Down to Earth Again: The Third Stage of African Growth Perceptions

Helmut Asche


Research on African economies has arrived at the third stage of perceptions in recent times – after “Africa’s growth tragedy” and “Emerging Africa,” we have now come back down to earth. An analysis of five stylised facts contributes to the sobering account: per capita income levels rising only moderately; “hyperglobalisation” or “peak trade” in the world economy likely coming to an end; African economies exhibiting limited structural change; employment and labour productivity trends going somewhat in the wrong direction and at the expense of manufacturing; and industrialisation peaking earlier in global development and at lower levels of employment, rendering an industry-led development path for Africa even more difficult than previously thought. By analysing these trends, we are better able to pinpoint the challenges that governments, parliaments, and the private sector will face in terms of defining policies to sustain the impressive record of the growth period in Africa which began in the mid-1990s and continues today. As the continent’s growth was, despite inflated figures on African middle classes, not inclusive enough, sympathy for all sorts of cash transfer programmes, including unconditional transfers, is rising in formerly reticent quarters. Fresh excitement over social subsidies in Africa should, however, not come at the expense of smart productive subsidies, which have the potential to tackle the agro-industrial root causes of the limited structural change recorded.

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