities in the manufacturing and services sector can be generated, barriers to intraregional trade can be reduced, and economies will be better positioned to transition from low to higher productivity activities. Without improved infrastructure, I fear the increase in productivity and greater economic diversification necessary to sustain Africa’s current growth momentum will not materialize.
In this spirit, in the latest Regional Economic Outlook: Sub-Saharan Africa economists from the IMF’s African Department looked at progress so far in addressing the infrastructure deficit and discussed policies needed going forward.
In my many travels to sub-Saharan Africa, a frequent question on the lips of policymakers is the following: “Sure, we know that growth has not been inclusive enough and poverty remains high in most of our countries, but what exactly can we do to make growth more inclusive?” This is an important question that the latest edition of the Regional Economic Outlook for sub-Saharan Africa takes a stab at.
It is well known by now that growth in sub-Saharan Africa for the past 15 years or so has on average been quite strong. What is less well known perhaps is that a number of human development indicators such as infant and maternal mortality, primary school enrollment and completion rates, have also improved (see Chart 1).
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Once again, the latest review of growth prospects for sub-Saharan Africa shows that the region’s economy is in strong health. Growth in the region is set to pick up to 5½ percent in 2014 compared to 4.9 percent last year (see Chart 1). My view is that this growth momentum will continue over the medium term if countries rise to new challenges and manage their economies as dexterously as they have over the past decade or so.
So what explains this continued strong growth performance? Apart from good macroeconomic policies in the region, the growth has been underpinned by investment in infrastructure, mining, and strong agricultural output. And favorable global tailwinds—high demand for commodities and low interest rates—have played a major supporting role.
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.
Suddenly it's the thing everyone is talking about. Income inequality. In North Africa and the Middle East, jobless youth sparked the Arab Spring. In the United States, the growing gap between rich and poor is the “meta concern” of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Worldwide, frustrations appear to be on the rise. And, in sub-Saharan Africa, sustained economic growth may have produced tremendous advances, but a large proportion of the population is still living in poverty. Here, the underlying situation is a little more complex. In July, I wrote about the importance of inclusive growth and whether economic growth was a necessary or a sufficient condition for poverty reduction. Our latest Regional Economic Outlook for Sub-Saharan Africa takes that thinking a step further, with new analysis that looks at how living standards for the poorest households have actually been changing in some countries in the region.
Sub-Saharan Africa’s “frontier markets”—the likes of Ghana, Kenya, Mauritius, and Zambia—were seemingly the destination of choice for an increasing amount of capital flows before the global financial crisis. Improving economic prospects in these countries was a big factor, but frankly, so too was a global economy awash with liquidity. Then the crisis hit. And capital—particularly in the form of portfolio flows—was quick to flee these countries as was the case for so many other economies. Fast forward to 2011. Capital flows are coming back to the frontier, but in dribs and drabs. In our recent Regional Economic Outlook we examined the experience of sub-Saharan Africa’s frontier markets, with a view to understanding how they can best make use of these inflow to meet their own development and growth objectives.
Like many economists, I tend to fear the worst. I have witnessed phenomenal changes for the better in sub-Saharan Africa over the past 20 odd years. Part of me still worries that this trajectory will not endure. But, the more I see of the region’s economic performance and outlook, the more I’m changing my tune. Good macroeconomic policies in many more countries the years before the crisis put them in good stead to weather the crisis relatively well. As we report in our latest Regional Economic Outlook, output in sub-Saharan Africa looks set to expand by around 5½ this year and 6 percent in 2012. My latest worry is the recent sharp increase in food and fuel prices on world markets. To help minimize the dislocation that this shock may entail, countries should consider a two-pronged policy response.