Africa must work harder to reduce inequality: Annan


Matthew Mpoke Bigg

(Reuters) - African governments should work harder to reduce inequality that has prevented the benefits of a decade of economic growth from being spread equitably, according to a report by former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan released on Thursday.

The plunder by foreign investors and corrupt officials of the continent's fishing and timber resources is a clear example of the failure to harness natural resources for the common good, according to the annual Africa Progress Report.

"After more than a decade of growth, there is plenty to celebrate," Annan was set to say at the report's launch in London.

"But it is time to ask why so much growth has done so little to lift people out of poverty and why so much of Africa's resource wealth is squandered through corrupt practices and unscrupulous investment activities," Annan said.

The report is written by the Africa Progress Panel chaired by Annan, which advocates sustainable development.

The panel of 10 high-profile figures includes Irish musician and campaigner Bob Geldof and women and children rights advocate Graca Machel, who is the widow of late South African president Nelson Mandela.

Annan, who is from Ghana, played a central role in shaping the United Nations' Millennium Development Goals, which aimed to halve extreme poverty by 2015. He said the next set of targets must have reducing inequality as a core objective.

"When countries sign up to the new global development framework, they should pledge not only to meet ambitious targets but also to narrow the region's indefensible gaps between rich and poor, urban and rural, and men and women," he said.

Investing in agriculture is crucial, he said, singling Rwanda and Ethiopia as countries where that sort of investment had helped spread benefits across society.

Sub-Saharan Africa is set for economic growth of 5.5 percent in 2014, according to the International Monetary Fund.

But barriers posed by poor law enforcement persist. Illegal and unregulated fishing is rampant in Africa's coastal waters, damaging the livelihoods of fishing communities. The practice costs West Africa at least $1.3 billion annually, the report said. Illicit logging costs a further $17 billion.

(This story corrects to show report was launched in London)