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Development, Innovation & Economy: How Far Has Africa Progressed in 2022?

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Picture: Bheki Radebe

By Maria Konokhova

Despite general global turbulence and lingering effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, this year has been particularly eventful for African nations. The countries have increased their role in the world’s politics, trade and economy – as well as cultural life – and achieved higher results in development and innovation.

The end of the year was marked by a notable event as the famous tourist destination Chumbe Island, a few kilometres off the island of Zanzibar, Tanzania, gained an international award for its ecological innovations and low carbon eco-tourism aimed at preserving natural resources.

The island was recognized as globally significant in the category of “Tourism & Ecological Restoration” by the Global Forum on Human Settlements, in collaboration with the United Nations Economic and Social Council.

To celebrate this achievement, Sputnik has created a list of the most prominent feats performed by African nations in the field of economy, tourism, innovation and development, based on their performance and improvements in global indexes and rankings as 2022 comes to an end.

Sustainable Tourism Practices & Environmental Performance

The representatives of the Chumbe authorities noted that the island is known for its exceptional coral reefs and a forest reserve. According to the Forum’s decision, the island has contributed to environment conservation for the past 25 years. It has made conservation, sustainability and education a major priority of its management and has achieved outstanding progress by “scaling up a range of low-carbon and green initiatives, such as 100 percent solar energy, rainwater reuse, waste composting, and community engagement.”

The island represents “a successful and effective model” that combines biodiversity conservation with sustainable eco-tourism development. Chumbe Island has been conducting monitoring programs for the biodiversity in the region that is essential in terms of carrying out “responsible tourism practices and maintaining ecological integrity.”

Apart from that, all the revenues generated from eco-tourism are directed to the conservation management and extensive environmental education programs with local schools and communities in Zanzibar.

As for sustainable tourism initiatives implemented in other African countries, this spring Tunisia’s destination Dahar won the Green Destinations Story Awards under the category “Culture & Communities”. Dahar is a mountain range stretching from Matmata to Douirat in Gabes in the south-east of Tunisia.

It was the first time the country took part in the worldwide competition organized by the Global Sustainable Tourism Council and the Green Destinations Organization at ITB (Internationale Tourismus-Börse) Berlin. The competition collects initiatives from destinations globally and showcases the most inspirational stories of tourism practices, creating its own top 100.

The winner in 2022 was the story called ‘Destination Dahar: Revitalisation of the authentic rural region through a sustainable tourism model and the valorisation of local Amazigh culture’. Tunisia became the first Arab, as well as North African country, to win this distinction in the field of sustainable tourism.

According to the Environmental Performance Index, which is developed by Yale University and Columbia University in collaboration with World Economic Forum, the best performers in Africa include island states – the Seychelles (32nd place out of 180) and Sao Tome and Principe (38th) – and two countries in Southern Africa – Botswana (35th) and Namibia (44th). The index considers variables such as environmental health and ecosystem vitality, rule of law, control of corruption and government effectiveness in the area.

Africa’s Success in Social Aspect of Development – Gender Equality

Apart from achievements in promoting tourism and green agenda, in 2022 some African nations have seen significant progress in many spheres of development, enhancing their performance in the area and increasing their positions in various international indexes.

Although tackling the most glaring development issues, social aspects of progress can’t be neglected. Among them, global community accords great importance to gender equality, which is promoted by the UN as the fifth sustainable goal and “a necessary foundation for a peaceful, prosperous and sustainable world”.

In this field some African nations have achieved prominent results, joining and at times outpacing the world’s most developed countries in the ranking. According to the latest Global Gender Gap Report 2022, published by the World Economic Forum, Sub-Saharan African countries such as Rwanda (81.1 percent, sixth) and Namibia (80.7 percent, eighth) take positions in the top 10.

The index measures on a scale of 0 to 100 and scores can be interpreted as the percentage of the gender gap that has been closed. It is designed to measure gender equality.

The report studies four areas of inequality between men and women in 146 economies all over the world: economic participation and opportunity (salaries, participation levels, access to high-skilled employment), educational attainment (access to basic and higher level education), political empowerment (representation in decision-making bodies), health (the ratio of life expectancy to sex). The report assesses countries on how they divide their resources and opportunities among male and female populations, revealing those that can be considered as role models.

In general, Sub-Saharan Africa has the sixth (out of eight) regional score and has closed 67.9 percent of its gender gap. The report stated that the region registers its highest gender gap score in 16 years, noting that at the present rate it would take 98 years to bridge the gender gap.

However, Africa’s regional score should not be perceived as bad in the ranking. South Asia ranks the lowest among the regions with 62.4 percent of the gender gap closed and 197 years needed to bridge it. At the same time, for North America it will take 59 years to close the gender gap as the region is the most advanced with average score of 76.9 percent.

Among the countries included in the regional grouping, after Rwanda and Namibia, South Africa ranks third, and Mali, Chad and Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) rank lowest in Africa.

According to the report, this year’s results show positive changes in populated countries such as Nigeria, Ethiopia, DRC and Kenya, where gender parity has increased significantly. The subindex called “political empowerment” in Sub-Saharan Africa is also headed by Rwanda, followed by South Africa and Mozambique. The recent increase in scores is attributed to the growing share of women assuming parliamentary seats across the region.

Interestingly, Rwanda’s parliament has the highest percentage of female members in the world, as was revealed by the recent monthly ranking published by the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU). The Chamber of Deputies, the lower house of the East African country’s parliament has more women than men (49 against 31 or 61.25 percent).

Africa’s Position on the Human Development Index

The most widely used measure of a country’s development state is the United Nation’s annual Human Development Index (HDI). It comprises different indicators ranging from education and literacy rate to life expectancy and per capita income.

As of 2022, the most developed country in Africa is Mauritius with HDI score of 0.804, which means that it is classified as a state with very high human development index. The island country of Mauritius shows a life expectancy of 75 years and a literacy rate of 91.3 percent. It is also known for its rapidly growing economy, focused on tourism, textiles, and financial services, and free healthcare and schooling. The country has a high ranking in such spheres as economic competitiveness, favorable investment climate, good governance, and free economy.

Being the most developed in Africa, Mauritius is ranked 66th place out of 189 countries worldwide, which highlights the existing significant gap between African nations and countries from other continents. Mauritius is followed by Seychelles (0.796), which is in 67th place globally. Algeria is the third most developed state in Africa with a score of 0.748. The country has the highest life expectancy in Africa of 76.3 years.

As for Sub-Saharan Africa, the most developed country in human capital is Botswana (0.735) followed by South Africa (0.709).

However, in the 10 countries with the lowest human development index in 2022 are nine states from the African continent, including South Sudan, Chad, Niger, Central African Republic, Burundi.

What Are the Most Innovative African Countries?

Another global ranking, in which Mauritius has shown brilliant results among African states, is the Global Innovation Index (GII). According to the report released by the World Intellectual Property Organization, the country has emerged as the most innovative in Africa, climbing seven places to 45th on the index. Mauritius’ economy has been growing robustly for the past decades – particularly in financial services, tourism and information technology.

Excluding island economies, the most innovative country on the continent is South Africa. The country is known for its prominent scientific contributions to medicine. It is also the only nation in Africa with a nuclear power plant. However, South Africa hasn’t improved its position since last year, ranking 61st on the global innovation index.

Sixteen nations from Sub-Saharan Africa have increased their ranking with Botswana taking the biggest leap forward, reaching 86th position and becoming the third country in the region in terms of innovation, followed by Kenya. Botswana tops in such an indicator as human capital and research (51st globally), and performs well in indicators like expenditure on education, new businesses, loans from microfinance institutions and intellectual property payments.

African Countries to Scale up Process of Industrialization

Industrialization is one of the main areas in Africa with broad development prospects. According to the African Development Bank (AfDB), the continent has a great “potential to become the next global frontier for industrial development.” The bank refers to the continent’s young labour force, rich natural resources and fast-growing internal markets.

In a report released by the AfDB, which ranks the countries of the continent by the performance in Africa Industrialization Index, South Africa is the closest economy to the frontier with an industrial development score of 0.8404. The country’s performance has, however, been decreasing in the past decade. Morocco, Egypt, Tunisia, Mauritius, and Eswatini round out the top six performers. The ranking remains unchanged over the period of 2010–2021.

It is worth mentioning that Eswatini has recorded the highest score in the category called “manufacturing sector performance and competitiveness”.

The report urged the countries to pay more attention to prioritize the manufacturing sector as part of their industrial policy to improve the overall performance in the area.

Africa’s Economy Slowing Amid Global Shocks

However, Africa’s prospects in industrial and economic progress are tied to developments in the global economy, and several countries also face internal sociopolitical and security issues. According to the IMF’s recent report, Sub-Saharan Africa’s gradual economic recovery from the effects of COVID-19 pandemic has been interrupted by various global shocks. Even though in 2021 economic activity bounced back, lifting region’s GDP growth to 4.7 percent, this year projection was at 3.6 percent, whereas in 2023 growth is expected to rise slowly to 3.7 percent “because of muted investment and an overall worsening balance of trade”.

The report explained the projected drop in growth, noting a worldwide slowdown, tighter global financial conditions, and a dramatic surge in global inflation that spilt into the region. It highlighted that increasing food and energy prices are having a negative effect on Africa’s most vulnerable states, in which macroeconomic imbalances, including inflation and public debt, are “at levels not seen in decades”.

“As a result, poverty, food insecurity, and malnutrition have been exacerbated, particularly in urban areas, with consequences not only for confidence and economic growth but also for social and political stability,” the report read.

Rising prices of basic commodities are recognized in the report as robust predictors of social unrest, which have already contributed to protests across the region this year in such countries as Ghana, Guinea, Mozambique and Sierra Leone. However, the report underlines that beyond food and fuel prices “regional core inflation remains muted”.

The IMF identified four main challenges African countries are now facing on their way of economic development and recovery:

Addressing food insecurity;

Managing the shift in monetary policies as increased inflation and rising global interest rates have forced many authorities to tighten them;

Consolidating public finances amid tighter financial conditions; and Setting the stage for sustainable growth.

Diversification is Key to Progress in Africa

As African countries suffer soaring food and energy prices, struggle with the impacts of the pandemic, climate change and conflict in Ukraine, the African Development Bank (AfDB) in its latest report on economic development in Africa urged the continent’s states to diversify their economies. In this case, the report noted that they will be able to cope with current crises and build resilience to future shocks.

The continent is the second least diversified region after Oceania with the concentrated export structure. Guinea-Bissau is named in the report as the least diversified African state, which exports only 178 product lines. Mauritius, a small island, in contrast, has 3,034 active export lines.

In general, the most diversified economies are non-commodity-dependent countries such as Mauritius, Tunisia, Egypt, Morocco and South Africa, followed by agricultural commodity-dependent countries such as Kenya and Ethiopia.

The diversification of exports is needed as high concentration in a small number of commodity products may result in macroeconomic instabilities, especially amid global shocks, which affect supply and demand. The report highlighted the great potential of African countries to transform and achieve higher levels of diversification and competitiveness through services, especially business and financial services.

“The recent growth of financial technology firms in Africa is spurring more innovation and investment opportunities. Fintech has the potential to help African countries achieve financial and social inclusion,” the report stated.

Konokhova is a Sputnik correspondent specialising in African studies.

This article was first published in Sputnik.