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November 2011

Learning from a Kenyan revolution

Wolfgang Fengler's picture

Who would have thought, 20 years ago, that a poor African country would become a powerhouse of global innovation in Information and Communication Technology (ICT)? Definitely not me! As student on a long road trip through Africa in 1990, I often struggled to make expensive calls home to Europe. Making an international call typically involved finding an Indian-African merchant, who was one of the few people with a phone that could connect you to other parts of the world, in theory. In practice, I often waited for at least an hour and, when I was lucky enough to get through, paid the equivalent of what today would be about 600 Shillings per minute.

Now zoom back to today and look at the abundance of mobile devices, even in the poorest parts of Africa, and incredibly low calling rates. This year Kenyans could call the US from their cell phones for as little as 3 Shillings per minute! Something extremely remarkable must have happened. In describing the transformation of the telecom industry over the last 10-15 years in Africa, especially in Kenya, the term “revolution” is not an exaggeration.

Since 2000, the Kenyan ICT sector has grown on average 20 percent each year, outperforming every other sector by a wide margin (the second best performer was hotels and restaurants which grew at 8 percent). The ICT sector has been driving growth in Kenya: without it, instead of the 3.7 percent average growth it achieved, the economy would have seen lackluster growth of 2.8 percent (barely enough to keep up with population growth).

Rwanda: Resilience in the face of adversity

Birgit Hansl's picture

In times of regional and global turbulence, Rwanda’s economy has demonstrated remarkable resilience. A new Rwanda Economic Update shows why.

In 2011, growth will reach 8.8 percent, inflation has been contained below 10 percent and the exchange rate remains stable. This economic resilience reflects sound macroeconomic management.

Rwanda’s growth prospects for 2011 compare favorably with others in the region, but this outlook is contingent on three factors.  First, prudent macroeconomic management continues, inflation is at single digits and the exchange rate remains stable. 

Informing the Poor: Four Critiques

Shanta Devarajan's picture

Over the last decade, there has been increasing enthusiasm for empowering poor people by giving them information.  For instance, sharing information about absentee teachers and doctors, the availability of drugs in clinics, and the effectiveness of development projects will enable poor people (the intended beneficiaries of these programs) to demand better services—and get them. 

I share this enthusiasm and may even have contributed in a small way to it.  But at a recent aid data conference, I thought I’d consider the criticisms that such efforts have received, and some responses.

1.  They already know.  Poor people don’t need to be told that the teacher is absent from the public primary school.  Their children have been telling them this for years. 

Three myths about aid to Kenya

Wolfgang Fengler's picture

The World Bank and IMF have received much press attention in recent weeks in Kenya.  The Kenyan Kazi Kwa Vijana (“work for youth”) initiative, which the Bank was supporting through its Youth Empowerment Project, and Government’s decision to request substantial IMF funding to support macroeconomic stability have been the source of heated debates in parliament.

This gives me an opportunity to share some thoughts which are influenced by “Delivering Aid Differently”, a book which Homi Kharas and I co-authored and launched in Nairobi and Washington a year ago.

In recent years, the aid industry has been a focus of critical examination and the object of debate.

Poor Evaluation Methods Can Mislead: New Developments in the Millennium Villages Evaluation

Gabriel Demombynes's picture

by Michael Clemens and Gabriel Demombynes

Contrary to persistent perceptions that sub-Saharan Africa is mired in intractable misery, many of the region’s countries have experienced sustained economic growth, deepening democracy, improving governance, and decreasing poverty in recent years.

To take just one aspect of the African Renaissance, in five of six countries for which recent data is available—Malawi, Tanzania, Rwanda, Nigeria, and Ghana—rates of child malnutrition as measured by stunting have declined in the last decade. Because so much is changing in Africa, it is crucial to take this “background” change into account when evaluating the impact of local policy interventions.

This is evident when considering the Millennium Villages Project (MVP) evaluation, which we critiqued in a peer-reviewed journal article. Recently, we examined the three peer-reviewed papers that dealt with the MVP’s impacts and showed that they do not back up the project’s claims of large impacts, in part because they don’t take “background” change into account.

There’s a new development: The MVP has just released its first study that does try to distinguish changes observed at its village sites from broader changes happening across Africa.

Yes, Africa can end poverty…but will we know when it happens?

Waly Wane's picture

Today poverty data are available for almost all countries in the world1.  Because a country’s success is measured by the number of people it lifts out of poverty, identifying best performers is a fair exercise only if poverty indicators are fully comparable. One indicator used is the share of the population whose consumption (or income) level is below a nationally defined poverty line or the US 1.25 dollar PPP per day. But even if policy makers and other stakeholders can count on readily available statistics, the poverty numbers should not be taken at face value.

Data are useful if they give us a sense of reality

Poverty data are based on a set of arbitrary assumptions that may lead to erroneous conclusions.

Business is brewing in the world’s newest country

Gabriel Demombynes's picture

Emerging from decades of violent conflict, with more than half its population living below the national poverty line and three quarters of the population never having attended school, South Sudan may seem like an unlikely place for setting up a successful, modern manufacturing business.

However, we recently saw an exciting example of what the private sector can achieve even under these conditions:  the Southern Sudan Beverages, Ltd (SSBL) plant, which produces beer, soft drinks, and bottled water for the local market.

SSBL started production in 2009 after investing $37 million to build the facility; a $15 million expansion is now underway.  The plant looks like a modern manufacturing enterprise—with one exception: it is largely self-contained, with its own generators and a treatment plant for the water that is pumped up from the White Nile.