from Africa in Transition

Response to Africa Glass Half Full or Half Empty

November 30, 2012

Blog Post

More on:

Sub-Saharan Africa

International Organizations


Capital Flows

Aging, Youth Bulges, and Population

This is a guest post by Owen Cylke. Mr. Cylke is a development professional and a retired senior foreign service officer with USAID.

The discussion over whether Africa’s glass is half full or half empty simply allows each side to argue their case–over and over again.  McKinsey will argue that Africa’s long-term prospects are strong while the African Development Bank will counter that, in fifty years, one-third of Africa’s population will still be living with an income below $1.25 a day.

A look inside the glass may be more instructive. Illustratively, every year seventeen million young people enter the job market in sub-Saharan Africa. This number will grow to three hundred and thirty million by 2025, or nearly the population of the United States. The glass is simply overflowing.

Where will the jobs be found? The development community argues in agriculture. That is after all, where the people are. And the community is half right. Agriculture still accounts for a high percentage of Africa’s GDP, trade, and employment. Modernization of the agricultural sector has been the historic precondition to more diversified, productive, and job rich economies. But, agricultural modernization is also labor displacing (returns accruing disproportionately to capital and technology over land and labor). A glass half full or half empty?

Where then is the future to be found? I would argue for a more careful look into the prospects for rural Africa. This is especially true regarding the relationships between on-farm and off-farm employment, agriculture and industry, rural settlement and urban centers. A more careful look also presupposes an increasing positive role for the state.  Indeed, one sees signs that African governments and related institutions are moving away from the neo-liberal ideal of minimal state intervention and exploring new ways that the state can and should promote both growth and equity. One example of this, the New Partnership for African Development’ (NEPAD) Rural Futures initiative is, directly to point, seeking to accomplish five objectives:

Re-energize development discourse, particularly the transformation of productive capabilities and structure, reintroducing the discipline of development economics, and placing transformation at the heart of the development discourse.

Give greater attention to industrial/urban and technology/innovation policies and strategies, as they relate particularly to NEPAD’s Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Program and the World Bank’s 2008 Agriculture for Development Action Plan.

Respect the methodologies of development institutions and strategies across Africa as they coalesce around new practices and theories of development, in keeping with the principles of the Paris Declaration on Aid Effectiveness and Accra Agenda for Action.

Explore the implications of globalization and liberalization, playing into a more contemporary understanding of comparative and competitive advantage, where returns in the new global economy favor capital and technology (an external advantage) over land and labor (a local advantage).

Promote local and national development through the institutional and productive transformation of regions, implying a more territorial approach to what is traditionally thought of as rural development.