The United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UN-ECA) said Wednesday that the strong economic growth witnessed in many African countries in recent years has only had a marginal impact on poverty reduction.
Saurabh Sinha, ECA’s employment and social protection section chief, while addressing ECA’s Expert Group Meeting and Policy Forum on “Poverty, Inequality and Jobs in Africa” on Wednesday in Ethiopia’s capital Addis Ababa, said that poverty in Africa declined much more slowly since 1990 than in other regions in the world. “The poverty headcount ratio declined from 54.3 percent in 1990 to 41 percent in 2013,” Sinha said, adding that in absolute terms, the number of people in extreme poverty is stagnating at the 2002 level. According to the ECA, even though poverty, inequality and lack of productive jobs are declining steadily in Africa, they “remained the greatest challenges in Africa.” The two-day event, underway on June 6 and 7, aimed to examine the interlink between poverty, inequality, and employment in Africa
Experts also urged African countries to work on narrowing the inequality gap so as to utilize the benefits of economic growth in reducing poverty level. Thokozile Ruzvidzo, ECA’s Social Development Policy Division (SDPD) director, said that “economic growth delivers less poverty reduction when initial inequality is high.” “To reduce poverty rapidly, we need to keep inequality in check,” she said. Noting the higher impact of inequality on older people and other vulnerable groups, Ruzvidzo further stressed that “inequitable access to quality education and health across income groups, gender and location often leads to lack of social and economic opportunities in life.” According to the ECA, the African continent is the world’s second most inequitable region after Latin America and the Caribbean, “which may explain the slow rate of poverty reduction on the continent as high inequality hampers the poverty-reducing effects of growth.” Despite strong economic growth on the continent since the early 2000s, there are few “good” jobs that offer secure employment and social protection, and an estimated 268 million people, or nearly 63 percent of all those with jobs, were in vulnerable employment in 2016, according to the ECA. The meeting followed the conclusion of the ECA 2015-2018 project that aimed to promote equality as a key driver of sustainable development and strengthen countries’ capacities on implementing public policies towards greater socio-economic equality, it was noted.