On African Development

March 8, 2010 By Jordan Smith

Is Africa progressing? That’s the controversial assertion of two U.S. economists, who write that in the 10 years before the credit crunch began, poverty rates fell rapidly and inequality declined right across the continent. Xavier Sala-i-Martin and Maxim Pinkovskiy have published an article through America’s National Bureau of Economic Research that contradicts the views of many who believe Africa has fallen far short of achieving the Millennium Development Goal Target of halving the number of people living on $1 a day by 2015.  “Our results show that the conventional wisdom that Africa is not reducing poverty is wrong. In fact, since 1995, African poverty has been falling steadily,” the authors write. “Moreover, contrary to the commonly held idea that African growth is largely based on natural resources and helps only the rich and well-connected, we show that a great deal of this growth has accrued to the poor.”

A summary of the article appears in the Guardian newspaper, which quotes Sala-i-Martin and Pinkovskiy as “say[ing] that by 2006 the African poverty rate was 30% lower than in 1995, and 28% lower than in 1990.” The Guardian goes on to point out that many development experts disagree with this assessment. “Stefan Dercon, of Oxford University, said the authors placed too much weight on government statistics such as GDP, and ignored other data. ‘They believe the evidence that many of us would least trust and throw away the evidence we tend to think is fairly accurate. Painstakingly collected household consumption and income surveys, especially when over various years using the same method in each year, give a rather detailed picture of whether there is massive enrichment or not.’”