Tunisia has the soundest economic growth prospects of African countries surveyed by the World Economic Forum (WEF), while Zimbabwe and Kenya are the 'losers', a WEF report released on Wednesday said.
The Africa Competitiveness Report on the economic health of 24 African countries was released ahead of the three-day WEF southern Africa economic meeting, due to start later on Wednesday.
The report, last issued in 1998, said that Tunisia was followed by Mauritius, Botswana, Namibia, Morocco, Egypt and South Africa.
At the other end of the spectrum was Nigeria in 20th position, with analysts remarking that newfound democracy was offset by ethnic tension, poverty and debt, followed by Burkina Faso and Kenya.
Zimbabwe slid two steps down to 23rd place with Madagascar lying last.
The report said Zimbabwe and Kenya were "the notable losers in this year's report" and blamed some of their woes on the protracted rule of presidents Robert Mugabe and Daniel Arap Moi.
"Both countries have political leadership that has stayed in power for more than 20 years and both are fraught with growing internal dissension and demands for greater democratization," it said.
It said the expenditure of the Zimbabwe government had become chronically excessive, with lending rates of above 65 percent "punitive to investors" and inflation fuelled by a government liquidity lifeline to struggling banks.
Attempts at economic reform in Zimbabwe were undermined by delays in privatization and civil service reform, which sent domestic debt spiraling.
"It is sad to note that about 29 percent of total expenditures is diverted from productive purposes to meet interest payments on domestic debt."
Zambia was also struggling to service massive debt, spending 30 percent of its budget on debt payments. This left some 10 percent for social services.
The report said that debt relief efforts to highly indebted poor countries (HIPC) had helped little so far. "The process is too slow, too stingy and too arbitrary."
The toll on national budgets across the continent was compounded by the spread of AIDS, which has killed 11 million Africans, it said.
It concluded that corruption continued to hamper Africa's growth.
"Caught in a vicious spiral of nepotism and underdevelopment, there appears to be little hope for the continent to improve its competitiveness and achieve sustained economic growth." – SOUTH AFRICA (AFP)
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