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The Participatory Structures of Poverty in Africa

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The number of studies that examine the participatory forms of poverty in Africa has significantly increased in recent years. This research has centered on examining how poor people can become active citizens and how they can participate in decision-making processes.

Direct citizens’ participation is considered the most effective way of involving them in decision-making.

During the first 15 years of democracy in South Africa, the country had solid political institutions and relatively low economic inequality. This created win-win outcomes for South Africa and its various stakeholders. However, a collision between these two forces intensified during the 2010s.

The collision created new pressures for the public sector and the economy. It also increased the vulnerability of South Africa’s political settlement.

The collision between the economic and political establishments was also relevant for other middle-income countries. Similarly, the deal between the white economic elite and new political leadership included commitments to the rule of law and economic transformation. However, the gains for the poorest did not alter the complex economic realities of the country.

During the second term of Jacob Zuma, South Africa experienced a rise in unemployment, rising disillusionment, and zero-sum contestation over positions and resources. The country faced a negative per capita income growth.

The EU works to protect the rights of European citizens, including the right to asylum, freedom of movement, free elections, and non-discrimination. It also works to prevent hate speech, promote human rights and combat violent crime. The EU also works to improve access to health services and provide training for women and youth.

EU regional policy supports thousands of projects, promotes economic growth, and reduces disparities. It also underpins European solidarity. The EU invests EUR392 billion in strategic transport infrastructure, communication infrastructure, and the transition to an environmentally friendly economy.

The EU has been one of the biggest donors to projects aimed at combating discrimination. It also provides funding to projects in Africa. The EU’s climate change strategy promotes drought-tolerant crops and flood defenses. It also works to prevent and combat human trafficking.

Lack of access to health and education

Although Africa’s population has the world’s youngest population and most children live in unstable environments, many innovations can radically bend the curve in the health and education space. The Global Partnership for Education has been called the “leapfrog” in education.

The UN’s Institute of Statistics reports that more girls than boys remain out of school in sub-Saharan Africa. Several global studies indicate that increased education reduces infant deaths and HIV/AIDS infections. However, a lack of investment in education and health policies has hampered many countries’ efforts to achieve these feats.

The AU’s Commission deputy chair Thomas Kwesi Quartey says governments must prioritize good education and training. This would include the need for a renewed whole-of-government strategy that includes networks, expertise, and additional funding to help improve the education and health of sub-Saharan Africa’s children and youth.

The AU is concerned that the continent’s population will double in 25 years. As a result, the AU aims to expand access to quality education and training to suit the specific needs of the continent.

According to the UNESCO Global Education Monitoring Report, only two out of three children who enter primary school complete it. This translates to a 100-year gap for marginalized African children to catch up with more enfranchised peers.

However, most innovations in the education space are hampered by limited attention, organizational support, and funding. The AU has been making progress in closing the primary and tertiary education gap. The Malala Fund estimates that 12 million girls will not complete school by 2025.

Pre-existing democratic structure

During the early years of South Africa’s democratic revolution, its formal institutions were a clear advantage. These included a well-designed constitution and formal solid checks and balances institutions.

During the first decade of its democratic transformation, South Africa’s economy experienced high growth and poverty reduction. But the underlying economic structure remained unchanged. Wealth tended to be concentrated in a few established white elite communities.

While South Africa’s democratization shifted political power from a minority to a majority, it did not reverse the inherited extreme inequalities. A significant focus in the early years of democracy was the extension of services. Specifically, there was a substantial increase in the number of houses built for the poor. A significant increase followed this in electricity and potable water access.

Several initiatives in public service also contributed to a more inclusive society. For example, pension payments were universalized. In addition, a representative bureaucracy was an essential component in transforming post-apartheid public service. The employment of black South Africans in national and provincial government increased by 115,000 positions.

During the mid-1990s, the political settlement in South Africa reconfigured space occupied by political elites. These include the upper ANC echelons, which competed for power, influence, and resources. Consequently, there was a corresponding increase in pressure on the institutions.

A social contract answered the question, “How can you reduce poverty?” The answer, in theory, was to increase economic growth, which would create new opportunities for the middle class to increase their incomes and thereby reduce their poverty. The ANC also initiated initiatives to use the public sector as a catalyst for transformation.

Policymakers sympathetic to the fundamental interests of the rural poor

Historically, the African continent has been plagued by low productivity growth, a large informal sector, and poor governance, all of which have been detrimental to per capita income and social protection. However, in recent years, macro stability and productivity growth have improved. 

Moreover, Africa’s burgeoning middle class and a growing number of affluent yuppies are driving a wave of economic growth in the region.

In pursuing economic growth, political leaders in Africa face a daunting array of challenges. The main hurdle is sustaining an accelerated reform agenda in the context of political and fiscal constraints. Consequently, policymakers need to be aware of the nuances of a competitive political process. This may include using a multipronged approach to stoke the engine of economic growth.

In particular, it is essential to understand institutional and regulatory reforms’ role in catalyzing economic growth. These factors are often over-represented in political circles, making it harder to achieve consensus. However, given the right mix of political will and requisite resources, African countries are well-positioned to transform into more modern and prosperous nations.

Although a more comprehensive examination of the topic would require a more detailed study of the country in question, this brief attempts to provide a high-level overview of the key players in the pro-poor growth story.

Governance in Africa is different from prevailing policy assumptions.

Despite the global focus on the need for good governance, governance in Africa is not a monolithic concept. It is contested. Governance in Africa is mainly dependent on informal relationships. 

A large part of the population lives outside of formal institutions. For example, most Africans in urban areas avoid city councils and rely on informal networks for support.

For OECD nations, “good governance” has become its goal. As a result, policies fall far short of expectations. The international development community has been reluctant to learn about sub-Saharan Africa’s challenges. Instead, it has continued to use practices that work elsewhere and have little consideration for the African context.

The prevalence of informal institutions is a significant challenge to the international development community. In particular, corruption is a significant problem. People have access to public resources and use them to help their kinship unit. The loyalty of most Africans is to their kinship unit. This makes it difficult to enforce the formal rules that govern society. This makes institutions ineffective.

Another major challenge is the need for a more scientific approach to collecting data. In particular, researchers should collect more data on informal institutions. The research literature on organization theory supports the diffusion model, which identifies pockets of productivity in the public sector and allocates resources to support those who achieve success. 

It is more opportunistic than the typical donor approach.

Good governance is vital to all economic progress. The OECD Secretary-General stated this at a ministerial meeting in November 2005. In addition to the need for good governance, climate change is a global emergency.

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