The World Bank Group (WBG), with private and public sector partners, set an ambitious target to achieve Universal Financial Access (UFA) by 2020. The UFA goal envisions that, by 2020, adults globally will be able to have access to a transaction account or electronic instrument to store money, send and receive payments. The WBG has committed to enabling one billion people to gain access to a transaction account through targeted interventions. Ethiopia is one of the 25 priority countries for UFA initiative.
For the past few years, I have been fortunate enough to be the World Bank’s resident economist for Mauritius and Seychelles. With this now coming to an end, here are some especially striking impressions of these countries’ successes and challenges that I hope can provide food for thought more widely.
The South African economy has been off to a good start in 2018. Statistics SA, the country’s national statistical service, released national accounts figures with revisions that pointed to more positive momentum in the economy than previously thought. South Africa grew by 1.3% in 2017, beating the consensus estimate of economists, and the revised numbers no longer record a technical recession early in the year.
‘Our Economic Policy will be predicated on our agriculture which is the mainstay…’ said Zimbabwe President Emmerson Mnangagwa in his inaugural speech in November 2017, setting a new tone for agricultural development in the country. While reiterating that the principles that led to land reform cannot be “challenged” or “reversed,” he called for a “commitment to the utilization of the land for national food security and for the recovery of our economy.”
The informal sector is a large part of employment in African cities. The International Labour Organization estimates that more than 66% of total employment in Sub-Saharan African is in the informal sector. With a pervasive informal sector, city governments have been struggling with how best to respond. On the one hand, a large informal sector often adds to city congestion, through informal vending and transport services, and does not contribute to city revenue. Furthermore, informal enterprises are typically characterized by low productivity, low wages and non-exportable goods and services. On the other hand, the informal sector provides crucial livelihoods to the most vulnerable of the urban poor.
Is the era of industrialization and manufacturing exports growth miracles – a period of rapid economic growth exceeding expectations, last seen in East Asian countries, most notably in China – over? If you listen to Harvard’s Dani Rodrik, the answer seems to be: pretty much! Does that mean, Africa, the only continent which hasn’t seen rapid export-led manufacturing growth, would not have many growth miracle stories?
Kenya is one of the countries that did not achieve the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) for increasing access to water and sanitation. Only 30% of Kenyans have access to improved sanitation, that is, the use of sanitation facilities that hygienically separate excreta from human contact. This means that approximately 30 million Kenyans are still using unsafe sanitation methods like rudimentary types of latrines, and almost six million are defecating in the open.
Since the Edelman company began tracking trust with its Trust Barometer, never has the world seen such an “implosion of trust.” In 2017, two-thirds of countries fell into “distruster” territory with trust levels of below 50 percent. Governments are now distrusted by investors in 75 percent of countries, and the same is the case for business in 46 percent.
Despite much progress over the last two decades, girls still have lower levels of educational attainment on average than boys at the secondary school level in Uganda. In part this is because many girls are married or have children before the age of 18—often before they are physically and emotionally ready to become wives and mothers. Educating girls, ending child marriage, and preventing early childbearing is essential for girls to have agency, as future wives and mothers, and for Uganda to reach its full development potential.
Six years after independence, South Sudan remains one of the world’s most fragile states, unable to emerge from cycles of violence. About half the population—that is, about 6 million of 12 million people—are food insecure. A famine was declared in February 2017. And though the famine was contained (thanks to massive humanitarian support), food insecurity remains at extremely high levels.
About 2 million South Sudanese have fled the country and another 1.9 million are internally displaced. The economy is estimated to have contracted by 11 percent in the past fiscal year, due to conflict, low oil production, and disruptions to agriculture. The fiscal deficit, inflation, and parallel market premium have all soared.
This macroeconomic collapse has crushed the livelihoods of many South Sudanese.