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October 2011

Kenya rising and Germany falling: A tale of two populations

Wolfgang Fengler's picture

Today, October 31, 2011 our planet reaches a new milestone: we are 7 billion people on earth.

In the past, when the world’s population was a fraction of what it is today, the expansion of humanity was a source of alarm and many apocalyptic tales. More than 200 years ago, Thomas Malthus, one of the leading scholars and economists at that time predicted that the world would simply run out of food. Then, we were less than one billion people.

Now I want to take you on a journey into the future.

Why has the Kenyan Shilling declined so sharply?

Wolfgang Fengler's picture

How would you feel if, after a normal take-off, you noticed one of the engines on your plane wasn’t working properly? What if you then found out the other engine was overheating? Now suppose the captain announces that you should buckle-up because the plane is about to meet an approaching hurricane?

This is what Kenya’s economy is currently going through. The country is in the middle of a perfect storm, and the declining Shilling is the most visible manifestation of Kenya’s economic woes. Why has the Shilling been falling so much and so unpredictably?

The main reason is that Kenya’s economy is increasingly imbalanced: the country is importing too much and exporting too little.

Africa’s statistical tragedy

Shanta Devarajan's picture

Fifteen years ago, Easterly and Levine published “Africa’s Growth Tragedy”, highlighting the disappointing performance of Africa’s growth, and the toll it has taken on the poor. Since then, growth has picked up, averaging 5-6 percent a year, and poverty is declining at about one percentage point a year. The “statistical tragedy” is that we cannot be sure this is true.

Take economic growth, which is measured in terms of growth in GDP.  GDP in turn is measured by national accounts.  While there has been some progress, today, only 35 percent of Africa’s population lives in countries that use the 1993 UN System of National Accounts; the others use earlier systems, some dating back to the 1960s. 

To show that this is not an arcane point, consider the case of Ghana, which decided to update its GDP last year to the 1993 system.  When they did so, they found that their GDP was 62 percent higher than previously thought.  Ghana’s per capita GDP is now over $1,000, making it a middle-income country. 

Taxing the poor… through inflation

Wolfgang Fengler's picture

Imagine you are spending half of your income on something whose price suddenly increases by a quarter. Seems impossible? This is how in fact inflation has hit the poor in many developing countries, especially Kenya.

This September, overall inflation reached a record high of 17.3 percent. One year ago it was just above 3 percent. Why has it increased so sharply even though Kenya has followed prudent macro policies? The short answer is: food and fuel. In Kenya, food accounts for 36 percent of the average person’s expenditures; energy and transport another 27 percent. The urban poor spend more than 43 percent on food. Since January, food prices have increased by almost 25 percent (see figure), partly as a result of international trends but also due to Kenya’s- agriculture policies. Maize prices tripled between January and June until they retreated a little once the government waived import duties and the 2011 harvest started trickling in.