Realising Africa’s potential

Secretary-General of the OECD

Can Africa sustain its recent strong economic performances and benefit more from its abundant resources?

Since 2000 Africa’s GDP has grown by 5.1% per year on average, nearly three times the rate of growth of the OECD area during the same period. In spite of recent country-specific challenges and headwinds from the global economy, growth is set to remain strong.

While the global crisis has affected Africa’s growth performance, mainly because of weaker global demand, lower commodity prices and declines in capital flows, as well as promises of aid that never materialised, the outlook remains bright. Africa’s economy is projected to grow by 4.8% in 2013 and 5.3 % in 2014, driven by increases in agricultural production, a buoyant services sector, and expansion in oil production and mining.

Africa’s recent economic dynamism has been underpinned by sound macroeconomic policies and stronger partnerships with major emerging markets. The continent has become more resilient to shocks and has benefited from strong demand for commodities, increased investment flows and closer links to global value chains. Since 2000 Africa’s exports have almost quadrupled in value, to close to US$582 billion in 2011. Better macroeconomic management has also helped, and the continent’s average budget deficit is now close to zero.

Despite this progress, the continent still faces several structural challenges.

Nearly 78% of the population of sub-Saharan Africa lives in poverty, with some 49% living below the international poverty line of $1.25 per day in 2010. Africa will probably be the only developing region not to reach the Millennium Development Goal of halving poverty by 2015, and will struggle to reach the other goals as well. Only a third of Africans have access to sanitation, and another third have no access at all to clean water. Under such conditions fighting diseases remains an uphill battle.

In addition, the predicament of Africa’s fragile states, whose 200 million inhabitants need constant support, underlines the importance of development aid and the need for donors to reverse falling aid trends.

Education and job creation are also a priority. About 40 million young people are jobless, and youth unemployment reaches nearly 25% in Egypt and 50% in South Africa. The International Labour Organization (ILO) estimates that between 2000 and 2008 Africa created 73 million jobs, of which only 16 million were for 15 to 24 year olds.

Inequality is another serious concern, as wealth disparities in Africa are among the widest in the world. In 2010, 6 of the 10 most unequal countries in the world were in sub-Saharan Africa. Progress in reducing inequality has been slow, even as Africa’s growth has picked up.

Another factor hindering progress is the gender gap, with sub- Saharan Africa registering the highest level of gender inequality. This affects productivity and growth. The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimates that if women farmers had the same access to productive resources as men, the resulting gains in agricultural productivity could lift as many as 150 million people out of hunger.

Africa has to transform its economic structures so that its population can benefit from stronger, more inclusive growth. How can such a structural transformation be achieved?

The continent has a strong comparative advantage in natural resources, whether in energy, mineral resources or agriculture, which could be the basis for action. The OECD recommends a fourlayered policy approach:

The first layer consists of adopting policies designed to improve infrastructure, logistics and skills, as well as promoting private sector development. For instance, in South Africa, if constraints such as infrastructure bottlenecks, water scarcity, and skills and energy shortages were resolved, the mining sector could potentially grow by 3% to 4% annually until 2020 and generate at least 300,000 jobs.

A second layer consists of strengthening the natural resource sector through greater investments in value added activities and know-how, thereby generating more revenue for government and more job opportunities for Africans.

The third layer involves managing natural resources more efficiently and sustainably, putting in place a transparent and fair tax system, as well as promoting competition and fighting public and private corruption.

The fourth layer involves initiatives to raise agricultural productivity and build linkages to and from the extractive industries.

The time is ripe for Africa to make better use of its natural resources and achieve more inclusive growth. The OECD is committed to working alongside African policymakers in this effort. We can share experiences and help design better policies through our dialogue and global forums. With the right policies and strategic approach, the social and economic progress of recent years could be the prelude to long-lasting, sustained prosperity in Africa.


© OECD Observer No 296 Q3 2013

Economic data


Stay up-to-date with the latest news from the OECD by signing up for our e-newsletter :

Twitter feed

Suscribe now

<b>Subscribe now!</b>

To receive your exclusive print editions delivered to you directly

Online edition
Previous editions

Don't miss

  • Africa's cities at the forefront of progress: Africa is urbanising at a historically rapid pace coupled with an unprecedented demographic boom. By 2050, about 56% of Africans are expected to live in cities. This poses major policy challenges, but make no mistake: Africa’s cities and towns are engines of progress that, if harnessed correctly, can fuel the entire continent’s sustainable development.
  • “Nizip” refugee camp visit
    July 2016: OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurría visits the “Nizip” refugee camp, situated between Gaziantep and the Turkish-Syrian border, accompanied by Turkey’s Deputy Prime Minister Mehmet Şimşek. The camp accommodates a small number of the 2.75 million Syrians currently registered in Turkey, mostly outside the camps. In his tour of the camp, Mr Gurría visits a school, speaks with refugees and gives a short interview.
  • OECD Observer i-Sheet Series: OECD Observer i-Sheets are smart contents pages on major issues and events. Use them to find current or recent articles, video, books and working papers. To browse on paper and read on line, or simply download.
  • Queen Maxima of the Netherlands gives a speech next to Mexico's President Enrique Pena Nieto (not pictured) during the International Forum of Financial Inclusion at the National Palace in Mexico City, Mexico June 21, 2016.
  • How sustainable is the ocean as a source of economic development? The Ocean Economy in 2030 examines the risks and uncertainties surrounding the future development of ocean industries, the innovations required in science and technology to support their progress, their potential contribution to green growth and some of the implications for ocean management.
  • OECD Environment Director Simon Upton presented a talk at Imperial College London on 21 April 2016. With the world awash in surplus oil and prices languishing around US$40 per barrel, how can governments step up efforts to transform the world’s energy systems in line with the Paris Agreement?
  • Happy 10th birthday to Twitter. This 2008 OECD Observer interview with Henry Copeland said you’d do well.
  • The OECD Gender Initiative examines existing barriers to gender equality in education, employment, and entrepreneurship. The gender portal monitors the progress made by governments to promote gender equality in both OECD and non-OECD countries and provides good practices based on analytical tools and reliable data.
  • Once migrants reach Europe, countries face integration challenge: OECD's Thomas Liebig speaks to NPR's Audie Cornish.

  • Message from the International Space Station to COP21

  • The carbon clock is ticking: OECD’s Gurría on CNBC

  • If we want to reach zero net emissions by the end of the century, we must align our policies for a low-carbon economy, put a price on carbon everywhere, spend less subsidising fossil fuels and invest more in clean energy. OECD at #COP21 – OECD statement for #COP21
  • They are green and local --It’s a new generation of entrepreneurs in Kenya with big dreams of sustainable energy and the drive to see their innovative technologies throughout Africa.
  • Pole to Paris Project
  • In order to face global warming, Asia needs at least $40 billion per year, derived from both the public and private sector. Read how to bridge the climate financing gap on the Asian Bank of Development's website.
  • How can cities fight climate change?
    Discover projects in Denmark, Canada, Australia, Japan and Mexico.
  • Climate: What's changed, what hasn't, what we can do about it.
    Lecture by OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurría, hosted by the London School of Economics and Aviva Investors in association with ClimateWise, London, UK, 3 July 2015.
  • Is technological progress slowing down? Is it speeding up? At the OECD, we believe the research from our Future of ‪Productivity‬ project helps to resolve this paradox.
  • Is inequality bad for growth? That redistribution boosts economies is not established by the evidence says FT economics editor Chris Giles. Read more on
  • Interested in a career in Paris at the OECD? The OECD is a major international organisation, with a mission to build better policies for better lives. With our hub based in one of the world's global cities and offices across continents, find out more at .

Most Popular Articles


What issue are you most concerned about in 2016?

Euro crisis
International conflict
Global warming

OECD Insights Blog

NOTE: All signed articles in the OECD Observer express the opinions of the authors
and do not necessarily represent the official views of OECD member countries.

All rights reserved. OECD 2016