Each week, the Brookings Africa Growth Initiative team highlights figures related to African economic growth and development. These so-called “Figures of the Week” include visuals from recently published reports that reveal something significant or interesting about trends on the continent. In the last “Figures of the Week” of 2020, we review the five most-read posts from this year.
Senior Research Analyst - Global Economy and Development, Africa Growth Initiative
1. THE MACROECONOMIC IMPACT OF COVID-19 IN AFRICA
The April 2020 edition of the World Bank’s biannual Africa’s Pulse reviewed how the pandemic has altered the macroeconomic outlook for sub-Saharan Africa. The report estimates that economic growth will decrease by between 3.7 and 6.7 percentage points from 2019 to 2020. The authors project the decline to be especially intense for oil-rich nations like Angola and Nigeria and for Africa’s largest exporter South Africa. The authors also predict positive growth rates will return in 2021 but remain below those seen in 2018 and 2019.
Figure 1. Growth projections for sub-Saharan Africa, 2020 and 2021
Source: World Bank, Africa’s Pulse, April 2020.
2. EFFECTS OF COVID-19 ON ETHIOPIAN FIRMS
Phone surveys have been one of the few ways to gain real-time insight into the effects of COVID-19. Figure 2 contains the results of a two-round survey of Ethiopian firms conducted by the World Bank in April and May looking into how businesses there have been impacted. The surveys reveal that the primary mark the pandemic has left on Ethiopian firms is a decrease in demand for products and services, a shock that more than 80 percent of firms experienced in the first round of surveying. Approximately a quarter of firms witnessed the forced closure of their business, and another quarter reported that the movement of their workers was restricted.
Figure 2. Ways in which Ethiopian firms are affected by COVID-19
Source: Data from World Bank, Monitoring COVID-19 Impacts on Ethiopian Firms, 2020.
Note: Other ways firms are affected by COVID-19 were marginal in terms of importance and are not shown in the table. Respondents were asked to select from a list of potential effects of the pandemic on their businesses. More than one answer could be chosen.
3. AFRICA’S URBANIZATION DYNAMICS
While sub-Saharan Africa remains one of the least urbanized regions in the world, its urban population has grown rapidly since 1950, according to a report by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), “Africa’s Urbanization Dynamics 2020: Africapolis, Mapping a New Urban Geography.” Figure 3 illustrates this progress in four panels. In particular, the number of countries with over half their population living in urban environments jumped from one in 1950 to eight in 2010. The report predicts this trend will continue: Africa’s population is projected to double between now and 2050, and two-thirds of the population growth will be in urban areas.
Figure 3. The evolution of urbanization in Africa, 1950-2010
Source: OECD, Africa’s Urbanization Dynamics 2020.
4. DIGITAL SKILLS AND THE FUTURE OF WORK IN AFRICA
The availability of digital skills in sub-Saharan African countries varies widely, according to the World Bank’s 2020 Future of Work in Africa report. More specifically, the report finds that some skills—such as social media, graphic design, and graphic literacy—are found in almost all countries in the region, whereas skills like cloud computing and game development are prevalent in only a few. Figure 4 presents the array of digital skills found in the countries studied in the report. The parentheses next to the country names on the x-axis show the share of LinkedIn users among a country’s working-age population, a statistic which itself varies from 24 percent (Mauritius) to just 1 percent (several countries).
Figure 4. Relative penetration of various digital skills in sub-Saharan African countries
Source: World Bank, Future of Work in Africa 2020.
5. AFRICA’S PREPAREDNESS FOR THE FOURTH INDUSTRIAL REVOLUTION
Africa by and large has not followed the development path centered on manufacturing that many developed nations have followed previously. However, there is promise for a new development path—the so-called “Fourth Industrial Revolution” (4IR)—to fuel Africa’s growth, as detailed in Chapter 5 of last year’s Foresight Africa report. New technologies like artificial intelligence, cloud computing, and the Internet of Things characterize 4IR. Despite the potential benefits 4IR can bring, though, it remains to be seen whether Africa is equipped to fully harness its benefits. Figure 5 shows how Africa compares to several other country groupings. In general, the region scores below the average of all developing countries. Indeed, as Africa enters into a new decade, the chapter argues that countries must improve access to physical and digital infrastructure to take advantage of 4IR.
Figure 5. Africa’s information and communications technology development indicators
Source: Hebatallah, Adam, “The Digital Revolution in Africa: Opportunities and Hurdles.” Proceedings of the 10th International Conference on Digital Strategies for Organizational Success (2019) and International Telecommunication Union, “Measuring the Information Society Report: Volume 1” (Geneva: International Telecommunication Union, 2018). Remade for Brookings AGI’s “Foresight Africa 2020.”