The clock of 2030 global agenda of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) is ticking slowly, quietly but surely. This is six years since 2015, when the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) gave way to its successor SDG. More than one-third the way down the line, it is pertinent to focus on how Africa fares with the major milestones toward the realisation of the set goals. In particular, the first of all the 17 goals deserves attention for its multiplier effect on the attainment of all other goals. Poverty has been described as a predicament, a barrier progress and a purveyor of retrogression. It has been shown to have the ability to perpetuate itself except something drastic is done to break its hold.
Poverty, described as a “lack of provision to satisfy the basic human needs of certain people” has been associated with much of Africa, for its ubiquity and persistence, in recent times. African nations typically fall toward the bottom of any list measuring small size economic activity, such as income per capita or GDP per capita, despite a wealth of natural resources. According to Wikipedia, Although GDP per capita incomes in Africa have been steadily growing, Africa’s share of global income has been consistently dropping over the past century by any measure.
Africa won the inglorious accolade of having 34 of the 50 nations on the UN list of least developed countries in 2006. The Sub-Saharan Africa got noticed for being home to 22 of 24 nations identified as having “Low Human Development” on the United Nations’ (UN) Human Development Index in 2009. In many nations, GDP per capita is less than US$5200 per year, with the vast majority of the population living on much less (World Bank data identified an exception: that, by 2016, the island nation of Seychelles was the only African country with a GDP per capita above US$10,000 per year).
The Brookings Institution elicits no doubt about Africa’s poverty. “Whether discussing Nigeria, India, or the tipping point of the new global middle class, economists now broadly agree on one central theme: If we want to end poverty, we need to focus on Africa.” It adds, with grim prediction, that “under current projections, 88 per cent of the world’s poorest are expected to live in Africa (some 414 million people) by 2030. Aside from countries like Afghanistan, Papua New Guinea, North Korea, and Venezuela, many non-African developing countries can end extreme poverty by 2030. African countries, however, will probably only make modest gains. In fact, if current trends persist, by 2030 the top 10 poorest countries in the world will all be African—both in terms of absolute numbers and share of extreme poor as a percentage of the total population.”
Africa is considered the poorest continent on earth. This is distressing as almost every second person living in the states of sub-Saharan Africa lives is adjudged to below the poverty line. Particularly affected by poverty in Africa are the weakest members of society, their children and women. The poverty cycle stands the chance of being sustained if nothing is done to end the situation. The situation evokes some concerns, especially when disaggregated. According to Brookings, “out of the 14 African countries currently considered off-track to achieve Sustainable Development Goal (SGD) 1, eight are members of the Francophonie. By 2030, one in three people living in extreme poverty—167 million people—will inhabit an African Francophonie member state. Current projections suggest that most—but not all—of the African countries of the Francophonie will not have the economic growth needed to achieve SDG1 by 2030.”
Some definitions of poverty might shed lights on the deplorable social situation. The World Bank classifies as absolutely poor, anyone who has less than $1.25 a day to life, thus living on the very edge of existence. The United Nations Development Program (UNDP), however, sets various indicators in its Human Development Index (HDI) to measure poverty all over the world, including Africa. These yardsticks include: the life expectancy at birth, the average school attendance period, the expected school attendance period as well as the per capita income. Their indicators show that education is closely linked to poverty by the United Nations because those who cannot read and write have little chance of getting a skilled job and their livelihood is jeopardised.
Africa’s preponderance and persistence of poverty are associated with some specific causes. The first relates to demographics. According to an SOS Children’s Villages’ publication, a social service network active in 135 countries and territories around the world, population growth on the African continent is considered rapid, despite numerous prevention and education campaigns. Development success and economic growth cannot keep pace with this. The result is that more and more Africans live in poverty. The rise absolute population in Africa presents a paradox. On the short term, it could be misinterpreted to mean a rising absolute prosperity. However, statistics about relative reduction in the proportion of the poor in the population could present misleading impressions.
A recent World Bank publication, affirmed that, in Africa, “even the most optimistic estimates of poverty reduction imply that more people lived in poverty in 2012 than in 1990.” The latest estimates from the World Bank suggest that the share of the African population in extreme poverty did decline—from 57 per cent in 1990 to 43 per cent in 2012. At the same time, however, Africa’s population continued to expand rapidly. As a result, the number of people living in extreme poverty still increased by more than 100 million. Of the 10 most unequal countries in the world, seven are in Africa. For the region as a whole, however, inequality is high, because of the wide variation in income across countries.
Moreover, wars and crises have depressed and diminished economic prospects in Africa over the years. In 2013, of the world’s 20 war-related conflicts, 11 alone were fought in the sub-Saharan Africa, in Sudan and South Sudan, Somalia, Nigeria, Mali, the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Central African Republic. “In the crisis regions, agricultural production usually comes to a standstill. Many people flee, are forcibly expelled from their homes and are dependent on outside help.”
The African continent has been suffering more and more from climate change in recent decades, in the forms of devastating floods and extraordinary drought periods, leading to crop failures. Diseases such as AIDS, malaria or Ebola are the cause but also the result of poverty in Africa. Diseases spread faster where there is lack of education and inadequate medical care. Poverty persists more where agricultural infrastructure is inadequate, especially roads, wells, irrigation systems, storage facilities and agricultural machinery. In addition to lack of agricultural infrastructure, many regions of Africa lack expertise. The lack of infrastructure and expertise also predispose African countries to unjust trade structures in which rich countries create unjust trading structures by shielding their markets with high agricultural tariffs and heavily subsidising their own agriculture. This puts African agriculture at a disadvantage and slows down its development from the outset.
The World Bank, in its latest extreme poverty estimates, revealed that Africa is lagging behind the rest of the world. Globally, rates of extreme poverty — defined as earning less than $1.90 (€1.64) a day — have dramatically declined, falling from 1.9 billion in 1990 to approximately 736 million. Africa, however, currently harbours an estimated 413 million people in extreme poverty, in what exceeds half of the world’s total. Conflict, institutional fragility and violence are associated with rising poverty. Many of the world’s fragile and conflict-affected countries are in Africa, as in cases like the Central African Republic, South Sudan or Somalia. The upsurge and persistence of crises and the absence of law and order have been described as among the big drivers of slow progress and increases of poverty in the region.
Nigeria has been identified as a prominent example of a country with pervasive poverty, which has slowed down progress. The existence of a widespread conflict in the northeast of the country with Boko Haram has crippled the economy of that region. Francisco Ferreira, a development expert, opined that, within Africa, Ethiopia, despite political challenges, has economically done quite well in terms of reducing poverty and helping to diversify its economy a little bit. “It’s still mostly an agricultural nation but it has had some growth in manufacturing.” He did not shy away from the need to diversify Africa’s economic base, particularly in countries which are heavily dependent on one or a few extractive industries. His reason was that “extractive industries can contribute to sustainable long term growth but only if the benefits are reinvested in more sustainable resources that won’t run out eventually.”
Ferreira worries that “there are a lot of African countries that are still very heavily reliant on extractive industries. When a lot of the growth is coming from an industry that is capital intensive, that doesn’t employ that many people, that doesn’t have many linkages to the rest of the economy. He regarded this as being a challenge that African policymakers are aware of. He recommended either shifting the “pattern of growth towards the sectors and places where the poor live or to redistribute the benefits of growth that takes place elsewhere, by investing in the poor people themselves, in their education and their health but also in the infrastructure services that they need to become productive.”
Much works remain to be done in pulling a lot of Africans out of poverty. Realising the need to meet first among the Sustainable Development Goals, which is the eradication of extreme poverty by 2030, a lot of attention needs to be focused on reduction of poverty and inequality in the continent, across countries and population groups, and in addressing different aspects of shocks, vulnerabilities, inclusiveness, freedoms, official national and transnational supports as well as transparency in interventions. Africa can indeed rise out of poverty, but concerted efforts must be focused, collaborative, forward-looking and persistent. Africa must rise beyond poverty and begin to spawn prosperity.