Residents of the pukka houses (formerly temporary shacks) in front of the apartment complex where my family lives in New Delhi have decided to send their kids to private, English-medium schools, cutting corners to save enough to be able to afford it.
Last year, Kenya’s economy was behaving like a plane flying through a storm on one engine. After a lot of turbulence, especially when the shilling reached a record low against the dollar, the Central Bank intervened forcefully, and brought the plane back to stability.
But Kenya’s exchange rate woes are just the tip of the iceberg (see figure). Kenya’s big challenge is to reduce the gap between the import bill and exports revenues, what economists call the “current account deficit” (which remains large, even when services—such as tourism—are included). Last year, the deficit reached more than ten percent of GDP, approximately Ksh 400 billion (US$ 4.5 billion). This is larger than Greece’s.
Several people, from The Economist to this blog, have been highlighting Africa's accelerated GDP growth of about 5 percent a year for the decade before the 2008-9 global economic crisis, and the two years since the crisis. But has this growth served to reduce poverty?
The latest globally consistent estimate of poverty rates has an answer: Yes.
Using the measure of people living on $1.25 a day or less, the World Bank's poverty measurement team, led by my colleague Martin Ravallion, estimates that the percentage of poor Africans fell from 58 percent in 1999 to 47.5 percent in 2008. This rate of decline of about one percentage point a year is a welcome change from the previous decade when growth was much slower and the poverty rate increased.
The gathering of world leaders in London last week to consider the fate of Somalia may be heralding a new development moment for the war-torn country. But we are in unchartered waters: we know very little about Somalia’s economy.
First, from a development viewpoint, there is no such thing as one Somalia. Ironically, the unrecognized Somaliland entity [see the Somaliland success story in “Yes Africa Can” ] has enjoyed stability and democratic governance, pursuing classic development interventions (service delivery through the state, infrastructure investment, capacity building …). [In addition, Somaliland appears to have very good statistics.]
By contrast, South Central Somalia, where the capital city and official -albeit transition- government of Somalia are located, is a quintessential failed state plagued by conflict and public mismanagement. Puntland lies somewhere in between, with some stability but an embryonic state under growing influence of piracy networks.
Tanzania has shown massive achievements in education – well known progress in primary enrolment plus less well known, but in some ways even more spectacular, growth in post-primary education.
Yet, Tanzania needs to improve learning outcomes if a virtuous cycle of growth and human capital investment is to be sustained. This is “The Steep Learning Curve” which Tanzania needs to get onto with modest fiscal resources but a rapidly growing number of new students, and therefore with a keen eye for value. This should be possible.
You have embarked on a long train ride in Africa. The train is in bad shape, the ride is bumpy and breakdowns frequent. You wonder when you will arrive at destination or if you ever will. But after a tortuous first half of the trip, the train is starting to gain speed. There are still a number of unnecessary stops but the destination is now in sight and passengers are becoming upbeat. Just as the train is about to enter the station you are overtaken by three trains, which had been accelerating even faster.
This train could be Kenya in East Africa’s race to Middle Income. The country remains the richest in East Africa and with almost US$800 income per capita is the closest to meeting the international Middle Income threshold of US$1000. But its EAC partners Rwanda, Uganda and Tanzania are catching up fast.
Attracted by the prospects of large unexploited natural gas reserves in the south of Tanzania, big players are in town. The British Gas Group has publicly announced that it may invest over US$35 billion in the next 25 years – 1.5 times Tanzania’s current GDP. Policymakers and donors are jockeying to position themselves and understand what is at stake.
The excitement is well founded but perhaps a little bit premature. According to the most optimistic projections, revenues from natural gas will not materialize for 5-7 years. Moreover, international experience shows that commodity-driven growth does not guarantee success. The Tanzanian authorities are therefore right to prepare for the future by setting up the fiscal and financial rules required for future transparent and rational use of these funds now. They should not forget also to focus on the coming 5-7 years because the economy is facing a number of challenges.
While banks, homeowners and a few governments in the US and Europe are "de-leveraging," the buzzword in the aid business is "leveraging"--using scarce aid resources to crowd-in other resources, such as tax revenues and private capital flows. The reason is simple: aid resources are limited (partly due to the economic slowdown in donor countries from their de-leveraging) but development needs are great, so using aid money to stimulate tax revenues or guarantee private investors' risk could square the circle.
But we don’t just want to increase the amount of resources available: we want to make sure those resources are spent on activities that reduce poverty. This suggests a different way of thinking of leveraging.
In our (justifiable) enthusiasm for transparency, we rarely ask whether information provision leads private citizens to help themselves, thereby relieving governments of their responsibilities. If so, we may not be quite there (yet) in finding tools that improve government accountability.
Take the case of community radio, a classic tool for information sharing for accountability in Africa. It is supposed to organize communities and (literally) give voice to the opinions and needs of the marginalized. It also carries public interest messages, communicating the importance of health, education, and democratic values. New data from Benin, a country with a vibrant community radio network, show that people in poorer and far-flung regions are able to access news and information, and share views, because of this medium.
In villages with greater access to community radio, where people are more informed about the value of services, they are more likely to invest their own, private resources in health and education. More informed households are more likely to purchase bed nets from government officials, paying for this public health good to combat malaria, even though nets are supposed to be distributed free.
Over the last couple of years, as I travelled through the Rwandan countryside and talked with farmers, it was clear that something really interesting was happening. This was confirmed on Tuesday, February 7th when the results of the 3rd Rwandan Household Living Conditions Survey, EICV 3 were released. The results were, in the words of Paul Collier “deeply impressive” with Rwanda pulling off the very rarely