The shortest route out of poverty is through better governance


By 2030, sub-Saharan Africa is expected to represent 65% of global poverty.

The highest poverty burden on the globe can be found in sub-Saharan Africa. In 2015, the region accounted for only 14% of the world’s total population but about 44% of the world’s population that survive on less than $1.90 per person per day.

By 2030, sub-Saharan Africa is expected to represent about 20% of the global population, but 65% of global poverty. New research from the Institute for Security Studies (ISS) explores how reductions in poverty could be achieved by improving governance in sub-Saharan Africa.

The new ISS paper follows the definition of governance in World Bank’s World Governance Indicators (WGI) project, which refers to the ability of the government to ‘effectively formulate and implement sound policies and the respect of citizens and the state for the institutions that govern economic and social interactions among them’.

Goal 1 of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) aims to ‘eradicate extreme poverty for all people everywhere’ – and Agenda 2030 clarifies that ‘eradicating poverty in all its forms and dimensions, including extreme poverty, is the greatest global challenge and an indispensable requirement for sustainable development’.

It is key, therefore, to identify the most direct route from where we stand today to a future free from the shackles of poverty in sub-Saharan Africa.

There are legions of theories about which other development priorities have the most significant effects on poverty reduction: economic growth, education, disease reduction, gender equality, access to electricity and so on. The common thread in all of these themes is that for poverty reduction strategies to be successful, they must be conceived, implemented and monitored by governments with sufficient capacity to obtain and distribute resources and services to those who need it most.

Poverty reduction also lies at the heart of the recently concluded Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). A key takeaway from the MDGs was that economic growth is a necessary but insufficient condition for sustained poverty reduction; and that the nature of the growth was a key factor.

The recent paper from the African Futures Project at the ISS forecasts that an improvement in governance in sub-Saharan Africa would lift more people out of poverty than either providing universal access to improved sanitation facilities (SDG 6.2) or eliminating certain communicable diseases (SDG 3.3). The paper used the International Futures (IFs) forecasting system hosted by Frederick S. Pardee Center for International Futures (Pardee Center) at the University of Denver for this analysis.

Although the proportion of people living in poverty in sub-Saharan Africa is expected to reduce from about 43% in 2015 to about 36% in 2030, the absolute number of people living in poverty will increase over that time period. The major driver of this is population growth.

So, while sub-Saharan Africa is reducing the percentage of people living in poverty on the continent, rapid population growth is driving an increase of the absolute number of people living in that condition. Other developing regions are also outpacing sub-Saharan Africa in terms of poverty reduction, so the share of global poverty in sub-Saharan Africa will increase significantly by 2030.

In addition to high levels of poverty, many African countries are also characterised by ineffective governance. Barring any major improvements, sub-Saharan Africa is expected to have an average level of government effectiveness in 2030 below that of South Asia in 2015.

Taken together, these two facts raise a very important question: how would improved governance in sub-Saharan Africa affect poverty during the Sustainable Development Goal period?

To explore the effects of improved governance on poverty reduction in Africa, the researchers modelled a scenario where the level of government effectiveness was improved to the average of the five most effective governments in Africa in 2015 (Seychelles, South Africa, Botswana, Namibia and Rwanda). This scenario sees the government effectiveness score of sub-Saharan Africa improve to roughly the global average by 2030.

This could have remarkable effects on poverty reduction. By 2050, 60 million fewer people could be living in poverty than on sub-Saharan Africa’s current development trajectory. Over half of those individuals are currently in countries where more than 50% of the population lives on less than $1.90 per person per day.

Improving governance in sub-Saharan Africa could increase the gross domestic product (GDP) by nearly $1.5 trillion dollars, and increase GDP per capita at purchasing power parity by almost $800 by 2050.

The improved governance scenario also results in two fewer deaths per thousand live births in 2050 than could be expected on sub-Saharan Africa’s current development trajectory.

For context, the paper also compares the effects of improved governance against two other scenarios from previous ISS papers: one that models a future where Africa achieves near-universal access to improved sanitation (SDG 6.2) and another where Africa eliminates certain communicable diseases (SDG 3.3).

Eliminating communicable diseases and increasing access to improved sanitation can reduce the number of people living in extreme poverty in Africa by the year 2050 by 36 million and 16 million people respectively.

Improving governance and addressing other SDGs are not mutually exclusive. So, if countries improve governance in parallel with efforts to reduce the prevalence of communicable diseases or increase access to improved sanitation, the effects would be even more significant.

The purpose of this research is not to advocate for a ‘developmental’ state in Africa where economic and social development are prioritised above human rights and accountability. Nor is the intent to sidestep other important components of governance like security, inclusion or democracy. Rather, the goal is to highlight the need for more effective governance and how achieving that could alleviate one of the continent’s gravest challenges, namely extreme poverty. – ISS Today

Zachary Donnenfeld, researcher and Ciara Aucoin, researcher, African Futures and Innovation, ISS Pretoria

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