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Macroeconomics and Economic Growth

If Kenya was a member of the Euro zone – Lessons in managing debt sustainably

Wolfgang Fengler's picture

As European leaders convened in Brussels to find solutions—yet again!—to the debt crisis in the Euro zone, Kenyans are witnessing the old continent’s woes with a mix of surprise and self-satisfaction. 

If only Greece had managed its debt like Kenya, Europe would be in a much better shape today. Greece’s debt would be standing at 45 percent of GDP, less than a third of what it actually is. Recent global economic history would need to be rewritten and Europe’s sick nation would be a macroeconomic success, with the luxury of deciding how to spend its resources well, rather than scrambling to mobilize them. 

What the Global Findex Database says about Africa

Asli Demirgüç-Kunt's picture

With the recent opening of a rural savings and credit cooperative, the people in Gebremichael’s Ethiopian village no longer have to save their money in pots or under the mattress at home. He and his neighbors are learning to use formal savings and credit systems.

We know that many in Sub-Saharan Africa have benefited from using the formal financial system, but exactly how many are using it to save, borrow, make payments and manage risk? 

With the release of the Global Financial Inclusion Indicators (Global Findex) we now have a comprehensive, individual-level, and publicly-available database that allows comparisons across 148 economies of how adults around the world manage their daily finances and plan for the future. The Global Findex database also identifies barriers to financial inclusion, such as cost, travel time, distance, amount of paper work, and income inequality.  Our new Working Paper offers an overview of Financial Inclusion in Africa.

Slums dwellers need opportunities not hand-outs

Wolfgang Fengler's picture

The International School of Kenya just hosted its last football tournament of the year. Teams from Nairobi’s poor neighborhoods dominated the event. Rain was pouring and many of the players were playing barefoot, but they still thrived, outperforming many teams from schools where the rich take their children.

In the 10-11 age group, the top three places went to teams from destitute neighborhoods, including Kibera, which some people have (wrongly) dubbed as the world’s largest slum. Kibera Sports Academy stood at the top of the podium, while second and third places went to Inspiration Kenya and Peace Academy respectively. 

Many people, including Kenyans, consider slums the epitome of misery. The common wisdom is they breed disease, crime and many other forms and manifestations of poverty. Why then are slums growing bigger, with people migrating to them in ever increasing numbers?

Do small countries do it better?

Apurva Sanghi's picture

In development circles, people talk about “countries that are too big to fail and too small to succeed”.  The jury may be out on the former but a new book by Shahid Yusuf and Kaoru Nabeshima, “Some Small Countries Do It Better” dispels the notion that countries can be too small to succeed.

Three small countries studied in the book - SIFIRE (SIngapore, FInland, IREland) – not only grew at high rates but were able to sustain them.

The book – which concludes with a section on implications for African countries – contends that growth recipes for SIFIRE were not tightly bound to the East Asian model of extremely high rates of savings and investment (although arguably, Singapore was in many ways the epitome of that model, thanks to its mandatory savings scheme which led to gross national savings in the neighborhood of 50 percent for decades).

The larger point is that these three countries augmented physical investment with healthy doses human capital and knowledge; by “opening their windows and letting it [knowledge in various forms, for example, that embodied in FDI] stream in”. And even though the book does not explicitly discuss it, they did so without massive infusions of foreign aid. Or perhaps it was the lack of aid that forced them to be nimble, agile, and forward-looking?

What precisely did SIFIRE get right? 

Why Does Cargo Spend Weeks in African Ports?

Gael Raballand's picture

Port NamibiaContainers spend, on average, several weeks in ports in Africa. In fact, over 50% of total land transport time from port to hinterland cities in landlocked countries is spent in ports.

Our recent study demonstrates that, excluding Durban and Mombasa, average cargo dwell time in most ports in SSA is close to 20 days whereas it is close to 4 days in most large ports in East Asia or in Europe. In this setting, the main response has been to push for: (a) concession of terminal operators to the private sector, (b) investments in infrastructure (such as quays and container yards) and (c) investments in super-structures such as cranes and handling equipment.

What has been the result on cargo dwell time? Not much. On average, it is extremely difficult to reduce cargo dwell time. In Douala (Cameroon), for example, planners set an objective of 7 days at the end of the 1990s, but the dwell time remains over 18 days (despite real improvements for some shippers). 

Can Kenya replicate Indonesia’s turnaround?

Wolfgang Fengler's picture

JakartaRecently, a friend from Indonesia visited me in Nairobi. He is one of the world’s leading experts on social development and a long-term Jakarta resident. One of his observations stuck in my mind: “Kenya is just like Indonesia ten years ago”, he said. 

Comparing Kenya with Indonesia is counterintuitive—except perhaps when it comes to traffic jams—because of the many differences between the two countries. Indonesia is the world largest island state with more than 17.000 islands and a demographic heavyweight with 240 million people (six times more than Kenya). It is also 85 percent Muslim, while Kenya is about 85 percent Christian. Indonesia has massive natural resources – coal and gas (and some oil) – that it exports to other Asian countries, especially China, while Kenya’s economy is fuelled by a strong service sector.

There are many more reasons to challenge a comparison between these two countries but when one digs below the surface, there are also some similarities. Economically my friend was spot on: in GDP per capita terms, Kenya is roughly at the level of Indonesia a decade ago (about US$800 per capita). Today Indonesia is far ahead, but I don’t see any reason why Kenya couldn’t follow suit. Indeed, Indonesia is a good benchmark case for Kenya because it was never a “star reformer”, but instead a consistently strong performer.

A wiki on Africa Youth Employment

Shanta Devarajan's picture

Ever wonder how a World Bank  flagship report gets written?  A team of experts drafts an outline and shares it with stakeholders for their comments, suggestions and inputs.  Based on this feedback, the team drafts the report and shares the draft for further comment, before publishing the final draft.

Today, we are proposing to write our flagship report on youth employment in Africa differently.  We are launching a wiki platform and inviting the world to participate in the writing of the report. The wiki contains the preliminary outline which you can revise and rewrite.  I emphasize that the outline is preliminary; it contains assertions that may not be borne out by further analysis (I know because I wrote some of them).  So please add to, subtract from and edit the outline.

 

Why are we doing this?  First, the topic of youth employment in Africa is so important that we need to engage as many people as possible in finding solutions.  And second, young people are so tech-savvy that this may be a way of harnessing that talent and energy.  

 

As you can imagine, the idea of writing a report on a wiki platform raised some questions, even from my teammates ("if you needed brain surgery, would you crowd source that too?"). But we decided that the benefits outweigh the risks.

 

Writing a report on a wiki is the logical extension of the World Bank's open knowledge and open data programs (link to these), not to mention this blog.

 

And if we succeed in collaborating with a large number of people, we could call it the world's development report.

To boost trade between Ghana and Nigeria: implement existing commitments

Mombert Hoppe's picture

Most people seem to think that intra-African trade could be substantially larger than it currently is. This would explain the recent statement of the heads of the African Union to “boost” intra-African trade substantially and to create an Africa-wide Free Trade Area by 2017.

Five reasons why Kenya and Africa should take off

Wolfgang Fengler's picture

A week hardly goes-by without one or more international investors announcingmajor investment interests in Nairobi, or other African capital cities.

Nokia, Nestle, and IBM are some of the companies which intend to position themselves more strongly in (East) Africa. True, their investments may still be low by international standards, but they are increasingly becoming noticeable. 

On a macroeconomic level, the new Africa momentum has also been evident. Africa has weathered both the global financial crisis, and the turbulence in the Euro zone. According to World Bank’s latest economic outlook, Sub-Saharan Africa is projected to grow above 5 percent in 2012 and 2013. This would be higher than the average of developing countries (excluding China), and substantially, above growth in high-income countries. This means that at some point in this decade, Africa could grow above the levels of Asia.  A few years ago, it would not have been possible for economic observers to consider such a scenario.  Once Africa becomes the fastest growing continent in the world; this will also be the true turning point for Africa’s global perception.

About Development Economics

Shanta Devarajan's picture

UPDATE (May 15th, 2012) Caroline Freund, World Bank Chief Economist for the Middle East and North Africa has joined the debate. See her remarks.

The Chief Economists of all the regions where the World Bank implements programs got together recently to exchange thoughts about the current state of development economics.

You can read a summary of our views related to Africa, South Asia, and Europe and Central Asia here. 

And we hope you can participate in this debate by sharing your own views via the comments section below.  

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