The ability of sub-Saharan Africa's economies to generate enough jobs for its young and growing population rested on the successful implementation of urgent structural reforms to boost productivity.
This was the key finding of the World Economic Forum on Africa Competitiveness Report 2017, published on Thursday.
According to the WEF, which is hosting the WEF Africa summit in Durban, competitiveness was defined as the set of institutions, policies and factors determining the level of productivity and hence future prosperity of a country.
The biennial report comes at a time when growth in most of the region’s economies has been slowing, despite a decade of sustained growth, and is likely to stagnate further in the absence of improvements in the core conditions for competitiveness.
Compounding the challenge to Africa’s leaders was a rapidly expanding population, which is set to add 450 million more to the labour force over the next two decades.
Under current policies, only 100 million jobs look set to be created during this period.
Africa’s young, dynamic population did, however, possess the potential to lead an economic revival in the region, backed by targeted long- and short-term structural reforms in key areas, the WEF report found.
It listed priority action areas for improved competitiveness.
Long term: strengthening institutions was a pre-condition to enable faster and more effective policy implementation; failure of implementation in the past has often been attributed to weak institutions; improved infrastructure to enable greater levels of trade and business growth; greater adoption of technology; developing the right skills to remain competitive in a rapidly changing global economic landscape.
Short term: prioritising sector-specific reforms in labour-intensive sectors such as agri-business, construction and micro-enterprises; targeted support for vulnerable regions and/or populations in fragile countries; open trade policies to foster regional economic integration; developing value-chain links to extractive sectors to encourage diversification in resource-rich countries; increasing housing construction through investment; better urban planning and less bureaucracy.
"Removing the hurdles that prevent Africa from fulfilling its competitiveness potential is the first step required to achieve more sustained economic progress and shared prosperity,” said the World Economic Forum’s Richard Samans, head of the Centre for the Global Agenda and member of the managing board.
“To meet the aspirations of their growing youth populations, African governments are well-advised to enact polices that improve levels of productivity and the business environment for trade and investment,” said the World Bank Group’s Klaus Tilmes, who is the director of the Trade & Competitiveness Global Practice, which contributed to the report.
“The World Bank Group is helping governments and the private sector across Africa take the steps necessary to build strong economies and accelerate job-creation in order to benefit from the potential demographic dividend.”
African Development Bank’s Abebe Shimeles, acting director of the Macroeconomic Policy, Forecasting and Research Department, said: “African cities have to update their urban plans, taking into account demographic and economic development."