Africa can now add to global growth: ministers

Nigerian Finance Minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala in Washington, DC on April 20, 2013.  By Nicholas Kamm (AFP)

Nigerian Finance Minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala in Washington, DC on April 20, 2013. By Nicholas Kamm (AFP)

WASHINGTON (AFP) – Africa, with its improved economies, can contribute to global growth for the first time in history, African finance ministers said Saturday in Washington.

“Africa is the continent that will allow us to overcome the slowdown in growth” in the rest of the world, said Cameroon’s finance minister, Alamine Ousmane Mey, at a news conference during the IMF-World Bank spring meetings.

The continent, home to nearly a billion people, has significant natural resources, a young population and a rapidly developing middle class.

“So many of the pillars of global growth,” Mey said.

“Africa is a different place,” said Nigeria Finance Minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala. “For the first time, we are able to contribute to the global growth.”

Sub-Saharan Africa is projected to have 5.6 percent growth in 2013, according to International Monetary Fund data published Tuesday.

Eighteen of the countries were expected to have at least 6.0 percent growth, with only two in recession, Equatorial Guinea and Swaziland.

South Africa, the continent’s leading economy, was forecast at a more moderate 2.8 percent pace.

The World Bank this week highlighted Africa’s progress in reducing poverty. Its latest global poverty update shows that the region’s $1.25-a-day poverty rate fell from 58.1 percent in 1999 to 47.5 percent in 2008.

A recent report by consultancy McKinsey & Co., noting that Africa has the world’s fastest growing population, said that its booming consumer demand, not natural resources, would drive growth.

Still, the African continent remains extremely vulnerable to external shocks, said the two finance ministers.

Growth in Africa was reduced between one and two percentage points by the food crisis in 2008-2009, Ngozi said.

“We are concerned,” she said. If slow growth persists in the eurozone, which provides a large market for many African countries, and if growth slows in emerging-market economies, “we will be more vulnerable.”

That was why “we also asked our partners in other parts of the world to work hard and faster so the the global uncertainties that we confront in the eurozone improve,” the Nigerian finance minister said.