By Asuquo Ekeng
Economic growth in Sub-Saharan Africa is recovering at a modest pace, and is projected to pick up to 2.4% in 2017 from 1.3% in 2016, according to the new Africa’s Pulse, a bi-annual analysis of the state of African economies conducted by the World Bank. This is below the April forecast of 2.6%.
This rebound is led by the region’s largest economies. In the second quarter of this year, Nigeria pulled out of a five-quarter recession and South Africa emerged from two consecutive quarters of negative growth. Improving global conditions, including rising energy and metals prices and increased capital inflows, have helped support the recovery in regional growth. However, the report warns that the pace of the recovery remains sluggish and will be insufficient to lift per capita income in 2017.
Growth continues to be multispeed across the region. In non-resource intensive countries such as Ethiopia and Senegal, growth remains broadly stable supported by infrastructure investments and increased crop production. In metal exporting countries, an increase in output and investment in the mining sector amid rising metals prices has enabled a rebound in activity.
Headline inflation slowed across the region in 2017 amid stable exchange rates and slowing food price inflation due to higher food production. Fiscal deficits have narrowed, but continue to be high, as fiscal adjustment measures remain partial. As a result, government debt remains elevated. Across the region, additional efforts are needed to address revenue shortfalls and contain spending to improve fiscal balances.
“Most countries do not have significant wiggle room when it comes to having enough fiscal space to cope with economic volatility. It is imperative that countries adopt appropriate fiscal policies and structural measures now to strengthen economic resilience, boost productivity, increase investment, and promote economic diversification,” notes Albert Zeufack, World Bank Chief Economist for Africa.
Looking ahead, Sub-Saharan Africa is projected to see a moderate increase in economic activity, with growth rising to 3.2% in 2018 and 3.5% in 2019 as commodity prices firm and domestic demand gradually gains ground, helped by slowing inflation and monetary policy easing. However, growth prospects will remain weak in the Central African Economic and Monetary Community (CEMAC) countries as they struggle to adjust to low oil prices.
The economic expansion in West African Economic and Monetary Union (WAEMU) countries is expected to proceed at a strong pace on the back of solid public investment growth, led by Côte d’Ivoire and Senegal. Elsewhere, growth is projected to firm in Tanzania on a rebound in investment growth and recover in Kenya, as inflation eases. Ethiopia is likely to remain the fastest-growing economy in the region, although public investment is expected to slow down.
“The outlook for the region remains challenging as economic growth remains well below the pre-crisis average,” says Punam Chuhan-Pole, World Bank Lead Economist and lead author of the report. “Moreover, the moderate pace of growth will only yield slow gains in per capita income that will not be enough to harness broad-based prosperity and accelerate poverty reduction.”
Analysis shows that rising capital accumulation has been accompanied by falling efficiency of investment spending in countries where economic growth has been less resilient to exogenous shocks. This suggests that the inefficiency of investment—which reflects insufficient skills and other capabilities for the adoption of new technologies, distortive policies, and resource misallocation, among other things—will need to be reduced if countries are to capture fully the benefits of higher investment.
As African countries seek new drivers of sustained inclusive growth, attention to skills building is growing. The Africa’s Pulse report dedicates a special section to analyzing how African countries, through smarter investments in foundational skills for children, youth, and adults, can leverage spending to achieve better learning outcomes that will simultaneously enhance productivity growth, inclusion, and the adaptability of Africa’s workers to the demands of today’s markets and those of the future.
In most countries, skills-building efforts must strive to make spending smarter to ensure greater efficiency and better outcomes. Countries face two hard choices in balancing their skills portfolios: striking the right balance between overall productivity growth and inclusion, on the one hand, and investing in the skills of today’s workforce and tomorrow’s workforce, on the other hand.
Investing in the foundational skills of children, youth, and adults is the most effective strategy to enhance productivity growth, inclusion, and adaptability simultaneously. Thus, all countries should prioritize building universal foundational skills for the workers of today and tomorrow.