Poverty in Africa

The World Bank recently stated that the number of poor people in the world has declined by 3.2 points from 2012 to 2015 and now reaches 702 million people (a little less than 10% of world population).  At this pace, the World Banks predicts that extreme poverty could be eradicated by 2030. Theses numbers are even more impressive as the international poverty line has increased from 1.25 USD a day to 1.90.

It should be noted that in reality, this line remains unchanged. The principle used by the World Bank’s analysts is to keep the purchasing power parity rate and to inflate it at the 2011 prices. In other terms, purchasing and consumption haven’t changed but the prices have. This new line reflects inflation and not an upward variation of real capacities and that is for the best. World Bank’s estimates results are not linked to the methodology.

Concerning Sub-Saharan Africa, poverty rate went down from 56% in 1990 to 35% in 2015. The figures show that in African countries the fight against poverty is actually effective. Yet, on the 702 millions of people, about 346 millions of people are from Sub-Saharan Africa. Comparitively, they represented 285 millions in 1990. 

So, the 35% poverty rate announced for Sub-Saharan African may be due to a base effect. Over this period, African population has considerably grown and went from 523 millions people in 1990 to almost 1 billion in 2015. In comparison to other countries with a similar poverty level in 1990, the result is that the growing of African population came with a less pronounced increase of poor people. Indeed, in South Asia or East Asia and The Pacific, the number of people living in extreme poverty respectively went from 582 millions and 1 billion in 1990 to 225 millions and 84 million in 2015.

Obviously, the situation differs from country to country. Some have been through many years of socio-political crisis which have interfered with any solutions that would have improved the poorest’ living conditions. Besides, the numbers are only estimates that might be revised up or downwards when more precise data will be available. Beyond these methodologies, the numbers reflect the failures of the different programs (including Millennium Development Goals (MDG), private initiatives of NGO aimed at reducing poverty. Is the African context the problem, especially when these exact programs seem to work effectively in other countries? 

We already gave an answer in a previous article, insisting on the fact that these programs are focused on economic growth and do not take in account transmission channels and are not really adapted to local realities. Corruption (misappropriation of money) and socio-political tensions are many factors that counter the efficiency of these development programs. The lack of independent, autonomous development planification is another obstacle. Many countries undergo the evolution of their population without being able to give an appropriate solution. For example, the lack of urbanization policies results in the concentration of rural into non-inhabitable areas. These people are facing recurrent problems of flooding, which create sanitation problems, and then create delays in back-to-school seasons, which prevent the rising of living conditions of these people, who are going to be reported as poor. 

African economies are extroverted and outward looking but the recent economic performances had only a small impact on the situation of the poorest, because they do not participate at the improvement of the economy.  The solution to poverty strongly relies on the capacity of the countries to establish autonomous economic policies that will improve the conditions of the poor, just as other countries did. 

Is nothing had been done for more than 20 years? The answer could be: a lot but not enough. Obviously, if nothing had been done, the number of poor people in Africa would be way more important. The fight against poverty should be deepen, and it would take more responsible politics (economic, social and management) that aim a global well being of the society. If the financial approach of poverty is questionable, it may not constitute an argument. The approach used is based on an Western way of living, but an “African way of life” (even if it is difficult to give a definition in this era of globalization) is not a life without access to decent living conditions (education, nutrition, access to health care…).

Translated by Anne Sophie Cadet