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Social Development

Toing and Froing in Freetown

Mark Roland Thomas's picture



Countries coming out of crises undergo rapid structural changes, including migration and big economic shifts. This can complicate the measurement of their progress, sometimes in unexpected ways, as we found out recently in Sierra Leone.

Rich Countries, Poor People: Will Africa’s commodity boom benefit the poor?

Anand Rajaram's picture

Travelling across Africa these days you are likely to run into increasing numbers of mining, oil, and gas industry personnel engaged in exploration, drilling, and extraction across the continent. Although commodity prices are moderating, the discoveries being made in Africa offer the real prospect of significant revenue to many cash-poor, aid-dependent governments in the decade ahead. If you care about development, the question is whether these revenues will catalyze broad economic development and whether they will benefit the poor in Africa.

Blogger’s Swan Song

Shanta Devarajan's picture
This will be my last post on Africa Can.  Having recently started a new adventure as Chief Economist of the World Bank’s Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, I will be blogging on that region’s issues in the MENA blog as well as starting a more general blog (tentatively titled “Economics to end poverty”) with some of my fellow bloggers.  It has been a privilege to moderate Africa Can, and I want to thank our readers for the stimulating, lively and frank discussions, as well as for having made this the most popular blog at the Bank.

Africa needs more knowledge not just more money and projects

Sudharshan Canagarajah's picture

It is now widely understood that achieving a sustained acceleration of GDP growth over the long term is a prerequisite for eradicating mass poverty. In most developing countries, fiscal policies, including expenditure and tax policies, provide some of the most feasible tools available to governments for achieving their development objectives. Hence the role of fiscal policies as instruments for promoting long term sustainable economic growth is of great importance, an issue that was discussed at the “Fiscal Policy, Equity and Long Term Growth” conference which took place at the IMF on April 21-22, 2013. What matters in this context is how fiscal policies are designed and implemented such that they affect the long term growth of the supply side of the economy, rather than as a tool of short run demand management. The quality of fiscal policy is of critical importance in this regard.

There is a large volume of academic research, both theoretical and empirical, on the effects of different aspects of fiscal policy on economic growth (Easterly and Rebelo, 1993; Gemmel, 2001; Moreno-Dodson, 2012; World Bank, 2007, etc to cite just a few). This research has yielded broad fiscal policy advice for developing countries. For example, governments should avoid excessive fiscal deficits and public debt, allocate budgets towards human capital development and public investment in infrastructure which provides “public goods and services” and levy taxes on as broad a base as possible without distorting incentives to save and invest.

Has the African Growth Miracle Already Happened?

Shanta Devarajan's picture

Most of the literature about Africa’s growth, “Africa Rising”, “Lions on the Move”, etc., refer to the present or the future.  An oft-quoted World Bank report said, “Africa could be on the brink of an economic takeoff, much like China was 30 years ago and India 20 years ago.” 

Meanwhile, Alwyn Young has recently published a paper that claims that per-capita consumption on the continent has been growing at 3.4-3.7 percent a year for the last two decades—about three to four times the growth rates documented in other studies. Instead of using national accounts data (which, as we know, suffer from several deficiencies), Alwyn adopts the Demographic and Health Surveys (DHS), which calculate the households’ ownership of assets and other indicators of well-being (ownership of a car or bicycle; material of the house floor; birth, death or illness of a child, etc.). 

The politics of service delivery

Shanta Devarajan's picture

Teachers in Tanzania are absent 23 percent of the time; doctors in Senegal spend an average of 39 minutes a day seeing patients; in Chad, 99 percent of non-wage public spending in health disappears before reaching the clinics.

These and other service delivery failures have been widely documented since the 2004 World Development Report, Making Services Work for Poor People.

But why do these failures persist?  Because they represent a political equilibrium where politicians and service providers (teachers, doctors, bureaucrats) benefit from the status quo and will therefore resist attempts at improving services.  For instance, teachers are often the campaign managers for local politicians.  They work to get the politician elected, in return for which they get a job from which they can be absent. Powerful medical unions ensure that their members can work in the private sector and neglect their salaried government jobs.  The losers are the poor, whose children don't learn to read and write, or get sick and die because the public clinic is empty.

Rewarding safe sex

Damien de Walque's picture

Prevention strategies have had limited impact on the trajectory of the HIV/AIDS epidemic. New, innovative approaches to behavioral change are needed to stem the epidemic.

In a joint effort with many colleagues, and in collaboration with the Ifakara Health Institute in Tanzania and, the University of California at Berkeley, we launched a study with the acronym RESPECT (“Rewarding STI Prevention and Control in Tanzania”).

We started with an observation:  Conditional cash transfers (CCTs) have been used successfully to promote activities that are beneficial to the participants such as school attendance  and health check-ups for children.  The Tanzanian experiment asks whether CCTs can be used to prevent people from engaging in activities that are harmful to themselves and others, such as unsafe sex. This is a controversial idea.

Creating a level playing field

Wolfgang Fengler's picture

Throughout the slums of this world, poor children are dreaming of becoming football stars and playing in the World Cup. Some of them from Kibera—Kenya’s largest slum—had a shot last weekend, when the International School of Kenya hosted the third “Mini World Cup”.

The event involved more than sixty teams made-up of Kenyan and international children from all walks of life. Two teams from Kibera made it to the top eight teams of the tournament, keeping their dream alive to win the “Cup” in one of the next years. The great thing about football is that all teams, no matter what their social background, have an equal opportunity to win. They start on a level playing field, and they all play by the same rules. When the final whistle blows, there is no reason why one of the teams from Kibera should not lift the Mini World Cup next time, just as Ghana’s Black Stars overcame Team USA in the 2010 World Cup, despite the huge disparity in wealth between the two nations.

In economic development, the equivalent of having a level playing field is equality of access to basic services.

Raising the Volume on 'Quiet Corruption'

Shanta Devarajan's picture

 
Photo: Arne Hoel

In Uganda, teachers in public primary schools are absent 27 percent of the time. In Chad, less than one percent of the non-wage recurrent expenditures reaches primary health clinics.  In West Africa, about half the fertilizer is diluted before it reaches the farmer. 

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