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Africa: Whose "Africa Rising"?

AfricaFocus Bulletin
October 18, 2013 (131018)
(Reposted from sources cited below)

Editor's Note

"New findings from Afrobarometer, based on surveys conducted in an unprecedented 34 African countries between October 2011 and June 2013, reveal widespread dissatisfaction with current economic conditions despite a decade of strong growth. ... a majority (53%) rate the current condition of their national economy as 'fairly' or 'very bad', while just 29% offer a positive assessment." - Afrobarometer press release, October 1, 2013

The debate over "Africa Rising" is inevitably inconclusive, not only because African countries are different, but also because the effects of macroeconomic growth as measured by gross domestic product (GDP) are shared unequally within countries. In addition, that measure itself is a flawed and debatable measure of progress, as explored most comprehensively in a recent book by Lorenzo Fioramonti, Gross Domestic Problem: The Politics Behind the World's Most Powerful Number (London: Zed Books, 2013;

Like measurement in economics, public opinion research is not an exact science. But at least it has the virtue of asking people themselves what they think. The growing series of Afrobarometer surveys, now covering 34 African countries, and with a impressive range of time-series data, is now releasing results and analyses from its fifth round of surveys, covering a wide range of topics ( The two released so far focus on economic issues and on free speech.

This AfricaFocus Bulletin contains the October 1 press release on the reports on African views of the economy, as well as excerpts from one of the policy reports on this theme.

Also released in October was Policy Brief No. 2: Africa Rising? Popular Dissatisfaction with Economic Management Despite a Decade of Growth, by Jan Hofmeyr, which includes this clear summary paragraph:

"Economic growth appears to benefit only a few, according to the ordinary people who participated in Afrobarometer's surveys. Growing economies are not creating enough jobs, or making life significantly better for Africa's poor. Glowing GDP growth figures might therefore offer little solace to people without jobs or those mired in poverty. Popular opinion is thus increasingly out of sync with the "Africa Rising" narrative that has been gaining traction among government officials and international investors."

For the full set of publications from Afrobarometer, visit

For previous AfricaFocus Bulletins on economic issues, visit

++++++++++++++++++++++end editor's note+++++++++++++++++

A Majority of Africans Say National Economic Conditions are Bad

Press Release October 1, 2013

For further information or to arrange an interview with an Afrobarometer social scientists contact: Paula Park +233 266 0870 80

New findings from Afrobarometer, based on surveys conducted in an unprecedented 34 African countries between October 2011 and June 2013, reveal widespread dissatisfaction with current economic conditions despite a decade of strong growth.

Annual GDP growth on the continent averaged 4.8% over the past decade (2002-11), prompting The Economist magazine to tag Africa as 'The Hopeful Continent', and an abundance of upbeat macroeconomic statistics has made Africa a new darling of portfolio investors.

[Economic growth rates reported are annual averages calculated for the decade from 2002-11, based on data from African Development Bank available at Liberia growth rates are calculated for the period from 2004-2011. Somalia is excluded.]

Afrobarometer's data on popular perceptions about the condition of national economies and the effectiveness of governments' efforts to manage them reveal a wide gap in between ordinary Africans and the global economic community, however. In particular:

  • Across 34 countries a majority (53%) rate the current condition of their national economy as 'fairly' or 'very bad', while just 29% offer a positive assessment.
  • Just one in three Africans (31%) think the condition of their national economies has improved in the past year, compared to 38% who say things have gotten worse.
  • Similarly, 32% say their own personal living conditions have improved in the past year, compared to 33% who say they have gotten worse (34% saw no change).
  • Africans give their governments failing marks for economic management (56% say they are doing 'fairly' or 'very badly'), improving the living standards of the poor (69% fairly/very badly), creating jobs (71% fairly/very badly), and narrowing income gaps (76% fairly/very badly).
  • Many Africans nonetheless express optimism about the future: 57% expect the economy to be better in a year.
  • West Africa tends to be the most positive and optimistic region, while East Africans are consistently the most negative, and the least optimistic about the future.

[For charts see pdf version on at]


Afrobarometer (AB) conducts public opinion surveys that measure citizens' at titudes toward democracy, governance, the economy, leadership, identity, and other related issues. The AB is an independent, non-partisan, African-based network of researchers. The organization aims to give the public a voice in policy making by providing high-quality public opinion data to policymakers, civil society organizations, academics, media, donors and investors, and ordinary Africans.

Afrobarometer surveys are based on nationally representative samples. These 34-country results therefore represent the views of approximately three-quarters (76%) of the continent's population. Results from a 35th country, Ethiopia, will be available shortly. The total number of respondents in the 34 countries was 51,605.

Afrobarometer's economic management findings were released in Johannesburg, at the first of seven Afrobarometer release events in seven cities. Survey results on Internet usage will be released in Nairobi Oct. 16; data on government services and natural resource management will be presented in Accra Oct. 30; corruption results will be released in Dakar Nov. 13; taxation data in Lagos on Nov. 27; Gender findings in Addis Ababa on Dec. 4. Our signature democracy figures will be presented in Bamako on Dec. 12.

Policy Brief No. 1

After a Decade of Growth in Africa, Little Change in Poverty at the Grassroots

By Boniface Dulani, Robert Mattes and Carolyn Logan

October 2013

New data from Round 5 of the Afrobarometer, collected across an unprecedented 34 African countries between October 2011 and June 2013, demonstrates that "lived poverty" remains pervasive across the continent. This data, based on the views and experiences of ordinary citizens, counters projections of declining poverty rates that have been derived from official GDP growth rates. For the 16 countries where these questions have been asked over the past decade, we find little evidence for systematic reduction of lived poverty despite average GDP growth rates of 4.8% per year over the same period. While we do see reductions in five countries (Cape Verde, Ghana, Malawi, Zambia and Zimbabwe), we also find increases in lived poverty in five others (Botswana, Mali, Senegal, South Africa and Tanzania). Overall, then, despite high reported growth rates, lived poverty at the grassroots remains little changed. This suggests either that growth is occurring, but that its effects are not trickling down to the poorest citizens (in fact, income inequality may be worsening), or alternatively, that actual growth rates may not match up to those being reported. The evidence also suggests, however, that investments in infrastructure and social services are strongly linked with lower levels of lived poverty.

Key Findings

  • With only two years to go before the 2015 Millennium Development Goal benchmark year, roughly one in five Africans still experiences frequent ('many times' or 'always') deprivation with respect to their most basic needs for food (17%), clean water (21%), and medicines and medical care (20%). Approximately half experience at least occasional shortages. Slightly fewer suffer from inadequate access to cooking fuel (13% frequently go without).
  • More than twice as many (44%) regularly lack a cash income which might enable them to meet these basic needs, and a full threequarters (76%) report going without cash at least once in the previous year.
  • People in Burundi, Guinea, Niger, Senegal and Togo experienced the highest average levels of lived poverty, while those living in Algeria and Mauritius experienced the lowest.
  • People living in countries undergoing or emerging from conflicts appear to be particularly vulnerable to lived poverty, especially food shortages. Five of the seven countries that experience the highest levels of nutritional deprivation - Burundi, Liberia, Madagascar, Sierra Leone and Niger - are all emerging from recent conflicts. And the two worst performers in North Africa - Egypt and Sudan - have recently faced internal conflicts as well.
  • Comparing regional experiences of lived poverty, we find that both West and East Africans encounter the most shortages, while North Africans experience the lowest levels of deprivation.
  • Across 16 countries where data is available over the past decade, the average experience of lived poverty has hardly changed. There have been real over-time decreases in Cape Verde, Ghana, Malawi and Zambia. And the formation of the Government of National Unity in Zimbabwe in 2008 also appears to have generated a "peace dividend" in the past five years that translated into a more recent, but substantial reduction of lived poverty in that country. However, these instances of poverty reduction have been matched by increases in Botswana, Mali, Senegal, South Africa and Tanzania over the past decade.
  • The data show significant correlations between access to electrical grids, piped water, and other basic services in communities and lower levels of lived poverty. Higher levels of formal education also correlate with sharply lower experiences of deprivation.

Measuring Lived Poverty Using Survey Data in Africa

Poverty is measured in a number of different ways. At the national level, all countries produce national accounts data to calculate their Gross National Income, which is used to summarize national wealth and the total state of the economy. However, the capacity of many African countries' national statistics systems to generate these numbers has recently been criticized.

At the personal or household level, national statistical offices also conduct large household surveys to measure income, expenditure, assets and access to services, which are then used to calculate national poverty lines and place individuals above or below that line. The Millennium Development Goal that focused on reducing the number of people living on less than $1.25 a day is a good example. However, such surveys are expensive and conducted infrequently in many African countries. Other development organizations, such as the United Nations, collect data on the consequences of poverty such as the proportion of people who use improved drinking water sources or sanitation services, or the proportion of underweight children under five, in a given country.

As a contribution to the debate about poverty in Africa, the Afrobarometer offers the Lived Poverty Index (LPI), an experiential measure that consists of a series of survey questions that measure how frequently people actually go without basic necessities during the course of a year. It measures a portion of the central core of the concept of poverty that is not well captured by existing measures, and thus offers an important complement to official statistics on poverty and development. Because people are the best judges of their own interests, respondents are best placed to tell us about their quality of life, though they might not be able to do it with a great deal of precision. If Amartya Sen is right and the value of one's standard of living lies in the living itself, an experiential measure of shortages of the basic necessities of life takes us directly to the central core of what the concept of poverty is all about.

The Afrobarometer asks respondents: Over the past year, how often, if ever, have you or your family gone without enough: food to eat; clean water for home use; medicines or medical treatment; enough fuel to cook your food; a cash income? A range of response options are offered, starting with never for those that experienced no shortages, to just once or twice, several times, many times and always. Because these questions are asked in all Afrobarometer countries, we are able to monitor not only shifts in the levels and nature of poverty over time, but also to compare experiences across countries and regions.

The Nature and Severity of Poverty in Africa as of 2012

Recent evidence suggesting that African countries are registering the fastest economic growth rates globally has led many to predict that the continent is on the verge of a development renaissance. While there is compelling evidence in support of Africa's strong economic performance, questions about whether this growth is contributing to the reduction of poverty remain highly contested. Some analysts contend that relatively high economic growth rates, which averaged 4.8% per annum over the last decade, have contributed to corresponding declines in the proportion of Africans living below the poverty line from 51% in 2005 to 39% in 2012. Others counter that there is no solid evidence that this strong economic growth is contributing to meaningful reductions in poverty levels. Still others question whether the high growth rates being reported may themselves be illusory. Afrobarometer's measures of lived poverty shed light on this debate, suggesting that doubts about the extent of progress achieved in the fight against poverty are well founded.

The data reveal that significant numbers of Africans still fail to meet their most basic needs, and many of them fall short on a regular basis. Majorities report facing shortages in medicine and medical services (53% at least once in the past year) and food (50%). Just under a majority experience at least occasional shortages of clean water (49%), and four-in-ten go without cooking fuel (42%). More troubling is the intensity of the problem: roughly one in five encounter frequent shortages (going without "many times" or "always" in the past year) with respect to water (22%), medicines (20%) and food (17%). Not surprisingly, shortages are especially acute in rural areas, where 21% experienced regular food shortages, 24% went without medical care, and 26% lacked access to water, compared to just 11%, 13% and 15% of urban dwellers, respectively.

The most commonly cited form of deprivation remains access to cash income, with a full three-quarters (76%) reporting that they went without cash at least once in the previous year. While cash income is not in itself a basic need, access to it can enable citizens to purchase their basic and non-basic needs. Income shortages therefore have many spillover effects on individuals' lives. The fact that three-quarters of Africans report having gone without cash income at least once in the previous year therefore poses a major development challenge, as many adults on the continent cannot afford to buy resources for immediate use or invest in assets.

Overall averages, however, hide substantial country differences across the continent. For instance, at least two thirds of all citizens experienced food shortage at least once in Burundi (78%), Liberia (75%), Lesotho (73%), Madagascar (70%), Sierra Leone (69%), Niger (67%) and Swaziland (66%). In contrast, one-third or fewer faced the same problem in Egypt (33%), Ghana (27%), Cape Verde (25%), Tunisia (21%), Morocco (19%), Mauritius (9%), and Algeria (7%). Similar patterns prevail with respect to shortages of water and medical treatment.

While access to clean water remains a lingering challenge for many African citizens, the extent of deprivation again varies widely. At least six-in-ten went without in Cameroon, Cote d'Ivoire, Togo, Burkina Faso, Tanzania, Guinea and Lesotho. But less than four-inten experienced shortages of clean water in Mali, Malawi, Algeria, Ghana, Tunisia, Morocco, and Mauritius.

Similarly, while between two-thirds and three-quarters of all citizens say they went without necessary medicine or medical treatment at least once in Guinea, Tanzania, Liberia, Uganda, Sierra Leone, Senegal, Cote D'Ivoire, the figures were below 40% in Botswana, South Africa, Tunisia, Cape Verde, Ghana, and Algeria. In Mauritius, a mere 5% went without, reflecting the country's position as one of a very small group of African countries that has invested heavily in health service provision, providing free health care access to the population.

The Lived Poverty Index (LPI)

The responses to this set of Afrobarometer questions can be combined to calculate an average score for each individual respondent, and for each country, that captures overall levels of "lived poverty." The Lived Poverty Index (LPI) score ranges along a five point scale from 0 (which can be thought of as no lived poverty) to 4 (which would reflect a constant absence of all basic necessities).

The mean level of lived poverty score across all 34 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 in 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.

In general, it is evident that West African countries are clustered at the bottom of the scale, while North African countries dominate at the top. A comparison of average LPI scores by region confirms that these apparent regional differences are real: 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) about halfway in between. It is telling, however, that that 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 the discord.

Trends in Lived Poverty, 2002-2012 (16 countries)

The Lived Poverty questions have been asked in exactly the same way over the past decade in 16 countries, so the data can track changes in the experience of poverty over this time. Taken as a group, there is a very slight decrease in the experience of poverty across this set of countries: the LPI increased from 1.26 in 2002 to 1.31 in 2005, but then fell slowly, and marginally, to 1.22 in 2012. On its face, this might suggest that the adoption by many African countries of various anti-poverty interventions in recent years has thus far failed to have a substantial effect in ameliorating the everyday experience of poverty.

To further scrutinize the results, Afrobarometer classifies LPI scores into three poverty categories: very low or no lived poverty, with LPI scores of less than 0.50; moderate lived poverty, with scores from 0.5 to 2.5; and extreme lived poverty, with scores of 2.5 and above. Overall, two thirds (65%) of citizens in these 16 countries fall into the moderate poverty category; another one in ten (9%) experience extreme poverty. These average figures remain essentially unchanged since 2002, when they were 66% and 10%, respectively.

National Experiences of Lived Poverty Reduction, 2002 and 2012

However, the overall stability produced by pooling these 16 countries masks some important overtime changes within countries: successful poverty reduction in several countries is counterbalanced by increases in lived poverty in others.

The largest visible decline occurred in Ghana, where the LPI fell from 1.00 in 2002 to 0.61 in 2012, followed by Malawi, which saw a decline from 1.70 to 1.35 during the same period. Expressed in population percentages, this means that the total proportion of adult Ghanaians living in moderate or extreme poverty fell by 24 percentage points, from 69% to 45%, between 2002 and 2012. In Malawi the decline was a smaller but still important nine percentage points, from 93% to 84%. There were also clear downward shifts in Cape Verde and Zambia over this same period. Reported economic growth rates in these countries over the last decade range from 5.7% per annum in Malawi to 6.8% annually in Ghana.

There was also a substantial decline over the last four years in Zimbabwe. During that country's prolonged political crisis, lived poverty increased substantially, from 1.71in 2002 to 2.02 in 2008.

Following the disputed and highly flawed 2008 election, a government of national unity was put into place, and the previous opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), gained control of the Ministry of Finance. One apparent result of this "peace dividend" was a rapid fall in lived poverty from 2.02 to 1.36.

At the same time, lived poverty has increased significantly in five countries. The largest increase was observed in Senegal, rising from 1.32 in 2002 to 1.77 in 2012. Tanzania increased from 1.13 to 1.37 over the same period. There were smaller, but real increases in lived poverty in Botswana, Mali and South Africa. This is despite the fact that these countries reportedly enjoyed very similar rates of economic growth to those observed in the countries mentioned above, ranging from 3.6% annually in South Africa to 7.0% per annum in Tanzania. Lived poverty remained stable, or otherwise displayed trendless fluctuations over the last decade in the other six countries.

The Roots of Lived Poverty

Previous research on the LPI data has shown that the two most important drivers of lived poverty were formal education and the extent to which individuals have access to basic development infrastructure in their immediate area of residence.

With surveys across a much wider range of African countries, Afrobarometer re-examined this finding. The analysis shows that across 34 countries, individual lived poverty scores indeed fall sharply as education level increases, from 1.62 among those with no formal schooling, to 0.87 among those with post-secondary education. Thus, 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.

Individual 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, it is 1.08 where piped water services are available, versus 1.53 where they are not. States 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.


AfricaFocus Bulletin is an independent electronic publication providing reposted commentary and analysis on African issues, with a
particular focus on U.S. and international policies. AfricaFocus Bulletin is edited by William Minter.

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