What do the World Bank's poverty assessments teach us about poverty in Sub-Saharan Africa?
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As part of the World Bank's poverty reduction strategy, Poverty Assessments have been carried out for a number of countries which analyse who the poor are, the causes of poverty and poverty reduction policies. This article reviews what can be learnt from the twenty-five Assessments prepared for countries in sub-Saharan Africa up to 1996. Whilst other factors are acknowledged in identifying the poor, the Assessments over-emphasize income-poverty defined against an inevitably arbitrary poverty line. The Assessments are shown to be weak in addressing the causes of poverty, often ignoring the historical perspective, political context, and international dimensions such as debt and commodity price trends, focusing instead on the lack of growth in recent years as the main cause of poverty. Weak understanding of the causes of poverty undermines the basis for country-specific poverty reduction strategies: policy recommendations are usually an uncritical presentation of the World Bank's three-pronged strategy of growth, investment in human capital and social safety nets. Although the Assessments do not explicitly acknowledge the point, they suggest that the number of poor people in Africa will continue to rise; nor is there any basis for confidence that policies are being put in place to redress the situation.