The Global Financial Crisis And Women In West Africa: Developing Impacts And The Implications Of Policy Responses
Via different aspects of the continent’s economic relationships with the various regions of the world, as well as the generalised climate of insecurity generated by the global financial crisis, the crisis has spread to sub-Saharan Africa.
One of the cruel ironies of the crisis is the constant reference to over a decade of unprecedented economic growth in sub-Saharan Africa that is now under threat. For example, a recent United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) paper notes that economic growth rates of an average of 5%, accompanied by single digit inflation since 2000 are now at risk (UNECA, 2009).7 As many in Africa have not enjoyed the fruits of economic growth, the looming threat of reversals is compounded by a struggle to come to terms with the unfamiliar idea of a positive outlook. Economic growth in the last decade may have been spectacular when compared with the growth figures of the eighties and nineties. However, for the majority of the economies in West Africa, it was made possible by good weather, stable prices for commodities and oil imports, relative macro-economic stability as a result of reforms, substantial inflows of aid and debt relief as well as the expansion of mining, construction and tourism. For Nigeria, an expansion of oil production was an important factor, while for Cote d’Ivoire, Liberia and Sierra Leone, conflict recovery and improved stability were important factors (UN, 2009; Ackah et al, 2009). This raises questions about the sustainability of the growth. Furthermore, it did not translate into fundamental changes in the agrarian character of African economies or their commodity dependence. Neither did it result in the creation of decent employment with social security. Instead, the economic liberalisation policies underpinning the growth resulted in the unprecedented growth of informal economies with insecure and precarious forms of work and widening income disparities (Tsikata, 2009).
The current and potential impacts of the global crisis therefore need to be understood in this already difficult context, which in 2008 was severely tested by two global challenges - a food and energy crisis constituting food price hikes and shortages, and escalating oil prices. The UN estimates that 125 million people in developing countries were experiencing extreme poverty because of the surge in global food prices since 2006 (UN, 2009). In the latter part of 2008, food riots became a telling response to the situation and West Africa had its share of them - in Senegal, Guinea, Mauritania, Burkina Faso, Cote d’Ivoire and Cameroon (Kamata, 2009).
Not surprisingly, the UN has observed that as a result of the financial crisis, developing economies, “including those with a recent history of strong economic performance, are deteriorating rapidly” (2009). That the crisis is affecting all countries in sub-Saharan Africa, irrespective of their economic performance, points to the fact that the matter goes beyond policy failures (UNECA, 2009).