LAGOS – The countries of Sub-Saharan Africa have reached a critical juncture. Strained by a collapse in commodity prices and China’s economic slowdown, the region’s growth slipped to 3.4% in 2015 – nearly 50% lower than the average rate over the previous 15 years. The estimated growth rate for 2016 is lower than the population growth rate of about 2%, implying a per capita contraction in GDP.
Sustained economic growth is essential to maintain progress on reducing poverty, infant mortality, disease, and malnutrition. It is also the only way to create sufficient good jobs for Africa’s burgeoning youth population – the fastest growing in the world. As Gerd Müller, Germany’s development minister, noted at a recent press conference, “If the youth of Africa can’t find work or a future in their own countries, it won’t be hundreds of thousands, but millions that make their way to Europe.”
One way to sustain growth and create jobs would be to collaborate on planning and implementing a massive increase in infrastructure investment across Africa. Public infrastructure is particularly important. This includes highways, bridges, and railways linking rural producers in landlocked countries to Africa’s urban consumers and external markets; mass transit and Internet infrastructure to accommodate greater commercial activity; and electricity transmission lines integrating privately financed power plants and grids.
Major regional projects are also needed to knit together Sub-Saharan Africa’s many tiny economies. This is the only way to create the economies of scale needed to increase the export potential of African agriculture and industry, as well as to reduce domestic prices of food and manufactured goods.