Human Development in Africa (1)


This chapter reviews development in Africa from a human development perspective. A subregional approach is deployed to analyses progress in expanding people’s choices with regard to economic opportunities, health and education. The analysis employs measures of poverty and deprivation that extend beyond income to reflect on persistent human development gaps. The chapter also explores inequality and its impact on present and future human development trends and presents recommendations for the design of implementation and monitoring frameworks for Africa’s Agenda 2063 and the global post-2015 goals. An analysis
of uneven human development within countries demonstrates the impact of socio-economic and geographic inequality on progress in human development. Finally, the economic, social and governance-related drivers of uneven human development inform a set of policy recommendations for the ongoing prioritization of poverty, inequality and sustainability on national, subregional and continental development agendas.
Human development is improving but greater effort is needed to sustain and accelerate development gains. Despite progress, the level of human development in Africa remains low, and aggregate indicators of growth mask significant variations between and within countries, as well as poverty and deprivation. Challenges relating to low human development, poverty and exclusion persist both in least developed and middle-income countries, which are also vulnerable to health, environmental and social risks. Gender inequality and exclusion exist in many countries with high levels of discrimination present in relation to access to resources and assets, as well as violence against women. Distribution of income and consumption in
Africa is highly skewed and socio-economic and geographic differences contribute to uneven human development within countries.
The post-2015 agenda for sustainable human development for all in Africa should focus on the integration of equity, sustainability and vulnerability reduction in development planning, resource allocation, and implementation and monitoring of goals. This would include improved methods of measuring progress that consider variation in initial conditions and advances towards long-term sustainable financing for human development and social security. Dismantling economic, social and governance structures that create and perpetuate extreme inequality can help to reduce extreme poverty, enhance social welfare, and accelerate progress towards national, regional and global development goals.

Uneven Rise

African countries have made significant strides in all dimensions of human development, comparable with other regions of the world. In 2014, 17 out of 52 African countries achieved high and medium levels of human development. The remaining countries presented a wide variation of scores. Niger scored lowest with a human development score of 0.34, while Kenya ranked highest with 0.54. Some regions have shown progress over time: Human Development Index (HDI) values in sub-Saharan Africa increased by 26% from 1990 to 2013, making it the third fastest growing region after East Asia (36%) and South Asia (34%). In comparison, human development levels in the Arab States and Latin America for the same period were 19% and 18% higher, respectively. Improvements in human development can be attributed to rapid economic growth based on increased resource flows from natural resource extraction, growth in agriculture and services, human capital development and improved governance.
Despite progress made since 2000, human development levels in Africa remain low and are vulnerable to shocks. The level of human development in Africa is also much lower than the world average. In sub-Saharan Africa, for example, the average level of human development in 1990 was 0.40, compared to the world average of 0.60, representing a difference of 33%. This level rose slightly to 0.50 in 2013 but still remained 28% lower than the world average of 0.70 (UNDP, 2014). In general, progress in human development has resulted mainly from improvements in education and health and from growth in income per capita. Countries that were further behind or began from lower initial conditions are now improving faster than those with higher initial levels of human development. This trend indicates a potential convergence with many countries catching up to better performers, driven by improvements in poverty reduction and health and education outcomes.
The level of human development remains uneven. African countries still bear a large share of the burden of global poverty and low human development and have limited resources to address this challenge. Nearly one in three of the world’s poor lives in sub-saharan Africa (AUC, 2014). Africa is also home to the largest proportion of least developed countries (LDCs) and 75% of the countries with low human development. These LDCs are most vulnerable to economic, environmental and trade shocks (UNDESA, 2014).
Since 1980, growth in HDI values has remained uneven and below the global average for most countries. Countries with above average growth include those starting from a low base as well as those at the medium end of the spectrum (Benin, Mali, Rwanda and others). However, most African countries have failed to exceed the global average and only 11 have raised their HDI above the global annualised rate of HDI growth.

Losses in human development are related to inequality

Uneven human development leads to inequality within countries. Inequality can be measured in terms of variation in access to resources, living standards, education and health. Distribution of income and consumption within countries in Africa, as measured by the Gini coefficient, is highly skewed.1 Africa has the second highest unequal distribution of income and consumption within countries after Latin America and the Caribbean (AUC et al., 2014). Within Africa the most unequal region is Southern Africa, followed by Central Africa, East Africa and West Africa, with North Africa as the least unequal region (UNDP, 2014). An ongoing UNDP study on inequality in Africa, based on a sample of 29 countries, found the highest level of inequality in Seychelles followed by South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, Zambia and the Central African Republic. With the exception of the Central African Republic, all these countries are considered to be high and medium human development countries. In the case of sub-Saharan Africa, half the population lives in countries where inequality has fallen, while the other half lives in countries where inequality has risen (UNDP, forthcoming).
Wealth distribution within countries is unbalanced with the richest segment of the population accounting for a significantly higher proportion of national income. A recent study by AfDB (2011) found that those earning more than USD 20 a day constitute less than 5% of the population and control 19% of all income. Conversely, the poorest.
High levels of inequality in Africa are contributing to large losses in human development. The inequality-adjusted HDI for sub-Saharan Africa reveals a 33.6% loss in values once adjustments are made for inequality in distribution of income, health and education outcomes. Some medium human development countries face significant losses in human development from inequality. For example, Botswana and Zambia experienced losses of 38.2% and 35%, respectively. Other high and medium human development countries with lower levels of inequality, such as Egypt and Mauritius, experienced smaller human development losses of 24% and 14.2%, respectively.
For sub-Saharan Africa as a whole, the loss in human development due to inequality is much higher than the global average. The regions with the lowest losses due to inequality were Europe and Central Asia followed by East Asia and the Pacific. Latin America and the Arab States experienced almost similar levels of loss. In Africa, the underlying driver of inequality in HDI values is significant disparities in access to health and education. This contrasts strongly with high human development countries, where inequality is related more closely to income.

Human development policies must address vulnerability to risks

Human development is highly vulnerable to risks. Policies must therefore aim to accelerate gains and build resilience. Key threats affecting African countries include extreme vulnerability to negative economic, political, social and environmental factors.
Some human development gains have already been subject to reversals, such as the deterioration of human development levels in Central Africa and Southern Africa during the 1990s. More recently, negative socio-economic consequences have arisen from the impact of the Ebola virus in affected and neighbouring countries in the West African region (UNDG-WCA, 2015). Another source of vulnerability is the fall in commodity prices affecting most countries in Africa. Civil war and conflicts have also had a negative impact on human development, with continued insecurity in Central Africa and radicalisation in some countries in East Africa.
The experience of the 1990s and recent deceleration in human development in some North and West African countries underline the need to improve national resilience to political, health and environmental shocks. Human development policies must commit to maintaining gains by addressing vulnerability to natural disasters, climate change and financial setbacks for those most at risk. Renewed and comprehensive action with a focus on LDCs and especially fragile states is necessary to accelerate and sustain improvements in human development. Recent conferences have called for implementation of the Istanbul Programme of Action, whose priority areas include productive capacity development, trade, commodities, human and social development, response to shocks, mobilisation of financial resources, promotion of good governance, and agriculture, food security and rural development (UN, 2011). The programme also emphasised the need for stronger partnerships to support the development of productive capacities.

Middle-income countries also face human development challenges

There is a wide divergence in human development outcomes for middle-income countries (MICs) in Africa. Among the 27 African states classified as middle-income countries, 11 are upper-middle-income countries while the remainder is low middle income countries. Of these, 16 have achieved medium or high human development. This implies that almost three out of every five MICs in Africa have low human development. In addition, up to 70.6% of poor people are found in MICs (AUC et al., 2014), indicating that resource availability has not yet translated into improved health and education outcomes for the majority of the population. This situation is attributed mainly to differences between MICs including variation in economic sectors that drive growth and diversity in state capacity to administer and distribute resource wealth (Sumner, 2013).
A large proportion of people living in MICS face multiple levels of deprivation, despite rising levels of income per capita. The extent of poverty amid plenty is demonstrated by the Multidimensional Poverty Index (MPI), which captures deprivation in terms of health, education and living standards. In 11 out of 18 African MICS covered by the index, one-third of the population are living in multidimensional poverty (OPHI, 2014). In Mauritania, Senegal and Zambia in particular, the number of people living in multidimensional poverty accounts for over 60% of the population.
Middle-income countries need to address significant investment needs and capacity gaps to achieve sustainable human development for all. Adequate domestic and external public and private resource flows through global partnerships must remain high on the agenda, so as to help ensure financing, technology transfer and capacity development for poverty reduction. In addition, middle-income countries are vulnerable to environmental degradation and climate change. In four out of ten countries in Africa over 25% of the population lives on degraded land. This includes people living on severely or very severely degraded land in terms of biomass, soil health, water quantity and biodiversity. This has significant implications for food security, rural livelihoods and vulnerability to natural disasters and climate change. Addressing these challenges is likely to place additional strain on existing resources and institutional capacity. Development strategies therefore need to balance improvements to income with social and environmental deprivations. Countries where a very high proportion of the population lives in degraded environments, such as Egypt, Lesotho, South Africa and Tunisia, should ensure that efforts to improve environmental conditions do not leave people worse off in terms of poverty. The same principle holds for countries such as Cameroon, Congo, Côte d’Ivoire and Senegal, where efforts taken to reduce their level of deprivation must not worsen environmental conditions for the population.

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