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The two faces of Africa

The two faces of Africa

This year’s Africa Progress Panel report presents a sobering view, contrasting Africa’s economic growth on one hand with persisting poverty on the other. It sets out to discover why the continent’s growth has so far failed to pull the majority out of poverty. But the report also shows that the solution is within the continent’s grasp and that, indeed, its current weaknesses could become its greatest strengths. Review by Anver Versi.

The annual Africa Progress Panel (APP) panel report has now become an indispensable report card on how the continent is really faring. It looks beyond the headlines and the sometimes overexuberant declarations of success and growth to take a sober look at the cold facts on the ground. It also takes a bird’s-eye view of the whole continent from above as the ground-level, often-partial view of the continent we tend to get can obscure the reality and lead us into making the wrong conclusions.

This year’s report, which was launched during the World Economic Forum on Africa in Abuja in May by the chairman of the panel, Kofi Annan, is, in my opinion, the best and most complete analysis in the series so far. The team which puts it together is based in Geneva but links up with some of the best research institutions, such as the African Centre for Economic Transformation in Ghana, to collect data and process it.

The team in Geneva is led by Caroline Kende-Robb, with Kevin Watkins as the lead author; Peter da Costa was advisor to the team and the editor of the report was Andrew Johnston. Maria Quattri provided research support.

Natural resource plunder,  combined with international financial chicanery,  is robbing the continent of billions of dollars every year

Over the years, African Business has lost no time in reviewing the report and taking it to a wider audience, as we believe its contents are an important support to policy makers around the continent. This year, IC Group Publisher, Omar Ben Yedder, and myself had the pleasure of meeting some of the team in Geneva prior to publication. It gave us a valuable insight into how complex reports of this type are produced and the massive amount of work that is involved in order to distil the essence from all the data collected, and present it as clearly and lucidly as the report does.

The 2014 report, titled Grain, Fish, Money – financing Africa’s Green and Blue Revolutions, presents in words, infographics and charts what most of us observe on a daily basis in Africa – the two faces of the continent. On the one hand, we have very robust African economic growth; on the other, we have poverty levels that have hardly shifted.

This is Africa’s current conundrum, as expressed by Annan during the launch of the report: “After more than a decade of growth, there is plenty to celebrate,” he said. “But it is time to ask why so much growth has done so little to lift people out of poverty – and why so much of Africa’s resource wealth is squandered through corrupt practices and unscrupulous investment activities.”

That, in a nutshell encapsulates Africa’s dilemma. Despite Africa’s spectacular growth and its enormous potential, why is poverty actually increasing? “The answer is that inequality is weakening the link between economic growth and improvements in wellbeing,” Annan says.

But that is not the only cause. Natural resource plunder, including Africa’s fisheries and timber, combined with international financial chicanery, which Annan describes as “organised theft disguised as commerce”, is robbing the continent of billions of dollars every year.  African leaders have not helped in this matter: “African political leaders have failed to manage natural resources in the interests of the true owners of those resources – the African people,” Annan says.

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Written by Anver Versi

Anver Versi, is the award - winning editor of the London - based pan-African business monthlies, African Business and African Banker, was born in Kenya but has been based in London for the last two decades.

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