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Africa’s multilateral bank seeks shift from GDP narrative

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Harps on inclusive growth via education, skills upgrade
After unveiling its 2020 African Economic Outlook (AEO), which showed that the continent’s economies are growing well, African Development Bank (AfDB) however, warned that it does not reflect the true picture of citizens.
 
AfDB President, Akinwumi Adesina, who made the observation, said though Africa’s economies are growing strongly, but growth alone cannot meet the needs of the continent’s poorest citizens, because “nobody eats GDP.”
   
The bank’s 2020 AEO showed that the continent’s economies are growing higher than the global average and projected a steady rise from 3.4 per cent in 2019 to 3.9 per cent in 2020 and 4.1 per cent in 2021.
 
According to him, while these figures are laudable, they do not tell the whole story, as across the continent, the poor are not seeing enough of the benefits of robust growth.
 


Relatively few African countries posted significant declines in extreme poverty and inequality, which remain higher than in other regions of the world.
 
Inclusive growth, which he canvassed as alternative pursuit, had occurred in only 18 of 48 African countries with data, according to the report.
 
“Growth must be visible. Growth must be equitable. Growth must be felt in the lives of people.
 
“Given the fast pace of change, driven by the 4th industrial revolution – from artificial intelligence to robotics, machine learning, quantum computing – Africa must invest more in re-directing and re-skilling its labor force, and especially the youth, to effectively participate,” he said.
 
He said that the theme of the 2020 AOE report, “Developing Africa’s Workforce for the Future”, calls for swift action to address human capital development, where inclusive growth has been held back by a mismatch between young workers’ skills and the needs of employers.
 
The bank noted that increased investments in education is key, as well as progressive universalism in education spending—setting high priorities for the poor and disadvantaged and focusing on basic education first where social returns are highest.
 
Its recommendations include improving access to education in remote areas, incentives such as free uniforms and text books, banning child labour and improving teaching standards.
 
To better match skills with job opportunities, the report recommends that governments need to develop a demand-driven education system in tune with rapidly emerging jobs in the private sector, including software engineers, marketing specialists and data analysts, the report says.
 
“Africa is blessed with resources, but its future lies in its people…education is the great equaliser. Only by developing our workforce will we make a dent in poverty, close the income gap between rich and poor, and adopt new technologies to create jobs in knowledge-intensive sectors,” the Director of the Macroeconomic Policy, Forecasting and Research Department at the bank, Hanan Morsy, said.
 
Quoting the report, he said that two-thirds of Africa’s youth are either overeducated or undereducated. The undereducated share (nearly 55 per cent) is considerably higher than in other regions (36 per cent).
 

With 12 million graduates entering the labour market each year and only three million of them getting jobs, youth unemployment is rising yearly. 
 
The report indicated that skill and education mismatches affect labour productivity indirectly through wages, job satisfaction, and job searching.
 
On the other hand, overeducated African youth earn, on average, 18 per cent less than youth with the same level of education who work in jobs that match their education.
 
Also, youth who believe they are overskilled for jobs are 3.4 per cent less likely to be satisfied with current jobs, and as a consequence, may be less productive.
 
To reverse the negative trends and create productive and adequate workforces, the report called for the designing of national strategies for education and skills development to include young people, school dropouts, workers in the informal economy, and in economically and socially disadvantaged groups.
 
Morsy said the fourth industrial revolution offers challenges and opportunities for developing education and accelerating skills acquisition in Africa.
 
“African countries can achieve universal primary enrollment by just improving the efficiency of education spending.
 
Investing in education and infrastructure offers a greater growth payoff than investing exclusively in either,” he added.


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