World Bank on public goods in African development: a changing rhetoric?

In Africa’s Pulse, published by the World Bank in December 2014, the emphasis on agricultural development in Africa seems to have been transformed. The report argues that boosting agricultural productivity alone will not suffice:

Investments in rural public goods (for example, education, health, rural roads, electricity, and ICT) and services (including in small towns) will be equally important to boost the rural economy and facilitate the structural transformation through rural income diversification, while also equipping the next generation for migration to the cities.

And also stresses the role of the public sector in growth:

Significant public investment in infrastructure, increased agricultural production and expanding services in African retail, telecoms, transportation, and finance, are expected to continue to boost growth in the region.

The emphasis on rural infrastructure, public goods, ‘inclusive growth’ and the public sector all seems a long way from the Bank’s traditional emphasis on the free market, liberalization and the private sector. When did this change happen? It is starting to sound like a European style, mixed economy approach, far from the structural adjustment policies of the 1980s. From the perspective of the knowledge ecology, the emphasis on services, education and ICTs seems to be promising as does the emphasis on inclusive growth, health and infrastructure from a broader development perspective.

Africa’s Pulse is a twice-yearly analysis of the issues shaping Africa’s economic prospects. It notes that African economies continue to expand at a moderate pace with regional GDP growth projected to strengthen to 5.2% per year in 2015-16 from 4.6% in 2014. Threats to future growth include fiscal deficits in some countries, activities of groups such as Boko Haram and Al Shabaab and, most seriously, the Ebola epidemic in West Africa.

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