The African Development Bank (AfDB) in collaboration with other institutions undertook the study that culminated in the book entitled Can Africa Re-Claim the 21st Century. This work concluded that sub-Saharan Africa entered the 21st century with many of the world’s poorest countries. Average income per capita was lower than at the end of the 1960s. Incomes, assets, and access to essential services were unequally distributed. And the region contained a growing share of the world’s absolute poor, who have little power to influence the allocation of resources. Moreover, many development problems remained largely confined to Africa. They included lagging primary school enrollments, high child mortality, and endemic diseases—including malaria and HIV/AIDS— that imposed costs on Africa at least twice those in any other developing region. Besides, one African in five lived in a country severely disrupted by conflict.
Making matters worse, Africa’s place in the global economy was eroding, with declining export shares in traditional primary products, little diversification into new lines of business, and massive capital flight and loss of skills to other regions. The study observed that many countries had made important economic reforms, improving macroeconomic management, liberalizing markets and trade, and widening the space for private sector activity. Where these reforms had been sustained—and underpinned by civil peace—they had raised growth and incomes and reduced poverty.
What has happened in Africa five years into the 21st Century and what are the prospects in the years ahead? The African Development Bank is planning a Special International Conference, dubbed the AfDB Economic Conference (AEC) to address these and related issues.