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Inequality threatens Africa’s growth

The 2012 Africa Progress Report, launched by the Africa Progress Panel, warns that Africa’s strong economic growth trajectory – which will see the region increase the pace of growth well beyond 5% over the next two years – is at risk because of rising inequality and the marginalisation of whole sections of society.
Kofi Annan, chair of the Africa Progress Panel, states in the report that: “Disparities in basic life-chances – for health, education and participation in society – are preventing millions of Africans from realising their potential, holding back social and economic progress in the process.”
The report notes that Africa has seven of the world’s fastest-growing economies, with 70% of Africa’s population living in countries that have averaged economic growth rates in excess of 4% over the past decade. However, the report also records that most countries are not on track to achieve the Millennium Development Goals by 2015, flagging slow progress in areas such as child nutrition, child survival, maternal health, and education.
The need for equitable growth is all the more critical, the report states, because of Africa’s “profound demographic shift”, which will see the continent’s population double in three decades, and continue to rise into the second half of the twenty first century. The report highlights that today there are 70 million more Africans aged under 14 than there were a decade ago. Over the next decade that number will rise by another 76 million.
The report calls for a “relentless focus” by policy makers on jobs, justice and equity to ensure sustainable, shared growth that benefits all Africans. Failure to generate equitable growth could result in “a demographic disaster marked by rising levels of youth employment, social dislocation and hunger.” Africa’s governments and development partners must urgently draw up plans for a big push towards the 2015 Millennium Development Goals, the report says.
The panel’s report identifies a range of challenges demanding urgent action on the part of governments, including:
Youth employment: Africa’s youth population (15 – 24 year olds) will rise from 133 million at the start of the century to 246 million by 2020 – requiring another 74 million jobs over the next decade simply to prevent youth unemployment from rising. The report sets out an agenda for raising skills and generating rural jobs through off-farm employment.
Smallholder agriculture: In the absence of a concerted effort to raise the productivity of smallholder agriculture, the report cautions that Africa will remain vulnerable to food security crises. It identifies ‘land grabs’ by foreign investors and speculators as a major threat and urges African governments to consider stronger regulation.
Education: The report calls for urgent action to tackle what it describes as a ‘twin crisis’ in access and learning. With 30 million children out of school and many of those in school failing to master basic literacy, Africa is ill-equipped to generate jobs and take its place in a knowledge-based global economy. The report calls for a strengthened focus on education and the creation of appropriate funding mechanisms.

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