Friday, 10 October 2008

IMF | Africa: Damned statistics

The IMF's upbeat projection of 6% GDP growth for Africa in 2009 and the effect it hopes this would have on the world economy is optimistic. The Fund claims that the risk of global depression is small because it forecasts China's growth at 9%, India's at 7% and Africa 6%, and says that this will offset the weakness in Western economies.

The IMF focuses on macroeconomic indicators to the exclusion of common sense. It serves no meaningful purpose to talk about how much Africa as an entity (and a continent, not a country) will grow when economically its unit states have very little in common with each other and when that figure of 6% has been averaged out of dramatic outliers and gross inequities within and across industries and countries.

What does a farmer in Burkina Faso care or know about the oil boom in Angola? What, for that matter, does the Angolan farmer know about it? If the figures were adjusted to exclude growth from natural resources, the economic benefits of which rarely trickle down, would the assessment be upbeat still? Or, at least it would be for the Western multinationals that extract and market those natural resources while paying little into the coffers of those African governments by way of tax.

In its assessment of African economies, the IMF would do well to consider by how much more than 6% food prices, unemployment figures and general inflation rates, have risen. Such a clinical and bloodless assessment – and a single number thrown up to describe the plights and conditions of hundreds of millions and even billions of people – divorces facts from reality.

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