Zambia is one of Africa’s fast growing economies, but worst performer

Fastest growing countries Growth Stats
Fastest growing countries Growth Stats
Fastest growing countries Growth Stats

THERE is no shortage of economic growth in Africa. Six of the world’s ten fastest growing economies of the past decade are in sub-Saharan Africa. A clutch of countries have enjoyed growth in income per person of more than 5% a year since 2007. Zambia is one of them. Yet a frequent complaint heard in Lusaka, the capital, is that the country’s rising GDP has passed much of the population by. The populist appeal of Michael Sata, who became president in 2011, is in part explained by a sense that ordinary Zambians had missed out on the benefits of economic growth.

GDP is not a perfect measure of living standards. A new study from the Boston Consulting Group (BCG) and the Tony Blair Africa Governance Initiative takes a broader look at well-being in Africa. As well as income per person, BCG’s gauge of living standards includes jobs, governance, health, and inequality. Measured in this way, well-being in much of sub-Saharan Africa is lower than it ought to be, given rising average incomes per person. Levels of well-being in South Africa are out of whack with its GDP per head. Kenya and Ghana do a much better job of reaping the benefits of a growing economy.

Yet many of the countries whose well-being has improved most in the past five years are in Africa. This list is headed by Angola and includes Congo, Ethiopia, Lesotho, Malawi, Nigeria, Rwanda and Tanzania. All have enjoyed rapid growth in GDP per person. But they have also done well at translating that strong growth into improved well-being: in technical terms, the correlation between GDP per person and well-being above one in these countries (see chart). Income growth per person has been above 5% a year in Ghana, Mozambique and Uganda, too. But increases in well-being have not been quite as rapid as in the best performers.

Zambia is another of Africa’s fast growers but it is the worst performer by a distance at turning that GDP growth into greater well-being. It has improved only half as much as it should have, given the growth in GDP per head. So those who feel Zambia has somehow missed out, despite the great strides it has made, have a point.