Tackling Inequalities and Promoting Structural Transformation in Africa

The objective of the Panel would be to analyze the current drivers of African inequalities and explore the policy options to tackle them and promote structural transformations for inclusive, equitable and sustainable growth.

Although equality is a fundamental value reflected in the Millennium Declaration, national interventions aimed at achieving the MDGs did not systematically and effectively address issues of inequality.  By not systematically tackling trends “beneath the averages”, “many types of inequalities have worsened, in a period when the Millennium Development Goals did improve. Therefore to change the current trend of widening inequalities, in the face of significant progress in the reduction of poverty and other deleterious conditions of live, Africa must chart a different course for its development; a course that would be a departure from the old way of managing its development and resources; that ushers in real socio-economic transformation.

For African and other developing countries, inequalities are a critical issue particularly at this present conjuncture of Africa experiencing a period of great optimism about its prospects. On the one hand, some of the fastest growing economies are in Africa, with Africa’s economic growth having been consistently above 5 per cent on average since 2002, except in 2009 when it was below 4 per cent. On the other hand, over three decades of economic liberalization policies have not been accompanied by the expansion of  employment opportunities at the same pace, in many African countries. Although Africa has some of the highest rates of labor market participation in the world, most of the jobs are casual, precarious and offer very poor terms and conditions and few prospects for skills development and upward mobility.

Beyond the economic domain, social development deficits in Africa also remain quite striking, with the prevalence of undernourishment at 27 per cent in 2008, a decline of only 4 percentage points over 18 years (31 per cent in 1990).   Moreover, 35 per cent of Africa’s children were found to be stunted in 2009. In education, Africa is home to more than half of the world’s out-of-school children and has the highest rate of children leaving school early, usually due, in turn, to income and gender inequities. Furthermore, many of these inequities are underpinned by social exclusion and discrimination which work in a vicious circle to undermine the attainment of rights and poverty reduction. Marginalized people, due in large part to multiple forms of economic, social, cultural and sometimes legal discrimination, tend to be poorer than most other groups and suffer the worst vulnerability. The failure to address both social and economic inequities for children and youth in particular will have severe repercussions for future development.

The Panel will explore these challenges while also sharing the outcomes of the upcoming Africa-wide conference on Inequalities (April 2014).