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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.  

International Trade Can Help Africa Grow

Daniel Lederman's picture

Africa tradeOptimism about Africa’s future is no longer scarce. The continent’s growth has been exemplary in recent years. Yet it is just as easy to find signs of distrust in the global economy. 

Multilateral agencies insist that international integration offers opportunities for accelerating economic growth. Official parlance has become tame since the heyday of structural reforms in the early 1990s, but they have found subtle ways to argue that trade is good. The World Bank recently launched “Defragmenting Africa,” providing an exhaustive and exhausting list of policies to increase international trade within the continent. 

Unsurprisingly the prescriptions can be costly. Removing import taxes might improve economic efficiency and enhance consumer welfare, but revenues can fall in countries with limited public resources. Although Africa harbors some of the highest trade taxes in the world (World Development Report 2009), the point is that there are tradeoffs. The same applies to policies that entail investments in infrastructure for “trade facilitation.” 

What would Africa get in return? 

Who benefits from fuel price subsidies?

Punam Chuhan-Pole's picture

Over half the countries in Sub-Saharan Africa subsidize fuel to protect consumers from high and volatile prices. But fuel subsidies are neither cheap nor likely to be sustainable (see the full analysis in the new Africa's Pulse). 

Data for 2010-11 show that fuel price subsidies consumed, on average, 1.4 percent of GDP in public resources: The fiscal cost in oil exporters was almost two-and-a-half times that in oil importers. In the face of high (and rising) world fuel prices, a number of countries have raised domestic prices to stem fiscal costs.  

For example, Ghana raised fuel prices by about 30 percent in January 2011. The Nigerian government removed the subsidy on gasoline this January, although a portion of the subsidy was subsequently reinstated.  With oil prices likely to remain elevated, fuel subsidies will continue to weigh on government budgets in Africa.

But who benefits from fuel price subsidies?  

Expenditure data for seven African countries show that the distribution of these subsidies is disproportionately concentrated in the hands of the rich.  Richer households spend a larger amount on fuel products, and, consequently, benefit more than poorer households from any universal subsidy on these products. On average the richest 20% receive over six times more in subsidy benefits than the poorest 20%. 

Big shifts and what they mean for Africa and Kenya

Wolfgang Fengler's picture

Can Africa claim the 21st century? When the World Bank’s Africa department published this book in April 2000, most observers were doubtful that African countries would ever be in a position to become emerging markets. That year, The Economist called Africa “The hopeless continent” and global attention was focused mainly on Africa’s problems: HIV/Aids in Southern Africa; the relentless war in Somalia; and, droughts in the Sahel—which gave the pessimists plenty of ammunition. 

But over the last several years, something remarkable has happened: Africa’s fragile and conflict-affected countries remain a major development challenge, but besides these, a Stable Africa has emerged. Most of this Stable Africa has experienced continued high growth for a decade, and major improvements in social indicators. Africa is becoming an investment destination, and there is hardly a week which goes by without a major investor dropping by my office, to discuss the region’s economic fundamentals.

How has Africa changed over the last decades?

Will oil be a blessing or a curse for Kenya? – Lessons from Indonesia and the rest of the world

Wolfgang Fengler's picture

This piece was co-authored with Günther Schulze1.

Kenya may have found oil in Turkana that could change the development trajectory for the country. In 2011, Kenya spent US$ 4.1 billion on oil imports, equivalent to approximately 100,000 barrels per day. For Kenya to become a net oil exporter, the resources in Turkana would need to be substantial and similar to those of Sudan or Chad. 

If indeed Kenya has substantial oil reserves, will they benefit the country in the long-term?

Some observers are predicting similar problems as in Nigeria, Equatorial Guinea and many other resource-rich African countries where corruption has been amplified.

Others argue that this need not be the case. Countries as diverse as Botswana, Chile and Norway have shown that natural resources can be a blessing. If managed well, they can even support the fight against poverty by providing the resources needed to scale up the delivery of public services. In the last ten years, many of the world’s fastest growing economies, including in Africa, have benefitted from exporting natural resources.

So who should we believe?

Cassava as an income-earning crop for small farmers

 

Sub-Saharan Africa produces more than 50 percent of the world’s cassava (aka manioc, Tapioca, and Yucca), but mainly as a subsistence crop.  Consumed by about 500 million Africans every day, it is the second most important source of carbohydrate in Sub-Saharan Africa, after maize. The leaves can also be consumed as a green vegetable, which provides protein and vitamins A and B. As an economy advances, cassava is also used for animal feed and industrial applications.

 

Described as the “Rambo of food crops” cassava would become even more productive in hotter temperatures and could be the best bet for African farmers threatened by climate change.

 

Cassava is drought resistant, can be grown on marginal land where other cereals do not do well, and requires little inputs. For these reasons it is grown widely by African small and poor farmers as a subsistence crop. However, cassava’s potential as an income-earning crop has not been widely tapped.

 

Cassava presents enormous opportunities for trade between areas with food surplus and food deficit. Currently, a large shortfall of the regional food supply is filled by cereals bought in the international market. For cassava to become an income-earning crop at intra-regional market for small farmers in Africa, two main obstacles remain: post-harvest processing and regional trade barriers.

When are macroeconomic stability and exceptionally high returns not enough for private investors?

Sandeep Mahajan's picture

South Africa appears to be mired in a cycle of modest growth, high inequality and record unemployment. This, despite an exemplary record on macroeconomic management and deepening integration with the global economy. 

Inflation remains nestled within the target range of 3-6 percent and fiscal and debt management outcomes have been impressive.

Remarkably, there is broad political consensus on the issue of macroeconomic stability, recent calls for a looser stance by the labor unions notwithstanding. 

A sustained pattern of high, broad-based and inclusive growth is yet to emerge, however.  Despite a pick-up in per capita GDP growth from negative rates to an average of 1.6 percent per year during 1994-2011, per capita GDP is currently only 10 percent higher than in 1980: a period over which other developing countries have seen much more meaningful increases in their income levels.

Kenya’s tourism – Still an unpolished diamond

Wolfgang Fengler's picture

When I first came to Kenya, in August 1990, I was a backpacker on a shoestring budget. At midcourse between Cape-town and Cairo, I got accommodation at the New Kenya Lodge in River Road for US$ 2.50. After spending two nights there, I continued to Garissa and Liboi, heading to Somalia.

In 1994, I returned with my wife, and in downtown Nairobi, urban chaos and poverty struck her so much, that she was reluctant to come back 15 years later, when I was offered a job.

Today, I enjoy the full beauty of Kenya with my family, and we all agree—my wife included!—that this is one of the most beautiful countries in the world. If you created an index of "natural beauty per square-kilometer" Kenya would probably come up on top of the list. Starting from Nairobi, within a few hours of driving, you enjoy the most amazing nature: the Masai Mara, Mt Kilimanjaro, Mt Kenya, and Lake Victoria, are all within reach. Nairobi is surprisingly pleasant, with one of the best climates in the world: it is one of the few cities where you neither need air-conditioning nor heating—all year long (well, it will soon get “cold” in July but the fireplace will help).

How to kick-start Kenya’s second growth engine

Wolfgang Fengler's picture

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.

The East African ride to Middle Income

Wolfgang Fengler's picture

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.

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