Emerging challenges in East Africa

“Africa is standing on the edge of enormous opportunity. Will we invest our natural resource revenue in people, generating jobs and opportunities for millions in present and future generations? Or will we squander this opportunity, allowing jobless growth and inequality to take root?” – Africa Progress Report

The Africa Progress Panel (APP) yesterday published its 2014 report on the theme “Grain, Fish, Money: financing Africa’s Green and Blue Revolutions”. The report builds on previous reports and focuses on the persistent issues that leave much of sub-Saharan Africa languishing at the bottom of many global development and poverty indices. The 2014 report in particular takes a look at the agricultural and fisheries sectors that for a sustained period have not been on the main development agenda. The report covers a number of issues including inequality and gender parity, value addition, access to finance, and access to markets, among others and concludes that agriculture and fishing sectors should form the core of African policy making.

The APP 2014 report comes at a time when agriculture and by extension fisheries are very much on the forefront of Africa’s development agenda. The African Union (AU) has dubbed 2014 as the year for agriculture. It is little wonder the APP report calls for a green and blue revolution for Africa. The APP continues to speak of the opportunities Africa faces and how these are potentially threatened by the existence of various forms of inequality on the continent.

The Development Initiatives Africa Hub has been undertaking research on the causes and persistence of chronic poverty in East Africa. This East Africa Chronic Poverty research finds that issues around agriculture, inequality, gender discrimination, health and education, and access to finance and markets are the critical factors that lead to persistent chronic poverty in East Africa. This research is due to be published in June and further proposes a raft of policy options from social protection programmes, cash transfer programmes and improved access to finance and markets. The Africa Hub research also suggests that revenues from the newly discovered extractives (oil and gas) and natural resources should be targeted towards addressing the issues mentioned above.

Both the APP report and the Hub’s forthcoming East Africa Chronic Poverty Report argue that inequality matters for ending poverty, and that while Africa may be showing impressive headline growth too many people remain stuck in poverty. The rate at which poverty falls depends on the rate of increase in average income and how much of that increase goes to the poor. Apart from slowing the pace of ending poverty, highly skewed patterns of income distribution also act as a brake on growth itself. This is because extreme inequality restricts the development of markets, undermines investment opportunities and limits the ability of poor people to secure access to the resources they need to raise productivity.