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      Dependency redux: why Africa is not rising



            Whilst numerous accounts claim that the continent is on the rise, driven by high growth rates and supposed better governance and economic policies, Africa's dependent position in the global economy is being reified. This article seeks to analyse the dynamics which are accompanying a notional ‘rise’ of Africa but which are actually contributing to the continent being pushed further and further into underdevelopment and dependency. It calls into question the superficial accounts of a continent on the move or that declare that the continent has somehow turned a definitive page in its history. A ‘rise’ based on an intensification of resource extraction whilst dependency deepens, inequality increases and de-industrialisation continues apace, cannot be taken seriously. A model based on growth-for-growth's sake has replaced development and the agenda of industrialisation and moving Africa up the global production chain has been discarded. Instead, Africa's current ‘comparative advantage’ as a primary commodity exporter is celebrated and reinforced. History repeats itself.

            Translated abstract

            [« Le retour de la dépendance » : pourquoi l'Afrique ne croît pas.] Alors que de nombreux récits affirment que le continent est en croissance, tiré par des taux de croissance élevés ainsi qu'une gouvernance et des politiques économiques supposées plus efficaces, la position de dépendance de l'Afrique vis-à-vis de l’économie mondiale est réifiée. Cet article tente d'analyser les dynamiques qui accompagnent une « croissance » notionnelle de l'Afrique mais qui poussent en fait le continent vers plus de sous-développement et de dépendance. Ceci remet en question les récits superficiels d'un continent en mouvement ou qui déclare que le continent a tourné en quelque sorte une page définitive de son histoire. Une « croissance » basée sur l'intensification de l'extraction des ressources alors que la dépendance se renforce, les inégalités augmentent et la désindustrialisation se poursuit rapidement, ne peut pas être prise au sérieux. Un modèle basé sur l'intérêt de la croissance pour la croissance a remplacé le développement, et le programme d'industrialisation et d'intégration aux chaines de production mondiales a été abandonné. Au lieu de cela, « l'avantage comparatif » actuel de l'Afrique en tant qu'exportateur de produits de base primaires est célébré et renforcé. L'histoire se répète.

            Main article text

            Barely a week passes without some new official report, media article or conference eulogising the continent and its growth figures: Africa is now the ‘rising star’ (The Economist, December 3, 2011). We are living in ‘Africa's moment’ (Severino and Ray 2010), where it is ‘Africa's turn’ (Miguel 2009). In this new world, ‘Africa emerges’ (Rotberg 2013), moving from ‘darkness to destiny’ (Clarke 2012), ‘leading the way’ (Radelet 2010) to a situation where ‘Africa will rule the twenty-first century’ (African Business, January 2013), or at a minimum ‘is likely to make the twenty-first century its own’ (Economic Commission on Africa 2012, 1). ‘The Next Asia Is Africa’ (French 2012) as it is ‘The Ultimate Frontier Market’ (Matean 2012) because it is based on an ‘African Growth Miracle’ (Young 2012). Consequently, ‘Business conferences are filled with frothy talk of African lions overtaking Asian tigers’ (The Economist, March 2, 2013). With a recent book on ‘the story behind Africa's economic revolution’ having a quasi-Superman springing from the continent on its front cover (Robertson 2012), ‘It's time for Africa’ (Ernst and Young 2011). All of this is hinged on Africa's gross domestic product (GDP) figures, which saw an average continental growth of 5.6% between 2002 and 2008, making Africa the second fastest-growing continent in the world (Economic Commission on Africa 2012, 11–14). Mainstream analysts seem to be satisfied with GDP as the marker to measure progress, dismissive of even notions about the quality of growth.

            However, beyond the growth figures, ongoing dynamics are actually deepening Africa's dependent position in the global economy (Sylla 2014). This article seeks to analyse the dynamics which are accompanying a notional ‘rise’ of Africa but which are actually contributing to the continent being pushed further and further into underdevelopment and dependency (Rodney 2012). It calls into question the superficial accounts of a continent on the move or that declare that the continent has somehow turned a definitive page in its history. As such, it is not interested in the breathless accounts of new shopping malls, mobile phones and the consumption of imported products (all paid for by credit) that some think indicate a rising Africa. Instead, this article insists on the importance of examining Africa's ‘structural location within the world economy, export commodity dependence and … de-industrialisation, unemployment and agricultural stagnation’ (Bush 2013, 53). In doing so, it insists that the productive potential of Africa, its development and structural transformation are inhibited by the present configurations of global and domestic economies and societies (Saul 2009, 45).

            Africa's political economy

            Whilst the situation depends on national context, ‘[a]s a result of their colonial legacy, the present-day economies of the African countries are characterised by a lop-sided dependence on the export of raw materials, and the import of manufactured goods’ (Harris 1975, 12). That this assessment was written nearly 40 years ago and there has not been any radical departure from such a milieu for most countries reflect the failure of much of Africa's post-colonial states to transform their economies. Currently, of the 49 countries in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA), 11 rely entirely on a single commodity for 50% of export earnings and nearly three-quarters of countries rely on three commodities for 50% or more of export earnings (World Bank 2013a, 9).

            Commodity dependence is typically measured by the share of export earnings of the top single commodity (or top three export commodities) in GDP, in total merchandise exports and in total agriculture exports. The percentage of people occupied in commodity production or the share in government revenue accruing from commodities are also important measurements (South Centre 2005). Assessing tendencies in the share of primary commodities in total exports for the period 1995–2009, which coincides with the notion that Africa was ‘rising’, demonstrates that the share of primary commodities in total exports rose precipitously between 2000 and 2009. The UNDP comments that during this period, ‘Africa – the region most dependent on primary commodity exports throughout the period – became even more commodity-dependent’ (UNDP 2011, 60). The latest African Economic Outlook notes that: ‘Fuels and mining products [dominate] African merchandise exports, accounting for 69.5% of total exports’ (African Development Bank 2014, 75). Yet The Economist insists that we are witnessing ‘The twilight of the resource curse’ for Africa (January 10, 2015).

            When discussing the narrative surrounding the idea of ‘Africa Rising’, it is fruitful to note the difference between structural and superficial features of Africa's economies. The superficial features can be identified in the GDP figures, prices, debt levels and exchange etc. ‘The structural features are, however, less apparent and more profound: Africa's changing place in the effective international division of labour’ (Shaw 1985, 63, emphasis in original). There is little indication to propose that Africa's structural profile is rising or that the continent is going through even the birth-pangs of any structural transformation.

            As is quite apparent, most African economies are integrated into the global economy in ways that are generally unfavourable to the continent and ensure structural dependence, depending on two production systems which determine the continent's structures and define its place in the global system. These are, namely, the export of tropical agricultural products: coffee, cocoa, cotton, peanuts, fruits, oil palm etc.; and oil and minerals such as copper, gold, rare metals, diamonds etc. (Amin 2011, 30). Such a dependence on basic commodities has profound implications for household welfare (Lederman and Porto 2014). Yet this is ignored and growth in GDP has been the central focus of commentaries that previously arrogantly wrote off a billion people as the ‘the hopeless continent’ (The Economist, May 13, 2000) and now proclaim ‘A hopeful continent’ (The Economist, March 2, 2013).

            Such a mood swing in some quarters is due, directly or indirectly, to the cumulative global demand for the continent's resources, notably oil, but also gas, minerals and other energy sources. This was driven, above all, by the emergence of China and other emerging economies whose late industrialisation powered a global commodity price boom (Taylor 2014). The flip-flop regarding the continent has, to a certain extent, refuted the familiar media images of fly-blown children that so dominate many representations of Africa. This is a good thing. Yet equally, the narrative has swung almost entirely in the opposite direction, with little critical reflection. Growths in GDP and opportunities for investors are the new intonations in a crude binary construction of Africa that has shifted almost overnight from basket case to bonanza.

            This of course is not to write off the recent growth as devoid of any value at all, although it has tended to be concentrated in select countries. For instance, there is growing investment in infrastructure (McKinsey Global Institute 2010). Given that there is a correlation ‘between infrastructure and export diversification, and the current low levels and distorted composition of exports from SSA are partly due to poor trade infrastructure’, it can be stated that the improvement in infrastructure ‘has per se a positive impact on SSA growth and trade capacity’ (Sindzingre 2013, 44). Africa's debts are at an historic low, partly thanks to the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries Initiative and the Multilateral Debt Relief Initiative, although note that debt levels are again rising in Africa. ‘Long term domestic and international commercial borrowing was forecast to rise by about 50% in 2014' and the World Bank warns that the eight African countries to have borrowed fastest since receiving debt relief could within a decade be back to pre-debt relief debt stock levels (Adams 2015, 4).1 In social sectors, performance is mixed but improvements in the years of schooling, life expectancy at birth and other indicators have been recorded. These are all obviously to be hailed.

            However, it is a contention of this article that there is a desperate need to translate the growth into structural change, expressed as an increase in the share of industry or services in the economy, or as the broadening and sophistication of exports or as the move of workers from low labour productivity sectors to those with high labour productivity (Sindzingre 2013, 26). This is not happening. Instead, the historical process of underdevelopment is being further ingrained.

            Indeed, the ‘Africa Rising’ discourse neglects a most fundamental context:

            only for nine of the forty three [Sub-Saharan] countries were growth rates during 1980–2008 high enough to double per capita income in less than thirty years, and only sixteen in less than one hundred years. Performance would have been considerably worse had it not been for the brief years of relatively rapid growth in the mid-2000s. (Weeks 2010, 3).

            Africa needs to grow at least 7% a year for the next 20 or 30 years if any serious tackling of continental poverty is to be realised. However, growth induced by commodity prices increases, new discoveries of natural resources or increase in sources of foreign capital ‘is simply not sustainable’ (Amoako 2011, 24).

            What GDP growth that has occurred is overwhelmingly characterised by the deployment and inflow of capital-intensive investment for the extraction and exportation of natural resources. There is a conspicuous lack of value added on the African side. In late 2012, the Deputy Executive Secretary of the Economic Commission for Africa noted that the relatively good economic growth performance over the past decade had been driven mostly by non-renewable natural resources and high commodity prices. Alongside this, he noted, de-industrialisation had been a key feature (Addis Tribune, December 8, 2012). Figures show that since 1990, Africa has experienced a relative shift in the composition of employment toward sectors that create too few high-productivity jobs (McMillan and Rodrik 2011). Manufacturing growth has been near the bottom in 12 growth sectors – only public administration lagged behind.

            Indeed, an important indicator of progress toward a more diversified production structure is the share of manufacturing value added (MVA) in GDP. MVA per capita itself is a basic indicator of a country's level of industrialisation. The figures for SSA in comparison to the rest of the world (and specifically with other Majority World regions) is depressing (Table 1):

            Table 1.
            Manufacturing value added per capita at constant (2000) US$.
            Developed economies35753722423945484267
            Developing economies171211254321430

            Notes: LAC = Latin America and Caribbean; MENA = Middle East and North Africa; CIS = Commonwealth of Independent States.

            Source: Figures taken from UNIDO Industrial Development Reports, cited in Rodionova (2014, 33).

            This is where ‘Africa Rising’ proponents deploy arguments about telecommunications, service sectors etc., but, as the African Transformation Index puts it,

            It appears that Sub-Saharan countries are directly replacing agriculture with services as the largest economic sector without passing through the intermediate phase of industrialization and an expanding manufacturing sector, the experience of almost all successful economies. Moreover, a large part of the services sector in many Sub-Saharan countries consists of low-technology and low-value activities. These trends are of great concern, since manufacturing has historically been the main source of technological learning. (African Center for Economic Transformation 2014, 27)

            Even the World Bank notes that Africa ‘is largely bypassing industrialisation as a major source driver of growth and jobs, and the extent of reallocation of labour to high-productivity, non-traditional activities has been limited’ (World Bank 2014, 2).

            Again, this time louder

            We have heard noise about Africa's immanent renaissance before – on multiple occasions. It is ironic that Time magazine's late 2012 edition celebrated ‘Africa Rising’, given that 14 years earlier (March 30, 1998, to be precise), Time ran a story with the exact same title! Then, we were told that ‘Hope is Africa's rarest commodity. Yet buried though it is amid the despair that haunts the continent, there is more optimism today than in decades.’ Fast forward a decade and a half and we are again on the cusp of better times. In fact, such tropes on Africa have a long pedigree, as William Easterly notes, citing passages from various World Bank reports:

            From a 1981 World Bank report, Accelerated Development in Sub-Saharan Africa (p. 133): ‘Policy action and foreign assistance … will surely work together to build a continent that shows real gains in both development and income in the near future.’ From a 1984 World Bank report, Toward Sustained Development in Sub-Saharan Africa (p. 2): ‘This optimism can be justified by recent experience in Africa … some countries are introducing policy and institutional reforms.’ From a 1986 World Bank report, Financing Growth with Adjustment in Sub-Saharan Africa (p. 15): ‘Progress is clearly under way. Especially in the past two years, more countries have started to act, and the changes they are making go deeper than before.’ From a 1989 World Bank report, Sub-Saharan Africa: From Crisis to Sustainable Growth (p. 35): ‘Since the mid-1980s Africa has seen important changes in policies and in economic performance.’ From a 1994 World Bank report, Adjustment in Africa (p. 3): ‘African countries have made great strides in improving policies and restoring growth.’ From a 2000 World Bank report, Can Africa Claim the 21st Century?: ‘Since the mid-1990s, there have been signs that better economic management has started to pay off.’ From a 2002 World Bank press release on African Development Indicators, ‘Africa's leaders … have recognised the need to improve their policies, spelled out in the New Partnership for African Development.' (Easterly 2003, 35–36)

            In 2008 Africa was at a ‘Turning Point’ (World Bank 2008), restated in 2011 with the assertion that the continent was ‘on the brink of … economic take-off, much like China was 30 years ago’ (World Bank 2011).

            A different Africa

            As part of the ‘Africa Rising’ narrative, we are now told confidently that ‘the Africa-pessimists have got it wrong’ (presumably including The Economist a few years ago?) as ‘the engines of development are still going strong. Democratic governance, political participation and economic management look set to improve further’ (The Economist, March 2, 2013). Indeed, advocates of the Africa Rising narrative argue that better governance and ways of conducting business have expedited Africa's growth and that it is not all about oil and minerals. In a detailed study, it is claimed that a ‘hospitable’ climate for business has been spurred by institutional change and political and economic reform (Taylor 2012). This is one of the central arguments around which much of the new-found optimism about Africa has been built, restated in the Oxford Companion to the Economics of Africa, which claims that ‘improved macroeconomic frameworks and political governance in a majority of countries were key drivers for the improved economic performance’ (Aryeety et al. 2012, 8).

            There are claims that huge improvements in governance across Africa have transpired. Representatively, Yvonne Mhango of Renaissance Capital assertively claims that: ‘Governments [in Africa] have got policy spectacularly right and created the low-debt, low-inflation, much-improved macro conditions that have enabled growth to take off’ (cited in African Business, January 2013, 18). Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, President of Liberia, has joined in, stating that: ‘In ten years [a] rapidly transforming Africa will move into the industrial age’ (New African, May 2013, 41). However, the empirical evidence on growth and policy-related indicators is consistent with the null hypothesis that more than two decades of externally imposed reforms had a muted effect on consolidating any capacity for sustainable growth in SSA. The engine of ‘Africa Rising’ was in fact the commodity boom, external debt relief and a reduction in intra-African conflicts (Weeks 2010, 10). The years when SSA's growth figures surpassed 1996 levels (2004–2008) can be demonstrably linked to the period when emerging economies began to massively require commodities for their own development. This actuality is unlike the ‘Africa Rising’ trope, where ‘spectacularly right’ (i.e. neoliberal) policies drove growth.

            Indeed, despite the celebration of alleged improved governance across the continent and the attempts to link this to Africa's recent growth spurt, there is little evidence that overall the quality of governance is on the up across the continent. The composite Mo Ibrahim Index of African Governance had a continental average of 47/100 in 2000 – by 2014 it had slightly increased to 51.5/100, but with less than half of all Africans living in a country which had shown governance improvements since 2010 (Mo Ibrahim Foundation 2014, 24). Meanwhile, the World Bank's own governance indicators for SSA disprove any opinion regarding improved governance over the period linked to Africa's ‘rise’. The Estimate of Government Effectiveness captures the quality of public services, the quality of the civil service (and the degree of its independence from political pressures), the quality of policy formulation and implementation, and the credibility of the government's commitment to such policies. Of the 49 SSA states, 30 had seen a worsening in government effectiveness between 2000 and 2012. During the same time period, fully 35 out of the 49 had seen a decline in the control of corruption (World Bank 2015a).

            The natural resource corner

            As noted above, commodity dependence is typically measured by the share of export earnings of the top single commodity (or top three export commodities) in GDP, in total merchandise exports and in total agriculture exports. The percentage of people occupied in commodity production or the share in government revenue accruing from commodities are also important measurements (South Centre 2005, 6). Using UNCTAD secretariat calculations, themselves based on UNCTAD's UNCTAD Stat, the Herfindahl–Hirschmann index measures the degree of market concentration. The index ranges from 0 to 1 and shows the extent of the differences between the structure of trade of a country or country group and the world mean. In other words, are countries/groups of countries more or less diversified than the world average? The figures demonstrate that Africa continues to be much less diversified than the rest of the world. SSA's concentration index in 2000 was 0.32; by 2013 it was 0.42 and in fact, the continent's export concentration increased by 72% between 1995 and 2011 (UNCTAD 2015). What diversification that has occurred has been volatile, extremely problematic given that African economies have become more concentrated (see UNCTAD 2012).

            A working paper from the OECD claims that ‘China's and India's growing demand for commodities has served to diversify export clients away from OECD countries’ (Avendaño, Reisen, and Santiso 2008, 8). However, the diversification index produced by UNCTAD shows that what has actually happened is that Africa has more or less remained undiversified in its exports, remaining dependent on primary commodities. Commodities make up over 80% of Africa's export revenues (UNCTAD 2012, 8).

            With high commodity prices in the latter half of the 2000s, the ‘Africa Rising’ mantra picked up speed. Yet it is surely obvious that:

            By diverting resources from non-raw material sectors and contributing to real exchange-rate appreciation, a price boom runs the risk of locking developing-country commodity exporters into what Edward Leamer called the ‘raw-material corner', with little scope for industrial progress or skills advancement. (UNECA 2012, 66)

            Leamer's corner came from his illustrating both relative factor endowments and relative factor intensities with three factors and any number of goods (Leamer 1987).

            Given Africa's factor endowments being concentrated in commodities and the export profile and sector concentration being in the same, the continent's place in the raw material corner has been reified. The result has been what Issa Shivji (2009, 59) terms ‘structural disarticulation’, where Africa exhibits a ‘disarticulation between the structure of production and the structure of consumption. What is produced is not consumed and what is consumed is not produced’ (see also Thomas 1974). Current account balances across the continent have widened. Dependent on imports and subject to external currency battles, SSA's current account balance (an indicator of the state of economies) is in decline, as the World Bank's Global Economic Prospects for 2015 report makes clear (Table 2):

            Table 2.
            Current account balance (per cent of GDP).

            Source: World Bank (2015b, 6).

            The growth hymn

            Current growth and governance models being pursued in SSA are based on facilitating market-based actors’ profit-making and capital accumulation. Environments that may develop production are largely ignored and the existing growth model is instead constructed on a simple-minded raising of national GDPs (Hamilton 2003). Governments ‘focus their attention heavily on the main tables, especially the gross domestic product (GDP), and the international agencies reinforce this bias’ (Kpedekpo and Arya 1981, 208). GDP growth is routinely used as the major benchmark against which ‘success’ is measured, despite Arthur Lewis’ warning back in 1955 that ‘[i]t is possible that output may be growing, and yet that the mass of the people may be becoming poorer’ (1955, 9).

            This obsession on economic growth stems from developments within the dismal science. ‘From the 1960s on, GDP conquered the political scene and affirmed itself as the supreme indicator of modernity and progress. Everything else (e.g. environmental sustainability, social justice, poverty eradication) were sacrificed on the altar of economic growth’ (Fioramonti 2013, 51). This measurement of one indicator of the economy as being the yardstick to measure progress and enable pundits to pronounce on the spectacular trajectories of, for example, emerging markets or Africa, was bolstered by events in the early 1990s:

            In 1992, the GNP [gross national product] was superseded by GDP … . Traditional GNP referred to all goods and services produced by the resident of a given country, regardless of whether the ‘income’ was generated within or outside its borders. This meant that, for instance, the earnings of multinational corporations were attributed to the country where the firm was owned and where the profits would eventually return. With the introduction of the gross ‘domestic’ product, this calculation changed completely. GDP is indeed territorially defined, which means that the income generated by foreign companies is ‘formally’ attributed to the country where it is generated, even though the profits may very well not remain there. This conceptual evolution … was by and large responsible for the economic boom of many developing nations. Yet, it is obvious that the gains it revealed were more than apparent than real. (Ibid., 41)

            Given the capital-intensive nature of much investment in Africa by foreign corporations involved in extraction, the distortionary effect when reporting Africa's growth based on GDP rather than GNP is obvious. Yet it is exactly the GDP figures that are deployed to construct the ‘Africa Rising’ discourse.

            Additionally, no thought is given to the long-term repercussions of how such growth rates have been realised. Extraction is, by definition, non-renewable and non-sustainable. In the current situation of dependent relations, Africa's wealth is being dug out of the ground at an alarming rate. This is celebrated as Africa's gain, even whilst ‘the continent is actually losing a net 6% of the gross national income each year, thanks to the Resource Curse writ large’ (Bond 2014, 237). ‘GDP calculates such exports as a solely positive process (a credit) without a corresponding debit on the books of a country's natural capital’ (Bond 2011, 39), despite the fact that there is an actual ‘decline in “natural capital” that occurs because the minerals and petroleum are non-renewable and lost forever’ (Bond 2014, 237, emphasis in original).

            The World Bank itself recommends that deducting the value of non-renewable resources through extraction gives a superior indicator of actual gains made through trade. The Bank first published cross-country estimates of what is called ‘genuine savings’ (GS) in 1997 and began including them in the World Development Indicators in 1999 (World Bank 1997). Mysteriously, the ‘Africa Rising’ proponents neglect to factor in such measurements.

            The idea of GS traces its roots back to the work of economists such as Solow (1974) and Hartwick (1974), whose work sought to model a development path where social welfare did not deteriorate in economies based on the exploitation of non-renewable resources. GS are thus equal to Gross Savings (GDP minus consumption) minus the depreciation of produced capital, minus the net resource rental rate times the variation of the stock of exhaustible resources, minus the marginal cost of social pollution times plus investment in human capital (Hanley, Dupuy, and McLaughlin 2014, 20. The indicator measures the true rate of savings in an economy and is a measure of net investment in produced, natural and human capital, producing ‘a much broader indicator of sustainability by valuing changes in natural resources, environmental quality, and human capital, in addition to the traditional measure of changes in produced assets' (Bolt, Matete, and Clemens 2002, 35).

            This has huge implications for the ‘Africa Rising’ story, because the majority of this ‘rising’ has been built on non-renewable extraction – and resource-rich countries are historically the poorest genuine savers (Atkinson and Hamilton 2003). In fact, setting aside Algeria and Guinea, for whom GS was just above zero for the period 1970–2001, every country with an average share of fuel and mineral exports in total exports of over 60% had a negative GS rate (Dietz, Neumayer, and de Soysa 2007, 35).

            Obviously, GDP is not calculated making deductions for the depreciation of fabricated assets or for the depletion and degradation of natural resources. Thus a country can have very high GDP growth rates whilst pursuing an unsustainable exploitation of its finite natural resources. Persistently low or negative GS are indicators that a country's trajectory is untenable, whilst negative adjusted net saving rates in themselves demonstrate that the total wealth of a country is in decline (World Bank 2006, 66). Below is an illustration of both GDP growth rates and the GS rates, including particulate emission damage, for SSA. The year 2000 is the start date, for comparison with the latest available data (2012). Of interest is the contrast between the two different indicators, which shows the unsustainability of many African countries’ current growth models (Table 3):

            Table 3.
            GDP growth rate (%) versus genuine savings rates.
            unless indicated
            Benin4.96.85.4−5.2 (2011)
            Burkina Faso1. (2010)
            Cape Verde14.3 2.5 
            CAR−2.5 6.9−4.59
            Chad−0.7 8.9−49.89 (2008)
            Comoros1.9 3.07.04
            Congo, DR−4.3−20.17.2−29.9 (2007)
            Congo-B−2.6−43.43.8−56.1 (2007)
            Côte d'Ivoire−−3.4 (2008)
            Eq. Guinea12.5 2.5−38.45 (2008)
            Gabon−−2.2 (2005)
            Gambia5.5 5.30.9
            Guinea2.5−5.23.9−42.8 (2011)
            Guinea-B3.6 −6.7−22.4 (2010)
            Lesotho5.1 4.011.5
            Liberia25.7 10.2−6.0 (2011)
            Madagascar4.8−2.03.1−2.5 (2005)
            Malawi1.6−5.51.9−2.7 (2011)
            Mali3.24.8−0.4−10.8 (2010)
            Namibia3.521.75.012.0 (2011)
            Niger−1.4−5.310.810.0 (2010)
            Nigeria5.3−3.26.7−10.2 (2011)
            Senegal3.23.53.515.9 (2011)
            Sierra Leone6.7−21.315.2−22.7 (2010)
            South Africa4.25.32.5−0.9
            Swaziland1.85.2−1.51.4 (2011)
            Togo−0.8−11.75.6−21.3 (2010)
            Zimbabwe−3.1 4.4 

            Notes: Djibouti, Mauritania, São Tomé and Príncipe, Seychelles and Somalia omitted owing to insufficient data.

            Source: World Bank (2015c).

            The above scenario is all missed in standard GDP measurements and is certainly overlooked in the ‘Africa Rising’ account.


            The current model of growth so far has been ineffective in engendering sustainable developmental outcomes and has made things worse vis-à-vis equality, the environment and Africa's dependent status within the global political economy. As Morten Jerven notes: ‘The most recent period of economic growth did not entail the large improvements in human development that were the case from 1950–1975 … Furthermore, the latest period of economic growth has not been associated with much industrial growth’ (Jerven 2010, 146). The Africa Progress Panel, which is habitually upbeat in its appraisals of Africa, concedes that:

            After a decade of buoyant growth, almost half of Africans still live on less than $1.25 a day. Wealth disparities are increasingly visible. The current pattern of trickle-down growth is leaving too many people in poverty, too many children hungry and too many young people without jobs. Governments are failing to convert the rising tide of wealth into opportunities for their most marginalised citizens. Unequal access to health, education, water and sanitation is reinforcing wider inequalities. Smallholder agriculture has not been part of the growth surge, leaving rural populations trapped in poverty and vulnerability. (Africa Progress Panel 2012, 8)

            Such a milieu stands in contrast to the wild claims about Africa's middle class, with assertions that it now amounts to over a third of Africa's population being trundled out to back up the ‘Africa Rising’ meme. It emerges that this figure was arrived at by calculating the number of people estimated (using dubious statistics) to have a per capita consumption between $2 and $20 (African Development Bank 2011). This criteria itself sets the bar at an incredibly low level, but of course then allows the African Development Bank to add its voice to the narrative that the dawn has arrived and that the corner has been turned etc. In fact, currently only 4% of Africans have an income in excess of $10 a day (Africa Progress Panel 2013, 17).

            This perhaps explains why amongst normal African people there does not seem much optimism within Africa about its putative ‘rise’.2 A recent Afrobarometer survey revealed that, despite a decade of strong GDP growth and the Africa Rising narrative, there is ‘a wide gap in perceptions between ordinary Africans and the global economic community’, where ‘a majority (53%) rate the current condition of their national economy as “fairly” or “very bad”’ and only ‘one in three Africans (31%) think the condition of their national economies has improved in the past year, compared to 38% who say things have gotten worse.’ Notably, when it came to their own elites,

            Africans give their governments failing marks for economic management (56% say they are doing ‘fairly’ or ‘very badly’), improving the living standards of the poor (69% fairly/very badly), creating jobs (71% fairly/very badly), and narrowing income gaps (76% fairly/very badly). (Afrobarometer 2013, 2)

            Consequently, ‘popular opinion is thus increasingly out of sync with the “Africa Rising” narrative that has been gaining traction among government officials and international investors’ (Hofmeyr 2013, 1).

            It is clear that the idea of ‘Africa Rising’ has gone hand in hand with no serious structural change in the continent's economies; indeed, they are linked, with de-industrialisation, alongside the entrenchment of dependency on primary products (Table 4):

            Table 4.
            Commodity composition of Africa's total exports (by %, 2000–2013).
            CommodityYearsNorth AfricaSSA
            Food, live animals, beverages and tobacco2000
            Crude materials (fuels excluded)2000
            Mineral fuels, lubricants2000
            Machinery and transport equipment2000
            Other manufactured goods2000

            Source: UNSD (2014), Table F.

            With the exception of a few individual countries, manufacturing is mostly in decline across SSA whilst the share of mining and utilities has hugely increased over the last few decades. Even within the manufacturing sector, resource-based manufacturing accounts for about 49% of total MVA in Africa (UNCTAD 2011, 15). Table 5 indicates the parlous state of manufacturing value added as a percentage of GDP in those SSA countries where data is known. As demonstrated, the majority of countries have fallen during the ostensible ‘Africa Rising’ period (Table 5):

            Table 5.
            Manufacturing, value added (% of GDP).
            Congo, DR10.016.5
            Côte d'Ivoire17.712.7
            Sierra Leone3.52.0
            South Africa18.911.5

            Source: World Bank (2015c).

            This fact of manufacturing underdevelopment in Africa is particularly problematic as it is in low-technology manufacturing where labour-intensive job-creating opportunities are found. A look at the figures where data is available reveals that this sector of manufacturing is relatively small (to very small), as the key contributor to the MVA in Africa (Ibid., 27–28). In fact, ‘fewer than 10% of African workers are currently in manufacturing of any kind and only about 1% in modern companies with advanced technology’ (Africa Confidential 2014, 1).

            In short, the much-vaunted recent economic growth in Africa, which is what the ‘Africa Rising’ narrative is fundamentally predicated upon, is based on trade in resources, not production. As Robert Bates notes, it ‘is [the] demand for the stuff underneath it – Africa's mineral and oil wealth – that is driving the economic growth behind all these “Africa Rising” narratives’ (Bates 2012). This is a crisis for Africa, as ‘production is the key to accumulation since the profits of all capital, even merchant capital that operates exclusively in the sphere of circulation, originate in the sphere of production’ (Kay 1975, 71). Yet it should be noted that the surpluses that could lead to industrial investments are not forthcoming. ‘The economic landscape then is weak industrial development, chronic balance of payment problems all under the management of a neocolonial comprador class’ (Amaizo 2012, 127).

            It hardly needs restating that a development project which has not broken with the very clear and continuous pattern in terms of commodity structures, consistent with Africa's Ricardian advantage, is short-sighted in the extreme. This is becoming ever clearer with all commodities predicted by the World Bank to fall in value in the next 10 years. It is now predicted that the fall in oil prices alone will translate into a decline in annual exports equivalent to 1.3% of GDP for Nigeria, 3.5% of GDP for Gabon, 4.2% of GDP for Angola and 7% of GDP for Congo-Brazzaville (Standard Chartered Bank 2014). Whither ‘Africa Rising’ in this scenario? (Table 6).

            Table 6.
            Price indices in real 2010 US dollars.
            Non-energy commodities94.992.691.490.289.087.886.685.484.182.981.680.479.2
             Agriculture 99.796.895.093.692.290.889.588.186.785.383.882.481.0
             Beverages 77.977.476.275.274.373.372.371.370.369.
            Food 108.7103.3100.198.296.394.492.490.588.686.784.883.081.2
             Fats and oils 108.7101.497.995.994.
             Grains 119.3115.1111.6109.3107.1104.9102.7100.598.396.294.091.989.9
             Other food 99.195.392.791.189.587.986.384.683.081.379.778.176.5
            Raw materials89.190.791.991.791.591.290.991.090.489.989.388.888.2
             Timber 96.1100.4102.5102.9103.4103.8104.2105.2105.1105.0104.8104.7104.5
             Other raw materials 81.480.180.479.478.477.476.475.474.473.472.471.470.4
            Metals and minerals (a)83.582.983.182.481.781.080.279.578.777.977.176.375.5
            Base metals (b)82.882.382.581.881.180.479.678.878.177.376.575.774.9
            Precious metals105.6102.2100.698.997.395.693.992.290.588.887.285.583.9

            Notes: (a) includes iron ore; (b) includes aluminium, copper, lead, nickel, tin and zinc.

            Source: World Bank (2013b).

            When GDP growth was good, the economic advantages accrued to the accumulation centres outside of Africa.3 The result was that the role of Africa as a source of cheap raw materials, exported to feed external economies and/or processed up the value chain into finished products, was reified. This has been a habitual problem for Africa and the ‘classical dependency-periphery theory that still holds today for a balkanised and economically exploited Africa must be confronted head-on’ (Amin 2014a, 36). Indeed, the insights that radical political economy presents are remarkably prescient in discussing the entire ‘Africa Rising’ narrative. This is an unfashionable but vital point to make.

            Economic development typically denotes sustainable economic growth along with important structural changes in production patterns and wide-ranging improvements in living standards (Whitfield 2012, 241).

            Emergence is not measured by a rising rate of GDP growth (or exports) … nor the fact that the society in question has obtained a higher level of GDP per capita, as defined by the World Bank, aid institutions controlled by Western powers, and conventional economists. (Amin 2014b, 139)

            Indeed, Tamás Szentes’ (1971, 163) objection to such quantitative indices is apposite here. Underdevelopment is a much too multifaceted phenomenon, irreducible to showy statistics about GDP growth or mobile phone usage. Instead:

            there are two aspects, two sides of underdevelopment: the basically external, international aspect, which, from the historical point of view of the emergence of the present state, is the primary aspect; and the internal aspect, which from the point of view of future development, is increasingly important.

            The African Union and the UN Economic Commission for Africa itself recommend industrialisation as the central strategy for Africa to address poverty, inequality and unemployment (Economic Commission for Africa 2013). Yet, as Julius Nyerere commented over 30 years ago:

            we [Africa] are all, in relation to the developed world, dependent – not interdependent – nations. Each of our economies has developed as a bi-product and a subsidiary of development in the industrialised North, and is externally oriented. We are not the prime movers of our own destiny. (Nyerere 1979, 58)

            A redefinition of growth to include structural transformation is needed à la Simon Kuznets’ (1973) definition of a country's economic growth being a long-term rise in capacity to supply increasingly diverse economic goods to its population, this growing capacity based on advancing technology and the institutional and ideological adjustments that it demands. Such a definition puts to shame the crass celebration of Africa's recent growth rates as symbolising some sort of watershed event for the continent. Indeed, the ‘headline figures circulated by the IFIs [International Financial Institutions] and apologists for global capitalism obscure failures around structural transformation of African economies’ (Bush 2013, 63). It still remains that ‘[t]he root dilemma of Africa's economic development has been the asymmetry between the role of the continent in the world and the degree to which that world … has penetrated Africa’ (Austen 1987, 271).

            Of course, external conditions are not propitious to true development – the North makes sure of that, pushing multiple agreements criminalising industrial policy instruments used previously by the core to nurture domestic capacities (Cooper 2014).4 This is but a modern version of Friedrich List's ‘kicking away the ladder’ (List 1885). In such circumstances, a ‘rise’ based on an intensification of resource extraction whilst dependency deepens, inequality increases and de-industrialisation continues apace, demolishes the ‘Africa Rising’ narrative. In this context, the story of ‘Africa Rising’ is just that, a story, where growth-for-growth's sake replaces development and the agenda of industrialisation and moving Africa up the global production chain has been discarded. Instead, Africa's current ‘comparative advantage’ as a primary commodity exporter is reinforced, even whilst such dynamics reproduce underdevelopment. This is celebrated as ‘progress’.

            Note on contributor

            Ian Taylor is Professor in International Relations and African Politics at St Andrews, Chair Professor in the School of International Studies, Renmin University of China and Professor Extraordinary in Political Science at the University of Stellenbosch, South Africa.

            Disclosure statement

            No potential conflict of interest was reported by the authors.



            The eight countries are: Ghana, Uganda, Senegal, Niger, Malawi, Benin, Mozambique, and São Tomé and Príncipe.


            Despite a flurry of reports talking about Africa being ‘the new Mecca for luxury brands’ (African Business, September 19, 2013) and how the number of millionaires is set to rise on the continent, one in three people living in SSA are undernourished, 589 million people live without electricity, more than 50% of Africans have a water-related illness such as cholera, 62% of people living in urban areas live in slum conditions and women in SSA are over 230 times more likely to die during childbirth or pregnancy than women in North America (see United Nations 2014). Meanwhile, the percentage of people living on less than $2 a day in SSA is around 70% (in 1981 it was 72.2% – in other words, in over 30 years, poverty reduction in SSA has been negligible). The absolute number of people on $2 a day or less has doubled (see World Bank 2013c, 542). So much for ‘Africa Rising'.


            This is apart from the $52.9 billion – roughly 5.5% of GDP – that SSA loses in illicit financial outflows each year (Global Financial Integrity 2014). See also Boyce and Ndikumana (2012).


            The classic example being the World Trade Organization, but there are plenty more.


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            Author and article information

            Review of African Political Economy
            Review of African Political Economy
            March 2016
            : 43
            : 147
            : 8-25
            [ a ] School of International Relations, University of St Andrews , St Andrews, UK
            [ b ] Department of Political Science, University of Stellenbosch , Stellenbosch, South Africa
            Author notes

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            Page count
            Figures: 0, Tables: 6, Equations: 0, References: 91, Pages: 18

            Sociology,Economic development,Political science,Labor & Demographic economics,Political economics,Africa


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