Global activity and trade are projected to strengthen gradually in 2014-15, but the recovery is likely to remain modest, the latest OECD Economic Outlook reported in November. 

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Will this be Asia’s century? When it comes to growth and social progress, there have been heady leaps forward, with every prospect of continued dynamism over the next five years. But according to the Southeast Asian Economic Outlook 2013, if there is a blot on the map, it is in tackling poverty and the wide development gaps that bedevil the continent.

In 1994, a simple disagreement in a marketplace in Ghana over the price of a guinea fowl turned ugly. The quarrel led to the violent death of one person, which provoked subsequent killings and then escalated into a cycle of revenge attacks. The dispute quickly grew to become what is today known as the Guinea Fowl War. By the time the Ghanaian military restored order, more than 400 villages had been burned and over 15 000 people are thought to have been killed.

©David Rooney

After two decades of sluggishness, a recovery could be under way. This time, it could be sustained.

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

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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.

©Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

In September, 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. 

©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”.

The Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) in 2004, embarked on a policy-induced consolidation exercise to strengthen the banks and position them to play pivotal roles in driving economic development. Through mergers and acquisitions, and raising the capital base from 2 billion Naira to a minimum of 25 billion Naira, the number of banks was reduced to 25 from 89 in 2005 and later to 24. Also, the aggregate capital base of the sector rose from about US$3 billion to US$5.9 billion. 

©Government of Morocco

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

©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).

©AfDB

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

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.

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%.

The vision of a world without extreme poverty is not a utopia, but a reachable goal. Yet realising the vision demands that we meet urgent challenges, and that includes overhauling our development goals.

Development efforts are often hampered by poor or non-existent data. While attempts are being made to address this, much more needs to be done to improve official data by developing countries themselves, particularly as new development goals are set for the post-2015 period.     

©G20 Russia 2013

The Russian Federation took over the G20 presidency on 1 December 2012, a time when all international organisations and countries had downgraded their growth forecasts for the year ahead. Against this background and the need for urgent and co-ordinated policy action to put the recovery back on track, we decided to refocus the G20 agenda on the issue of growth and jobs, and to work on very concrete actions and commitments for G20 leaders to discuss and possibly endorse at the Saint Petersburg summit in September 2013.

©Christian Charisius/Reuters

The world economy has become more complex, with global value chains and myriad interconnections among producers across continents. This has an impact on trade and investment policy, as well as on development, and exposes the shortcomings of the usual way of measuring trade.

Return from the dead?

Old ways of thinking won’t bring developed countries back to economic life. Weighed down by the legacy of the crisis, they also face deep challenges like a faltering labour supply and slowing innovation. 

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Development aid fell by 4% in real terms in 2012, following a 2% fall in 2011. Though this decline must be reversed, it is not the only issue to address. Also being questioned is how that aid is measured in the first place. As Jon Lomoy explains, while it is high time to revisit the concept of official development assistance, the outcome of the discussion will influence the effectiveness of development policy over the next decade or more.

©Reuters/Jason Lee

Asia’s Challenges

The forces driving Asia’s rapid growth–new technology, globalisation, and market-oriented reform–are also fuelling rising inequality. Some income divergence is inevitable in times of fast economic development, but that shouldn’t make for complacency, especially in the face of rising inequality in people’s opportunities to develop their human capital and income-earning capacity.

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©DR

Trusting in crowds

“Crowdsourcing” pools the strength of the many to perform complex tasks–everything from funding a film to sequencing DNA. At its heart is trust–not a blanket belief in great institutions, but rather the confidence among individuals that each will do the right thing. Its power is being increasingly felt today, even in the world of international development.

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You paint a positive picture of Turkey’s economy in terms of growth of GDP and employment (OECD Observer No 290-91, Q1-Q2 2012). Nevertheless, the interview states that for the future of the Turkish economy, “labour market reform is key, especially to encourage the shifting of resources from the informal to the formal sector: a more flexible labour contract is needed and minimum wage setting should be decentralised”

In May 2012 the OECD Ministerial Council endorsed the OECD Strategy on Development, describing it as an essential tool for adapting the organisation’s work to fast changing realities. What are the factors behind the new strategy and what are the aims? 

© 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.

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Aid from major donors in the OECD area to developing countries fell by nearly 3% in 2011, ending a long trend of annual increases: until 2011, aid had been increasing for more than a decade, and by 63% between 2000 and 2010, the year it reached its peak.

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