By Saikou Suwareh Jabai
The UNDP Resident Representative, Ms. Ade Mamonyane Lekoetje, citing the recently launched African Economic Outlook Report in The Gambia, said Africa’s rapid population growth, combined with climate change, will exert increasing pressure on natural resources, such as food, water and land.
The UNDP Rep noted that the continent’s demographic boom is exacerbating these challenges, adding that by 2050, both cities and rural communities in Africa will see their population grow drastically, with the countryside gaining an estimated 400 million people.
She said the report states that over the next 15 years, 370 million youth will enter sub-Saharan Africa’s labor markets, making it necessary to create more job opportunities.
The UNDP representative said Africa’s poverty rates remain stubbornly high while progress in health, education and income are uneven, adding that huge inequalities persist between and within countries and between women and men. In many areas, she noted, low productivity and investment, the absence of infrastructure and rural-urban networks and limited jobs outside of the agricultural sector are holding back economic and development progress.
“In order to address exclusion, urban poverty and inequality, particularly in human settlements, concerted actions are needed for: effective participation and equitable resource allocation in human settlements; effective social services and infrastructure for all urban residents; .skills enhancement and access to jobs for women and youth; and addressing emerging environmental resource constraints and climate vulnerability,” she noted.
Ms. Lekoetje said the report reveals that African countries have made steady progress with gains in education, health and living standards and that the human development levels in Africa have increased since 2000, with 17 out of 52 countries reaching middle or high levels of development. She said Africa currently ranks third behind East Asia and South Asia in terms of the annual percentage change in human development since 1990 but the pace of progress varies by country and sub-region.
“The report also argues that past efforts to promote regional development through territorial management, infrastructure development and decentralization have been scattered and had limited impact. As a result, the potential of Africa’s regions, which includes river basins, border areas and key rural-urban corridors, remains unfulfilled. African economies could benefit from mobilizing the wide and extraordinary untapped potential of their diverse regions. Putting people and places at the center of policy-making may improve Africa’s competitiveness and the well-being of Africans,” she revealed.
Ms. Lekoetje noted that the report further highlights that the transforming economies will require exploring more productive sectors, through promoting manufacturing, developing services, creating strategies for green growth or modernizing the agricultural sector.
The UNDP Rep advised that for future growth to be sustainable and transformative, concerted efforts are required to ensure that benefits are shared more equitably among the population and that governments continue to pursue policies that promote economic stability.
She added: “Foreign direct investment (FDI) is forecasted to reach USD 73.5 billion in 2015, underpinned by increasing Greenfield investment from China- which remains Africa’s largest trade partner after the European Union. The report also shows an increase in intra-African and outward FDI flows. South African companies are the leading investors on the continent.”
Although growth varies by country and sub-region, she maintained that Africa is still the second fastest growing region with 6 countries amongst the fastest growing in the world with Cote d’lvoire, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Mozambique, Rwanda and Tanzania averaging between 6-10%. While stating that Africa’s growth is supported by the demand side – private consumption, construction, tourism – helped by lower oil and food prices and growing remittances, she noted that there are emerging opportunities for Africa on the supply side from rebalanced growth in China due to relocation of low-end manufacturing from China for African countries best placed to export consumer goods to China, including agricultural products.
“In addition, tackling spatial inequalities would require implementing policies that cut across sectors. These include diversifying rural economies and linking them with cities, through the promotion of value chains and trade corridors. They also include unlocking domestic financing, developing transport and communication, and investing in basic social services,” she noted.
The UNDP representative said inclusive and sustainable growth is a fundamental aspect of Africa’s post-2015 development agenda for economic and social transformation and investments in building economic opportunities, particularly at the local level is critical, especially for young women and men who are the architects of tomorrow’s Africa.