Has Sub-Saharan Africa’s record of economic growth made a material difference in the lives of ordinary Africans – and which countries or regions are benefiting most (and least) from growth?
New data from Afrobarometer (AB), collected across an unprecedented 34 African countries from October 2011 to June 2013 demonstrates that ‘lived poverty’ remains pervasive across the continent.
Yet African countries’ impressive growth in GDP is attracting optimism and investment with the metaphor of Africa ‘rising’ replacing descriptions of the ‘hopeless’ continent.
But the big questions remains: Has Sub-Saharan Africa’s record of economic growth made a material difference in the lives of ordinary Africans – and which countries or regions are benefiting most (and least) from growth?
These were the burning issues highlighted by a panel of specialists at the recent Afrobarometer ‘Lived Poverty Data Release’ event hosted in Rosebank, Joburg, the first of seven Afrobarometer events in seven cities on the continent.
The AB is a comparative series of public opinion surveys that measure public attitudes toward democracy, governance, the economy, leadership, identity, and other related issues. It is an independent, non-partisan, African-based network of researchers, who first started doing surveys in 1999 in 12 countries. The organisation aims to give the public a voice in policy-making processes by providing high-quality public opinion data to policy-makers, policy advocates and civil society organisations, academics, media, donors and investors, and ordinary Africans.
Afrobarometer’s ‘lived poverty’ indicators, which show how often families lacked a cash income, food to eat, clean water, medical care or fuel for cooking, provide a unique view into the real conditions of families in the region.
“We also track ordinary people’s expectations for future conditions, providing a roadmap for policy makers and legislators trying to focus on the most significant basic necessities in shortest supply beyond 2015, when international poverty alleviation goals are supposed to be met. The most recent data on lived poverty comes from Afrobarometer’s citizen attitude surveys conducted by the 34 countries from 2011 to 2013, ”according to co-founder of AB, Robert Mattes.
The half-day event included presentations by Mattes (also professor of political studies at the University of Cape Town) and Boniface Dulani, AB operations manager and political and administrative studies lecturer at the University of Malawi.
Other members of the panel included RaenetteTaljaard (a commissioner of the Electoral Commission of South Africa and senior lecturer in public policy at the University of Cape Town) and Fatima Shabodien (the country director of Action Aid South Africa).
The barometer reveals that just two years before the 2015 Millennium Development Goal benchmark year, roughly one in five Africans still frequently go without food (17%), clean water (22%) or medical care (20%). One in two people experience at least occasional shortages.
“Survey participants were asked to say how often someone in their households went without medical care, food, water, cooking fuel or a cash income in the 12 months preceding the survey,” according to the barometer.
Afrobarometer furthermore calculates an average score for each respondent and each country that captures overall levels of ‘lived poverty’ by combining average answers to questions on deprivation. The Lived Poverty Index (LPI) score ranges along a five point scale from 0 (no lived poverty) to 4 (a constant absence of all basic necessities). The mean lived poverty score across all thirty-four countries in 2012 is 1.26 (on the scale of 0 to 4).
However, there is significant cross-national variation around that mean. At their worst, average scores in Togo (1.89), Burundi (1.85), Niger (1.81), Guinea (1.78) and Lesotho (1.77) suggest that the average person in these countries experiences shortages across all basic necessities ‘several’ times a year.
At their best, the LPI scores in Mauritius (0.20) and Algeria (0.32) mean that the typical person in those countries ‘never’ goes without any basic necessities.
As for the average lived poverty (2011 to 2013), average combined results from people who say they have been without food, water, medical care, fuel or a cash income at least once in the year preceding the survey.
“In general, West African countries are clustered at the bottom of the scale, while North African countries dominate at the top. Average lived poverty is highest in both West Africa (1.47) and East Africa (1.46), and lowest in North Africa (0.77), with Southern Africa (1.17). The two worst performing North African countries, Sudan and Egypt, have been embroiled in internal political conflicts. Because this is the first Afrobarometer survey in these countries, the data cannot show whether poverty has led to the conflicts, or has gotten worse as a result of discord.”
Roots of poverty
Afrobarometer’s analysis shows that across 34 countries, lived poverty scores fall sharply as peoples’ education level increases, from 1.62 among those with no formal schooling, to 0.87 among those with post-secondary education. The relatively low levels of education in West African states such as Niger, Mali, Burkina Faso and Guinea help account for the high levels of poverty in those countries.
Poverty scores also vary sharply according to whether or not key services are present in the respondent’s community. The average LPI is 1.05 in census enumeration areas that have an electricity grid, but 1.64 where there is none. Similarly, where piped water services are available, the LPI is 1.08 compared with 1.53 in areas lacking those services. The US have done a far worse job of extending electricity grids in West and East Africa than in other parts of the continent.
These simple correlations strongly suggest that the availability of key infrastructural services (electricity and water, paved roads, sewage systems and health clinics) has a major influence on the experience of lived poverty.