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Global Development Institute

WP191/2013

Two Africas? Why Africa’s ‘Growth Miracle’ is barely reducing poverty

Paul Mosley

Although growth has improved substantially in most African countries in recent years, poverty across the continent has fallen very little in the aggregate, even though there have been outstanding performances by some countries. Indeed, some African countries have slipped back, and exhibit higher poverty rates than in 1990. This paper seeks to understand the reasons for this variance between countries; the reasons why, certainly if one uses headcount poverty data, there are ‘two Africas’, one with powerful ability to reduce poverty and one without.

We argue that some of the reasons for this difference are rooted in colonial times, and those countries which developed dynamic exports of smallholder cash crops, the ‘peasant export economies’, received a headstart in relation to mineral- and large farm-based economies, because of the more equitable income distribution which labour-intensive, smallholder-based economies generate. However, in the post-colonial period, many peasant export economies wasted this headstart, and some mine/plantation economies were able to transcend the limitation of not having received one. The key reasons for this evolution, we argue, lie in the motivation and ability of African elites to form pro-poor coalitions, which in some cases were then able to implement tax and expenditure policies with the ability to bring a pro-poor pattern of growth into being. This story is tested both econometrically and by means of four contrasted country case studies.