Africa: Predictions for 2014

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With the usual disclaimer that I don't like making predictions, especially about the future, here they are:

1. Poverty in Africa will continue to decline strongly

I have continued optimism about Africa. We know economic growth is strong in many African countries, but is this translating through into human wellbeing? A recent paper by Rati Ram traces the growth-poverty elasticity over time for sub-Saharan Africa and finds that it is stable for $1 a day and is increasing for $2 a day. In other words, growth is doing an increasingly good job of lifting people above the $2 a day poverty line. The data are only up to 2008, so some caution is warranted, but this paper suggests that the quality of growth in Africa is increasing (unlike China where it is high decreasing and India where it is low and stable). Will Africa be the new China?

2. Get ready for more crap along the lines of "Cut the Green Crap"

Whether the UK PM David Cameron actually said this is in doubt, but the disagreements between him and his Chancellor on where to settle on the tradeoffs between growth today and growth tomorrow are well documented (Cameron is more committed to the green agenda than Osborne). And these disagreements will intensify in the run up to the next UK election in May 2015. They will also play out all over Europe, North America and Australia as the centre right parties gear up to defend their election victories in the context of sluggish growth that is not doing much to raise living standards. Get ready for more crap about "green crap".

3. Minilateralism is here to stay

When you look at it hard the recent trade deal was pretty feeble. Given the diminished concentration of geopolitical power with the rising powers, this, I think, is the shape of things to come. Moises Naim calls it "minilateralism" and others call it coalitions of the willing. The risks are that some bad things will get done (and recall where this coalition of the willing phrase was first coined) but, whisper it, some good things might get done too.

4. Front line workers will increasingly be front and centre

Policy is what policy does, goes the saying, and policy only does if frontline workers can implement it and have an incentive to do so. The remarkable improvements in Maharashtra's nutrition status are being attributed by some to the relatively simple (and scalable) filling of front line worker vacancies. We are also seeing more studies focusing on the people who are present where the rubber hits the road. A new study by Oriana Bandeira and colleagues reported on in Foreign Policy concludes that community health workers in Zambia performed better when they were "ladder climbers" (motivated primarily by career ambition) rather than "do gooders" (motivated primarily by community spirit). Of course these do not have to be mutually exclusive, but the point is that there is very little research on front line worker motivation and capacity and the difference it makes. There needs to be more and I can see it emerging in 2014.

5. The nutrition community will not squander the momentum it has built up in 2013

After a banner year in 2013 (Lancet, Nutrition for Growth, UNICEF report, new SUN networks, new members of SUN etc.) it would be easy to sit back and squander that energy. The nutrition community has not allowed itself to do that because it is setting up a Global Accountability process to monitor commitments, actions and outcomes. The big reckoning will come in Brazil at the 2016 Olympics, but I suspect there will not be any let up before then--the bit is truly between the teeth.

6. IDS will continue to thrive

There will be no Alex Ferguson like blip at IDS, it is not a one person organisation and, let's face it, I'm no Fergie. One key reason that there will be no blip is that Melissa Leach will take over. She is an extremely able leader and will be a terrific Director. She will take IDS to the next level and make it ever more essential to critical thought and analysis on global development.

Here's to a great 2014 for all!

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