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African growth resilient, but faces challenges

Africa economies are showing “remarkable resilience” despite economic headwinds, and are expected to continue growing in "challenging circumstances" this year, according to the African Economic Outlook.

With average economic growth of 3.7 percent, the African continent was the fastest growing economic region after East Asia in 2015, according to the report released Monday by the African Development Bank (AfDB), the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and the United Nations Development Program (UNDP).

The institutions also expect the continent to expand further in 2017, to 4.5 percent if the world economy recovers from its current slump and commodity prices bounce back upwards.

But big tasks remain - mass movement to African cities from the countryside mean urban infrastructure is unable to keep up with the demographic boom, resulting in costly urban sprawl.

The report’s authors cited the Ghanaian capital Accra, which saw its population grow at an average of more than 7 percent in the years between 1991 to 2000. But for the continent as a whole, the number of people living in cities stands at about 472 million, double that of 1995 levels.

“We need to invest in building economic opportunities, especially those of women of which 92 percent work in the informal sector,” said Abdoulaye Mar Dieye, the director of the regional bureau for Africa at the United Nations Development Program. “Cities and towns have a key role to play in that process, but only if governments take bold policy action.”

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African middle class grows slowly

Chief among the institutions recommendations are a significant boost in investment in urban infrastructure, improved links with rural areas, and better-defined land rights toward ensuring that the real estate market adapts to the housing demand.

This approach could result in “accrued benefits” for both rural and urban dwellers. Proper urbanization could help drive economic development, through factors including an expanded middle class and foreign direct investment in urban centers.

jd/uhe (epd, OECD)

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