• 4.5%

    Africa's estimated economic growth in 2013

  • 48.5%

    of Sub-Saharan Africans living in poverty

  • 22%

    of African exports taken by emerging economies in 2011, up from 8% in 2000

  • 72

    million more jobs expected to be created in Africa by 2020

  • 60%

    of Africa's unemployed are youth

  • 17%

    increase in African mobile phone subscribers between 2010 and 2011

  • 250

    In millions, the number of Africans who could face water shortages by 2020

  • 20%

    the proportion of seats held by women in national parliaments in Africa

  • 1.08

    billion in UNDP expenditure in Africa in 2012

About Sub-Saharan Africa

A Region on the Move

Aerial view of Monrovia, Liberia
Aerial view of Monrovia, Liberia. Photo: Christopher Herwig/UN


Having achieved sustained levels of economic growth over the past ten years, Sub-Saharan Africa has continued to grow steadily in the midst of a prolonged international financial and economic crisis. The region has experienced considerable structural change, with increased domestic demand for basic consumer goods, a growing middle class and rapid urbanization, coupled with improved macro-economic foundations, better policy-making and strong engagement with emerging economies such as Brazil, China and India.


Improvements in governance are partly responsible for these advances. Africa boasts more efficient, accountable, democratic governments than ever before and the number of free and fair elections on the continent has increased dramatically. As a result, Sub-Saharan Africa has seen commendable improvements in human development, defined as the expansion of people’s choices and their ability to lead full, healthy and productive lives.


The region has had the second highest growth in the Human Development Index (HDI) after South Asia in the past ten years. Of the 14 countries in the world that recorded HDI gains of more than two percent annually since 2000, 11 are in the Sub-Saharan Africa region. These top-performers include a mix of countries with or without resources as well as diversified and high-performing agriculture-based economies like Angola, Ethiopia, Mauritius, Rwanda and Uganda, with Sierra Leone showing the second-highest human development improvement in the world since 2000. 


This progress is also noticeable in the targets and indicators of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), with considerable improvements for instance in primary education, gender parity and the fight against HIV/AIDS. Although the numbers mask huge disparities within countries, regions and population groups, the MDGs remain a key driver of progress.


In spite of these positive developments, Sub-Saharan Africa continues to face a number of critical obstacles. The region’s major challenge will be to ensure these advances benefit the many. For example, poverty rates across the region remain stubbornly high, while progress on health and sanitation has been slow and uneven. In addition, Africa’s most buoyant decade was characterized by joblessness and limited opportunities for participation in politics and business, particularly for women and young people. 


The region is also vulnerable to shocks - including extreme weather events and economic volatility – as well as long-term pressures such as demographic growth, environmental degradation and climate change. Food security remains a serious concern, as exemplified by the persistence of hunger in the countries of the Sahel and Horn of Africa, which have also seen political instability, conflict and civil unrest.


Better connected and managed, and equipped with enormous pool of talent, creative energy and hard work, Sub-Saharan Africa is in a unique position to achieve a development breakthrough. UNDP will continue to work with partners in the region to ensure that breakthrough becomes a reality.


Learn more about UNDP's Regional Service Centre for Africa.

UNDP Africa at a Glance
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