Sub-Saharan Africa politics: Growth and development

Content Type
Country Data and Maps
Economist Intelligence Unit
No abstract is available.
Politics, News Analysis
Political Geography
Uganda, Kenya, Sudan, South Africa, Mozambique, Tanzania, Sierra Leone, Zimbabwe, Senegal, Nigeria, Rwanda, Burundi, Angola, Zambia, Ghana, Mali, Malawi, Guinea, Mauritania, Swaziland, South Sudan, Namibia, Mauritius, Botswana, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Côte d'Ivoire, Niger, Gabon, Seychelles, Benin, Lesotho, Togo, Sao Tome and Principe, Gambia, Republic of Congo, Democratic Republic of Congo

Most African states are struggling to deliver substantial improvements in socioeconomic conditions, according to the UN Development Programme's latest Human Development Report. Despite substantial donor spending on development assistance over the past 25 years-and in some cases solid economic growth rates-most regional states remain "low-human-development" countries, potentially increasing pressure on politicians to promote populist measures.

One of the most useful features of the 2016 Human Development Report is a table illustrating trends in development since the first report was published in 1990. In Norway-the country where human development is highest in the report's terms-living standards have improved by 0.45% a year for 25 years. In Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA), the growth rate in the Human Development Index (HDI) has averaged 1.09% annually over the past year, and in a number of African countries living standards have improved far faster than both the regional and world averages.

For example, in both Mali and Mozambique, living standards are deemed to have improved by 2.82% annually, while Rwanda-with an annual increase of 2.89%-is the world's top performer, leaving even China and India (with annual increases of 1.57% and 1.52% respectively) in the shade. From this, it might appear that the billions of dollars poured into development aid are at last having a positive impact, but this is a superficial conclusion. For one thing, the numbers are misleading, since it is hardly a surprise that countries with very low HDI scores should achieve much higher growth rates than those with much higher initial scores.

Human development, changes in rankings
Country Average annual HDI growth (%), 1990-2015 Ranking, 1990 Ranking, 2015 Change
    (152 countries) (188 countries)  
Mauritius 0.9 72.0 64.0 8.0
Rwanda 2.9 137.0 159.0 -22.0
Zambia 1.5 115.0 139.0 -24.0
Botswana 0.7 83.0 108.0 -25.0
Tanzania 1.5 121.0 151.0 -30.0
Ghana 1.0 108.0 139.0 -31.0
Uganda 1.9 132.0 163.0 -31.0
São Tomé 0.9 109.0 142.0 -33.0
Congo (Brazzaville) 0.5 98.0 135.0 -37.0
Gabon 0.5 72.0 109.0 -37.0
Sudan 1.6 128.0 165.0 -37.0
Mali 2.8 138.0 175.0 -37.0
Mauritania 1.2 119.0 157.0 -38.0
Kenya 0.6 107.0 146.0 -39.0
Namibia 0.4 85.0 125.0 -40.0
Senegal 1.2 122.0 162.0 -40.0
Benin 1.4 127.0 167.0 -40.0
Malawi 1.5 130.0 170.0 -40.0
Mozambique 2.8 140.0 181.0 -41.0
Cameroon 0.6 110.0 153.0 -43.0
Gambia 1.3 129.0 173.0 -44.0
Sierra Leone 1.8 134.0 179.0 -45.0
South Africa 0.3 71.0 119.0 -47.0
Guinea 1.7 135.0 182.0 -47.0
Burundi 1.6 136.0 184.0 -48.0
Niger 2.1 139.0 187.0 -48.0
DRC 0.8 125.0 176.0 -51.0
Togo 0.8 114.0 166.0 -52.0
Côte d'Ivoire 0.8 117.0 171.0 -54.0
Zimbabwe 0.1 100.0 154.0 -54.0
Swaziland -0.1 92.0 148.0 -56.0
Lesotho 0.0 103.0 160.0 -57.0
Central African Republic 0.4 131.0 188.0 -57.0
Sub-Saharan Africa 1.1 na na na
Source: UN Development Programme, Human Development Report.

Economic growth does not necessarily bring improved human development

In Mozambique's case there is also the disturbing aspect of the rate of improvement, which slowed from 3.9% a year in the 1990s and 2.6% in the decade to 2010 to 1% in the five years to 2015. Moreover, although Mozambique has improved its position from 1990 (when it was ranked last of the 140 countries), it is placed 181st out of 188 countries, which suggests a disconnection between improvements in human development and Mozambique's oft-repeated claim to be the world's fastest-growing economy.

Certainly, the HDI seeks to take a broad-based approach, being weighted equally in such a way as to measure not only income per head, but also life expectancy at birth and education standards. None of these is an entirely straightforward way of measuring development-for example, Zimbabwe, which is often lauded by donors and the Bretton Woods Institutions as having the best-educated population in Africa, ranks a lowly 154th on the HDI, with one of the slowest improvement rates of only 0.13% over the past 25 years. Nonetheless, there is a striking-and, from the policymaking aspect, crucial-similarity between HDI rankings and those for other performance indicators, such as general economic performance metrics, logistics, competitiveness, industrial growth and the like.

Indian Ocean states perform well, but major economies disappoint

Only two Sub-Saharan economies-both Indian Ocean islands-are ranked as high-human-development states. Seychelles (ranked 63rd) and Mauritius (64th) also regularly feature at the top of regional listings in indices such as the World Bank's Doing Business report. Mauritius's performance is particularly impressive, as it has increased its ranking by eight places since 1990, despite the addition of 48 countries to the HDI over the period. Indeed, all the countries to show a fall of less than 48 places over 1990-2015 have improved their relative standings. Rwanda (down 22), Zambia (-24) and Botswana (-25) stand out as above-average performers.

Others to move well up the table with a ranking loss in the low thirties include Tanzania, Ghana, Uganda and São Tomé. The poorest performers, falling at least 50 places, include Swaziland, Lesotho, Zimbabwe, Côte d'Ivoire, Togo, the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Central African Republic. Only those ranked in 1990 are included in the table, which is why the region's largest economy, Nigeria, does not feature. It has only been ranked since 2010, when its HDI growth rate was 1.08%. However, it ranks as a low-human-development state, at 152nd out of 188 states, with a lower score than Swaziland, Tanzania and Angola.

The region's other main economy, South Africa, performs slightly better, but its overall ranking (119th) and 25-year growth rate (0.28%) are both unimpressive. Taking into account the addition of extra countries over the period, its performance and ranking since 1990 have barely changed. It is thus hardly surprising that the president, Jacob Zuma, and his allies should be seeking to promote redistribution and land reform, much to the discomfort of the business and investor communities.

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