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Growth, Poverty, and Inequality: Confronting the Challenges of a Better Life for All in Africa

04/19/2013 - 1:30pm - 04/20/2013 - 5:00pm
ILR Conference Center # 423


Thorbecke(In honor of Erik Thorbecke,* H.E Babcock Professor Emeritus of Economics, Cornell University)

Although Africa is still bedeviled by poverty, with half of its people living on less that $2 per day, its economic growth over the past decade has been remarkable. Africa's trade with the rest of the world has increased by more than 200 percent, annual inflation has averaged 8 percent, foreign debt has decreased by 25 percent, and foreign direct investment grew by 27 percent in 2011 alone. The Economist, which in 2000 had pronounced Africa the "hopeless continent" (The Economist, May 13, 2000) acknowledged in 2011 that "over the ten years to 2010, six of the world's ten fastest-growing economies were in sub-Saharan Africa." The article goes on: "The IMF forecasts that Africa will grab seven of the top ten places over the next five years.... Over the past decade the simple unweighted average of countries' growth rates was virtually identical in Africa and Asia. Over the next five years Africa is likely to take the lead. In other words, the average African economy will outpace its Asian counterpart" ("Africa's Impressive Growth," Jan 6, 2011, 14:10 The Economist online).

During the world economic crisis, Africa's economies continued to expand, and growth forecasts remain positive. However, the progress of social indicators such as health, education, and participation has been limited. Inequality and ineffective policies are often blamed for the poor links between economic growth and human development, but data shows that links between economic growth, inequality, and human development are less robust than often assumed. A pattern of inclusive growth is essential to poverty reduction in sub-Saharan Africa. The design and implementation of policies and institutions conducive to inclusive growth require a better understanding of the relationships linking growth, inequality and poverty.

The growing number of success stories across Africa indicates that broader social and economic progress is realistically attainable for most Africans. However, the need to ensure that the continent's economic growth also creates jobs and helps rescue millions from poverty is of utmost importance. But this outcome is predicated on the adoption and implementation of pro-poor policies and correct strategies for economic development. The debate over growth and development and reduction of poverty is topical in Africa, as well as elsewhere in the world.

The complex and multidimensional issue of development in its broadest sense is at the core of the debate and evokes a number of questions: why does economic development not translate into human development and reduction of poverty? Is the current African growth sustainable? Some argue that a healthy economy requires the active involvement of the middle class as stakeholders, entrepreneurs, skilled workers, and consumers. Supporting the emergence of a middle class, this argument maintains, requires investment in human development. Others would argue that poverty reduction will result from improvements in rural and agricultural production, while still others say that agricultural production will only improve when progressive land reform, which empowers women and the poor, is implemented.

Against this background, the Institute for African Development (IAD), in collaboration with the African Economic Research Consortium (AERC), is holding a symposium on the theme Growth, Poverty, and Inequality: Confronting the Challenges of a Better Life for All in Africa. The symposium will critically examine a variety of issues such as identification of strategies for ensuring that growth translates into improved livelihoods for people, policies that empower the poor and landless, and educational policies that build the capacity of youth and other disadvantaged communities and enable them to participate in the economy. Realizing that the fight for the eradication of poverty involves not only the government but civil society and the private sector as well, it is hoped that the symposium will include the roles of these sectors in the discussions on the eradication of poverty. On a comparative note, the symposium will examine how other regions such as Latin America and Asia have fared and what lessons and applications these regions have for Africa.

*Professor Erik Thorbecke is one of the creators of the “Foster-Greer-Thorbecke” (FGT) metric, a generalized measure of poverty within an economy that measures the outfall from the poverty line and considers inequality among the poor. The others involved in developing the FGT were Thorbecke’s former student (now professor) Joel Greer and another graduate student at Cornell at the time, Professor James Foster.

Abstract submission

The Institute for African Development (IAD) and the African Economic Research Consortium (AERC) symposium committee invite submissions of abstracts on the general theme: Growth Poverty and Inequality: Confronting the Challenges of a Better Life for All in Africa.

Interested persons are invited to submit proposals for the symposium. Proposals must be no more than a page in length, single-spaced, and must have the name, title, and institutional or organizational affiliation and full contact details of the person or persons submitting the abstract. Deadline for proposals/abstracts is November 30, 2012.

Funding is available to assist presenters in paying for travel expenses and lodging at Cornell. If multiple contributors authored one abstract, IAD will assist only one contributor to travel to Cornell. As with all IAD symposia, proceedings from this symposium will be published as a book. 

Institute for African Development, African Economic Research Consortium, Clarke Initiative for Law and Development in the Middle East and North Africa; David R. Atkinson Center for a Sustainable Future; Institute for the Social Sciences; and the Mario Einaudi Center for International Studies
Contact Name: 
Jackie Sayegh, Program Manager, Institute for African Development, 190 Uris Hall, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY 14853
Contact Email:
Contact Phone: 
607: 255-6849