A salmon would find it a hardscrabble life in the waterways of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA). Not because of dried riverbeds, overfishing or pollution, but because the region has more dams per cubic metre of water than any other place on earth.

Arab Innovative Teachers Forum, Morocco, April 2008 ©Rafael Marchante/REUTERS

Hana Barqawi realised her dream of opening her own children's furniture store two years ago in the Jordanian capital of Amman. Ms Barqawi is part of a wave of female entrepreneurs that has swept across the Middle East and North Africa area over the past decade or more. 

This post is from Juana de Catheu, founder of Development Results and Donata Garrasi, Peace-building Adviser in the OECD Development Co-operation Directorate. 

South Africa has made rapid progress in educational attainment compared with other emerging countries, with near full enrolment in primary and secondary schooling. Pre-primary schooling has expanded fast too, and so to a lesser extent has third-level education.

Cell number

South Africa’s former president, Nelson Mandela, holds up a mobile phone in London, 21 October 2003. Using his old convict number 46664 from Robben Island, Mr Mandela helped launch a global phone and internet campaign to raise awareness about AIDs. Originally published in OECD Observer No 240/241, December 2003

Read "President Nelson Mandela: Some personal reflections", by Ian Goldin, Professor of Globalisation and Development, and Director, Oxford Martin School, University of Oxford

See also www.oecd.org/southafrica/

Can Africa sustain its recent strong economic performances and benefit more from its abundant resources?

©George Esiri/Reuters

Nigerian oil is renowned for being easy to refine, though this also fuels a trafficking problem. Oil theft in Nigeria hit a record high in the first quarter of 2013. Nigerian authorities reported a loss of US$1.2 billion in a single month, equivalent to a 17% drop in sales. 

©OECD Development Centre

Judging from media headlines, we are in a phase of Afro-optimism. Are we witnessing Africa’s economic take-off? The African Economic Outlook project, the result of a partnership of more than 10 years between the Development Centre, the African Development Bank, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the Economic Commission for Africa, presents a contrasting assessment of the continent’s “emergence”.

©AfDB

The African economy has been enjoying an upsurge in recent years. How confident are you about the future?

Click to enlarge

Africa has made tremendous progress over the last 13 years, going from “hopeless” to “aspiring”, in the words of The Economist. Certainly, Africa’s pace of growth has been impressive, averaging 5.1% of GDP per year–much faster than most OECD countries. Some have dismissed this simply as reflecting the recent boom in natural resource prices. They point to the fact that the prices of most commodities– agricultural, mineral and energy–doubled or even tripled over the same period, and warn that Africa’s growth will come to an end once resource prices taper off, as is happening now.

Commodities have been a major driver of Africa’s growth story in recent years. But you may be surprised to hear that natural resources could have contributed far more than they actually did to Africa’s 5% average GDP growth over the last decade. Although Africa’s primary sector has expanded, its global share of natural capital dropped from 11.5% in 1995 to 8.5% in 2005.

Though China has recently been a dominant force in trade and investment on the African continent, India and Korea are fast becoming serious challengers. How can African countries make more of these evolving trends? And what role can the traditional partners in the OECD area play?

Insecurity and conflict hinder human, and economic development. The Saharo-Sahelian region today presents some of the most daunting global security threats, which seriously undermine the stability and development of the region. The 2012-2013 crisis in northern Mali, though centred in one nation, epitomises the wider, cross-border dimension of these challenges. Here we point to some of the available policy responses towards their resolution.

©Isaac Kasamani/AFP

Several efforts and interventions have been directed towards resolving the myriad issues that impinge on peace, security and development in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

©Government of Morocco

OECD Observer: What are the main transport challenges facing your ministry?

Click to enlarge

Vaccines are one of the most cost-effective means of preventing illness and death, particularly in children. Yet, more than 22 million babies born worldwide each year–four times the number of births in Europe–go unvaccinated, leaving them at risk of contracting, and potentially dying from, vaccine-preventable diseases like measles. 

A local non-government organisation is supporting rural development in Orientale Province in the north-east of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Called ACIAR (Help for Intercultural Communication and Rural Self-help*), its plan is to revive the coffee sector in the Ituri region as an inclusive response aimed at repairing the social and economic damage caused by a conflict that lasted from 1998 to 2004.

The 2008 economic crisis shook up the landscape of financial flows to Africa and brought to the fore two major trends: an upsurge in foreign direct investment (FDI) and a parallel rise in remittances from abroad. Indeed, remittances outpaced both aid and FDI inflows with a compound growth rate over the past decade of 7.7%.

©Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

In September 2013 the Kenyan government and the United Nations announced the discovery of huge underground reserves of water in northern Kenya, enough water to last the entire nation for 70 years. The Lotikipi Basin Aquifer and Lodwar Basin Aquifer were located by satellite in drought-afflicted Turkana County, where water scarcity and competition for grazing land has led to deadly cattle raids between communities. 

©Mark Wessels/Reuter

In 2010 South Africa became the first African country to host the FIFA soccer World Cup, which is one of the biggest global sporting events on earth. Was it a triumph and what lessons could be drawn? OECD Observer: You were a member of the Local Organising Committee for the FIFA 2010 Soccer World Cup. How big a challenge was that for your country?

Though mobile technology is making waves in Africa, airwaves still count.

© REUTERS/Finbarr O'Reilly

With over 200 million people between the ages of 15 and 24–a figure that will double by 2045–Africa’s fast-growing population is the youngest in the world. In the coming decades, hundreds of millions of young Africans will pour on to the job labour market as they leave schools branding qualifications of various levels.

©Reuters/Finbarr O'Reilly

The OECD is cooperating with governments and companies to combat the scourge of conflict minerals and has issued a guidance that several African countries have endorsed. There are encouraging signs of progress.

Marie Gad

In many African countries, where unemployment rates can run as high as 30%, there is strong potential for entrepreneurship and employment. Development must focus on bringing down the barriers to progress. 

There are signs of a new, more confident and self-affirming Africa taking shape. As the 2011 edition of the African Economic Outlook argues, this newness is also evident in the continent’s relationships with emerging economies.

Building tax administration capacity is needed to help spur development in Africa. A new survey shows that action is being taken, but more work is needed.

A new kitchen can raise the value of any home, but in developing countries it can also save lives. That is why in 2010 the OECD’s very own staff charity, the War on Hunger Group, decided to contribute funding to fitting a new kitchen in the headquarters of AFENA, an NGO dedicated to looking after abandoned women and children, and based in Niger’s second city, Maradi.

Is it really “Africa’s moment” (No 249, May 2005)? You mention conflict, but how can we help stop humanitarian disasters, like the one that seems inevitable in Darfur, where we cannot say we were not warned. Essentially, some 2 million people (mostly elderly, female or infants), currently “sheltered” in sometimes abysmal refugee camps, now risk being shoved onto what effectively will become death marches into Chad by the very people who created the problem in the first place.

Economic data

GDP : +0.5%, Q4 2014
Employment rate: 65.9%, Q4 2014
Annual inflation : 0.60% Mar 2015
Trade : -3.0% exp, -3.7 imp, Q4 2014
Unemployment : 6.993% Feb 2015
More moderate expansion ahead? Composite leading indicators
Updated: 12 May 2015

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