Liberian president calls for new thinking

Liberian president calls for new thinking

Published: February 5, 2013

Ellen Johnson Sirleaf lauds African potential while warning against complacency. 

President of Liberia and winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, has called on African political and business leaders to adopt a new approach to economic growth. Speaking at The Economist Africa Summit in London, she warned against deriving too much meaning from consumption and production figures.

“The truth is that these calculations usually mask deep and intractable forms of poverty in all countries, rich, poor and middle-income,” she explained. “The economies of Africa have registered remarkable economic performance over the past 10 years, achieving annual average growth rates of above 5% for the period...Yet the growth was jobless and non-inclusive, hence did not result in a significant improvement in peoples’ lives.”

She praised Africa’s resilience during the economic crisis, and pointed out that the combined GDP of the continent’s 11 largest economies is likely to outstrip that of China and Russia by 2020.  She warned, however, that there is a long way to go and the old model of growth is not fit for purpose.

“It is important to keep everything in perspective,” she said. “A recent report by the African Development Bank indicated that one result of this positive growth is the emergence of an African middle class – some 300mn. The upper-middle class spends between US$10 and US$20 a day. The lower middle class spends between US$4 and US$10 a day. However, the bank is clear that most of the growth is in the floating middle class of those who earn between US$2 and US$4 dollars a day; 61% of the African population still lives on less than US$2 dollars a day.”

She continued: “The record is equally clear that the result of over-concentration on economic growth pursued with the intensity of competition that relies mostly on non-renewable natural resources is a zero sum model. The outcome will always be the same – unsustainable economic growth characterised by deep pockets of poverty.”