Revisiting the African Economic Growth Agenda: Focus on Pro-Poor Growth?


William A. Amponsah, PhD

During the early to mid-2000s, international donor groups focused attention on the idea of pro-poor growth in Africa (Page, 2005; Pattillo et al, 2006; OECD, 2006).  Pro-poor growth has been broadly defined by a number of international organizations as growth that leads to significant reductions in poverty (OECD, 2001, UN, 2000).  Two operational definitions have emerged: the first defines growth as pro-poor when the poor benefit disproportionately from it; and the second defines growth as pro-poor if it reduces poverty.  Both definitions attempt to address a common public policy objective – reducing poverty through economic growth, and both suggest that there may be tradeoffs between development strategies that are pro-poor and those that are pro-growth.

This paper is motivated by recent reports and prognoses that many African economies have generally been experiencing accelerated growth.  Indeed, the African Development Bank’s Economic Outlook (2012) reports that on average, and excluding the distortions by volatile gross domestic product (GDP) developments in Libya, Africa’s economic growth was 4.2% in 2012 and was projected to accelerate to 4.5% in 2013 and further to 5.2% in 2014.  The forecast assumes a gradual improvement of global economic conditions.  However, especially where countries have recently discovered petroleum, reports bemoan the lack of inclusiveness in the enjoyment of economic benefits by significant segments of the population, giving rise to high unemployment and economic disparities. 

In light of the ACRIA 5 theme of Accelerated Economic Growth in West Africa, the author proposes to review what the economic literature says about economic growth.  In particular because of the large pockets of reported poverty incidences in the region, the author is determined to confront the broad concept of economic growth with what it means for a country to experience pro-poor growth?  Following Page (2005), the author will interrogate existing poverty headcount data and review regional trends in growth of average income and the income of the bottom quintile for African (especially West African) countries where information on growth and distribution exist for ten years or more.  Countries will be dissociated based on their performance between peaceful, better managed and those in or emerging from conflict, or simply with poor economic management.  The overarching objective is to determine which countries are still caught up in the poverty web that would call for pro-growth strategies to poverty reduction.  Some initial thoughts include for example, whether there has been systematic decline and recovery in the fortunes of Africa’s poor relative to its non-poor over time?  Certainly, this would call for a sharper public policy focus on growth.  For example, we cannot dismiss the concern that the benefits of broad economic growth may or may not be reflected in improving incomes and welfare of the disproportionate poor.

Based on this analysis, the author proposes to review relevant strategies in building a more balanced and shared sets of growth strategies for Africa.  In particular, given recent population trends and the movement toward regional integration, what strategies would ensure that countries begin to make meaningful investments in the poor so as to unleash their creative capabilities?  How do countries adapt shared growth strategies to local opportunities and constraints?  What are the imperative policy areas and sector strategies that would contribute to further shared growth in the region?

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